Shining a Light on Community Power Is the Best Way for Refugees—and Everyone

By Jane Best OBE
CEO, Refugee Empowerment International

With all the crises that are headlining the news around the world, we are left feeling hopeless in the face of diminishing human rights. 

While the media focuses on refugees and internally displaced persons from Ukraine, Gaza, and Sudan, there are millions of people who continue to live away from home (in Thailand, Kenya, Lebanon, Colombia, among other nations) through no choice of their own. They do not want pity or handouts but to lead a normal life with some independence. These forgotten communities have the power to build from within. 

Stronger communities enable people to be better prepared to manage future incursions. 

Just 0.6% of the 110 million people displaced by conflict, persecution, or ethnic discrimination are seeking asylum. This means that most people want to stay near home and eventually return home. People who have lost so much want some security, and this comes through the comfort of culture and familiarity. 

REI team visiting a community project on the Thai-Myanmar border

How can we know what is best for communities when we are not of their culture and we do not live there?  

REI knows that strength comes from within the community and we have learned over the years that the best way to make an impact is through the community. We have seen the results of their hard work and have met “graduates” of the programs to hear what they are doing in their communities. 

Last August a team from REI visited projects we support on the Thai–Myanmar border. We met up with old friends, and new ones, who were proud to share their work with us, to tell us what they have learned, and how they are using the skills and knowledge gained. We listened to their stories and saw what they are doing. They seemed stronger than ever despite the difficulties they have faced over the last few years. 

At the end of June, we will visit Nairobi in Kenya to meet the teams working in the Entrepreneur Training Program for young refugees living in the city of Nairobi. The program provides training in life skills, business methods, and trades for people to find work or start their own business. We will see how the beneficiaries of the previous program have gone on to become active members of the community, contributing to the local economy through trade, employment, and tax contributions. 

Beneficiaries of the Entrepreneur Training Program in Nairobi, Kenya

But most importantly, we will also see how the project restores self-respect—something we can all relate to. Who wants to live off handouts and worry where the next meal comes from?  

It may seem that the global problems are too immense for us to make any impact through financial support but if it is channeled in the right direction, then small amounts can make a big difference. It is clear that top-down aid keeps people where they are; it does not move people on to make changes. Handouts are necessary in emergencies but for long-term impact, we must shift the focus to the refugee communities that are doing the job of reinventing and rebuilding. 

REI invests in human potential by shining a light on the local community. We know it’s the best way to ensure a brighter future—not only for refugees but for ourselves too.

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