An effective refugee aid program does more than “help.”
Everyone agrees that aid programs must be “effective.” But what does this mean in today’s context of an overwhelming, seemingly intractable refugee crisis?
Sometimes success is easily tabulated. St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (“StARS”), our operating partner in Egypt, serves an ever-growing number of refugees arriving there. Many of its programs achieve results that can be counted: the number of clients each year that StARS educates, feeds, counsels, or successfully represents in asylum cases.
But StARS’s more transformative work is less visible, less easily defined. StARS’s award-winning program for young refugees who arrive in Egypt without any family accompanying them is a case in point. Many of these youths need assistance that StARS’s other programs could provide piecemeal: education; legal status in Egypt to avoid deportation to a dangerous home country; psychosocial counseling to help find a job, a home, medical care, and treatment for the trauma they’ve experienced. But these young refugees need something deeper, too, something many of them say they have found through connections made in StARS’s youth program: a sense of hope for the future, community, and belonging.
Risaa, one member of StARS’s youth program, recognizes that the program produces more than the sum of its parts. He has turned to that group in his darkest hours: when he felt scared and alone after his roommates took a boat across the Mediterranean. His group comforted him when he sobbed, assured him he was not alone, and helped him strategize ways to stabilize his life. Risaa puts it this way: “StARS is my home.”
There’s no way to dispense or count hope and connection, but it is something StARS has often managed to spark. In our experience, three things contribute to StARS’s ability to ignite that deeper transformation. First, StARS listens. Its staff, many of whom are refugees, see problems and opportunities that StARS’s formal programs may not be able to address, such as the special needs of unaccompanied youth, the value its clients place on the informal gathering spaces StARS offers, and the emphasis StARS places on welcoming and nondiscrimination. Second, StARS is nimble. Being a small, local organization, StARS can act quickly to redirect funds or staff and organically respond to what is happening on the ground. Third, StARS invests in its staff and clients. The majority of staff are refugees themselves and many are alumni of StARS programs. StARS compensates refugee and non-refugee staff equitably. The organization intentionally promotes staff and supports them to grow their skills and take on more leadership.
Refugee aid can be more than “helping.” It can transform individual lives, and through them, entire communities.
Refugees Thrive International is a U.S. 501(c)3 nonprofit that connects people and funds in the U.S. to effective grassroots organizations like StARS in Cairo, Egypt. Developing countries host 86% of the world’s 19.5 million refugees. Yet developing countries often have the fewest resources to go around. Refugees Thrive envisions a world in which all refugees are safe and healthy, refugee rights are respected and protected, and refugees are empowered to make their own decisions about their future. We raise awareness and fund local organizations like StARS in developing countries to ensure refugees have the protection and support they need to thrive. Our board is comprised of volunteer members who have worked on the ground at StARS and can attest to the critical, high quality, refugee-led work they carry out in Cairo. We tell the stories of refugees’ strength and resiliency and connect people who want to make a difference to organizations doing the critical work on the ground.
We invite you to partner with us and partner with refugees.