Refugee Reflections: What Does Community Mean to You?

Written by Chris Opila, Board Member, Refugees Thrive International

Staff celebration at St. Andrew’s Refugee Services, Cairo, Egypt

A nondescript black gate stands at a busy intersection in Downtown Cairo, nestled between a highway overpass and a courthouse. Inside, lies St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS), a local organization whose majority-refugee staff has provided a welcoming community and educational, psychosocial, and legal services to Cairo’s urban refugee populations since 1979.

Cairo is a bustling, loud, and energetic city. The metropolitan area has over 20 million people, many of whom have difficulty making ends meet. Developing countries host 86% of the world’s 19.5 million refugees. And yet developing countries like Egypt often have the fewest resources to go around. Thousands of people from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria flee conflict or persecution and seek safety in Cairo each year. A struggling economy in Egypt means increasing food, rent and transportation costs for everyone, especially refugees.

Imagine the loneliness and isolation you may feel in an expansive, crowded city where jobs are scarce, you may not speak Arabic, you recently fled from your home and you do not know anyone.

Neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt

St. Andrew’s Refugee Services not only provides critical, life-saving services, it also makes up a meaningful and inclusive community regardless of nationality, religion, gender, or circumstance. Below are reflections from refugee staff at StARS on what community means to them.

StARS…it’s where I feel safe, my voice is heard, and my mind is educated. It’s where I, as a refugee, advocate for and elevate the voices of forgotten refugees and migrants in Egypt. It’s where I am a brother to all, despite our multitude of nationalities and cultures.

— Farouk, Psychosocial Programs Officer, StARS

StARS…it’s where I got my first job and learned to accept differences and stop judging by watching colleagues befriend each other despite their different nationalities, cultures, and religions. It’s also where I found a group of people who accept my differences and support me, something my own community wouldn’t do.

— Aisha, Unaccompanied Youth Bridging Program

StARS…it’s without exaggeration the most similar place to a utopia. It’s where I feel free from labeling and work with colleagues without concern for what religion they follow, what country they hail from, or what skin color they have. We are more than co-workers, we are family.

— Nada, Adults and Family Psychosocial Program

Refugees Thrive International is proud to partner with StARS and share these reflections by refugee staff about their work in the diverse, supportive, and evolving community that exists behind the nondescript black gate in downtown Cairo. Refugees Thrive raises awareness and funds local organizations in developing countries to ensure refugees have the protection and support they need to thrive.

The StARS community has grown too large to be confined to the small courtyard behind the faded black gate. With funding from Refugees Thrive International, StARS aspires to expand services beyond the compound in downtown Cairo and offer assistance, safe spaces and community to refugees across the city. Such an expansion may change aspects of the services and community StARS has provided for almost 30 years. But, StARS is equipped to weather these potential changes. As Aisha, an employee in the StARS’ Unaccompanied Youth Bridging Program, aptly put it, “StARS is Community, StARS is Support, StARS is Trust, StARS is Acceptance, StARS is Respect, StARS is Strong.”

Refugees Thrive International 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. Our mission is to raise awareness and fund local organizations in developing countries to ensure refugees have the protection and support they need to thrive.We thank StARS staff members in Cairo, Egypt for bringing this world closer to reality and taking time out of their busy schedules to submit reflections for this piece.

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