Sharjah: Sharjah-based The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF) recently gave a special grant of Dh1.1 million to support future refugee projects of Nairobi-based RefuSHE, Lebanon’s International Network for Aid Relief and Assistance (INARA), and Kurdistan-based The Lotus Flower.
The three organisations were cited “for demonstrating excellence in delivering long-term humanitarian development programmes for forcibly displaced children, youth, girls and women".
TBHF said: “With the COVID-19 pandemic deepening the vulnerabilities of marginalised women, girls, and children, the work of humanitarian outfits who have innovated to find creative solutions to continue serving these highly vulnerable groups of refugee and internally displaced populations have gained more prominence than ever.”
TBHF also held an online panel discussion titled ‘Refugee-Support Organisations: Making Crisis Response Agile and Adaptive’, following the fifth annual edition of the Dh500,000 Sharjah International Award for Refugee Advocacy and Support (SIARA), which was awarded to RefuSHE this year for its girl-focused refugee development in Kenya.
Mariam Al Hammadi, TBHF director, said: “TBHF is constantly on the lookout for projects that empower women and girls and all members of society. The amazing women here today have an impeccable track record not only in humanitarian work, but also in professional achievement, and through SIARA, we look to highlight organisations that support and advocate for refugees and create a real difference in their lives.”
Highlighting the work of RefuSHE in Kenya, the outfit’s co-founder Anne Sweeney said: “We are the only organisation in Kenya that serves unaccompanied and refugee girls and women, and their children exclusively in the urban sector with a comprehensive suite of services. This includes a safe house for girls and women and their children in Nairobi, a girl empowerment programme that offers accelerated alternative education and teaches them life skills, an IT programme and income-generating initiatives.
"We started with a 14-year-old girl who had lost her entire family and today we serve close to 3,500 women and have reached over 30,000 in the refugee community, helping them reintegrate into society.”
Doing a moral duty
As CNN’s Senior International Correspondent based in the Middle East, Arwa Damon, founder of INARA, witnessed first-hand the abject lack of medical care for children in the war zones. “I launched INARA, not only because I was constantly witnessing children who desperately needed medical care but were unable to access it, but also because I believe it is our moral duty to do more,” Damon said.
She added: “What I was doing as a reporter was not enough. Throughout my time in the Middle East, I have consistently seen the need for paediatric care in towns and villages I visited. INARA focuses specifically on providing medical interventions where others don’t to ensure that war-wounded children don’t fall through the gaps in medical care. We do this so that the children of these war-torn areas don’t lose their futures due to lack of medical care.”
The founder of The Lotus Flower, Taban Shoresh, is herself a genocide survivor from Iraq, who found refuge in the UK as a six-year-old along with her family. Her career in an asset management company was on the upward trajectory when the humanitarian crisis breaking out in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq changed her outlook. Shoresh quit to work with a non-profit based in the region supporting displaced people. “From that day, everything changed for me. I ended up working with them for 15 months doing all sorts of frontline work — building camps, schools, and distributing aid. When I returned, I couldn’t go back to a normal job,” She said.
When Shoresh decided to set up The Lotus Flower from her home in London, she had no idea of how she could help the refugee women. She asked them directly what they wanted. “They had all been severely traumatised — imprisoned, abused, seen family members killed in front of them. Many of them had children to bring up and no income,” she said. “They told us that what they really wanted was to be able start rebuilding their lives.”
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After establishing a safe space for women living in four camps in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq and the Dohuk governorate, Shoresh set up a small team that began teaching them useful skills, such as sewing, baking, and boxing. The Lotus Flower now operates from three centres in the region.