Each year on June 20th, the world comes together to stand in solidarity with refugees. The United Nations first celebrated World Refugee Day in 2001, and every year since, the worldwide community spends this day focusing on ways in which we can better the lives of refugees.
Refugees are people who flee their home country due to conflict or persecution. For many refugees, however, this is just the beginning of a long and difficult journey to safety. According to the UNHCR, by the end of 2019 there were 26 million refugees in the world—the highest ever recorded; and 1 in every 108 people globally is either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced, or a refugee. This huge displacement of people leaves individuals and families in risky and vulnerable situations. Many refugees face the possibility of violence, hunger, and death. Now more than ever, coming together to acknowledge and support World Refugee Day is essential.
For over three decades, FINCA has worked in parts of Africa, South America, and Eurasia with substantial amounts of refugees. With poverty alleviation at the backbone of our mission, and with most refugees living in poverty, our financial inclusion and social enterprise programs often intersect with and support these refugee populations. And today, we would like to highlight just a few of the success stories that have come out of it.
There are currently almost 1.4 million refugees living in Uganda, the highest number in Africa. Though Uganda has some of the most progressive refugee policies in the world—allowing refugees to work, own property, move freely, and integrate locally—many still experience limited access to basic resources, like a source of light inside their homes.
To address this issue, FINCA International’s BrightLife program teamed up with USAID Power Africa. Thogether, they are providing Uganda’s Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement with access to clean, affordable solar home systems. Through the “USAID Power Africa De-Risking Pay-As-You-Go Solar Home Systems” initiative, BrightLife set up a presence near the settlement, enabling convenient local access to affordable solar home systems. A critical component of this program is the pay-as-you-go financing. It enables refugees to make low, monthly payments instead of buying a system outright. With most refugees unable to pay large amounts of cash upfront, this financing enables them to afford a life-enhancing solar home system to which they would otherwise not have access. Though currently a pilot program, if successful, social enterprises and public sector partners could use this initiative as a template for how they can collaborate to provide sustainable solutions to refugees throughout Uganda.
Over the years, Jordan has made substantial progress in increasing access to education. Currently, 97% of Jordanian children are enrolled in primary school. Despite this great achievement in access to education, many children still have not received the opportunity to attend school. The majority of these children are those with lower socio-economic backgrounds and refugees.
Najla Abu Aweidh was a kindergarten teacher in Jordan, who after many years of teaching, was inspired to take her love for educating children even further. Using FINCA loans, Najla opened a school near a Palestinian refugee camp and made a huge impact in her community. With word of the school spreading quickly, Najla worked hard to expand the school to accommodate more children. Now, her school has 28 hand-picked staff members, 1st to 10th grade classes, and has educated hundreds of refugee children. However, despite Najla’s success with the school, she is not stopping there. She plans to continue her passion for education by obtaining a PhD and eventually opening a university offering tuition-free classes. Najla’s love for education and helping children is evident through her actions and her words:
These are not just my students, they are my children.
On this day, and everyday, we at FINCA recognize the immense hardships and conflict that refugees around the world endure. Through our initiatives, we work to support and empower low-income people, like refugees, to work their way out of poverty. Today, we celebrate refugees and the communities, people and organizations helping and supporting these populations on their journey to achieve a safer, healthier and more just life.