World Refugee Day takes place on June 20th every year. The day celebrates the strength of character, courage and conviction of people forced to flee their home country. Some refugees are running away from war or other violent conflict. Other refugees seek to escape persecution.
On World Refugee Day, we take a moment to honor these individuals. We also try to build empathy for their plight and reflect on what we can do to help them rebuild their lives.
FINCA has a long history of helping refugees and other displaced persons. We ensured that people who fled their homes in the face of the civil wars that raged in Central America until the mid-1990s could rebuild businesses and lives. In the decade that followed, FINCA made loans in communities harmed by armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Northern Uganda. The 2000s saw FINCA enter Afghanistan to provide much needed economic assistance.
With support from our donors and myriad foundations and government funders, FINCA never shied away from these challenges. As fighting and persecution continue to scar the globe, FINCA maintains that tradition in the present.
Refugees and other displaced people face challenges that are different from, and typically harder to overcome than, other FINCA clients. Refugees are cut off from their traditional systems of support. They often confront language and cultural barriers in their new homes. They can lack the ability to own property. And they must overcome higher hurdles to get their children into school and secure formal employment.
FINCA and its partners design products and services specifically to address these challenges. In Uganda, for instance, FINCA’s refugee loan product includes training on financial literacy and planning. Additionally, FINCA Uganda does not require land or securities for refugees to take out a loan. According to clients, this attribute is unique among microfinance banks in the country. FINCA Jordan’s new loan product aimed at refugees from Syria and Iraq incorporates similar features.
Over the years, the women with whom FINCA works have made incredible use of the services that FINCA offers. Hayat Abdul Karim Majid is one of these amazing women.
Hayat was born in western Sudan. In 2009, she fled her family home in search of safety from the long-running War in Darfur. Hayat, her husband, and their children moved repeatedly in the ensuing years. In 2016, they arrived at the Kiryandongo refugee settlement in Uganda.
In Kiryandongo, refugees like Hayat received land, shelter, and support from the government of Uganda and international aid agencies. It was a fantastic opportunity, one that Hayat would not let slip away.
While life was far better than it had been, Hayat dreamed of more. She wanted to earn money so that her children – two boys and two girls ranging in age from five to thirteen – could have the life and education denied to her. To realize this dream, she and her husband built a small shop on the land the government gave them.
The store sells basic grocery items like milk, crackers, soap, milk, and juice. Hayat also carries specialty items from Sudan that can remind her and her neighbors of days before the war. But Hayat’s best-selling item is the perfume that she makes and mixes herself. Hayat is proud to be the only purveyor of perfume in the settlement.
The loans Hayat has received from FINCA allowed her to make investments in the store. She bought more stock and is increasing her turn-over and her profits. She also opened a small restaurant that employs three people and launched a charcoal-selling business.
As Hayat has repeatedly told her loan officer, “I work all this work and I took the loan because of my children. I need my children to be happy. I need my children to learn in very good schools and maybe one day become doctors. That’s why I took the loan from [FINCA] and I work hard like that.”
Hayat is one of many refugees that FINCA and its donors have empowered over the years. But with tens of millions of refugees around the world, there is much work left to be done. While we can and should celebrate Hayat’s achievements, we must continue to work to dramatically scale our efforts to reach other people who are still in need.
So on June 20th, we will remind ourselves of the value of work and of the hard work put in by the women and men who we serve. We join with the United Nations and other organizations to commit to educating the public about the hardships face by refugees as well as their resilience. And we will hope to mobilize political will and resources so refugees can not only survive but also thrive.