How Can Youth Support Refugees?

The director of The Big Heart Foundation, Mariam Al Hammadi, outlines the importance of coopting youth to create effective communication tools to bring the plight of refugee to the forefront in countries around the world

Refugees displaced by wars and conflicts face harsh living conditions, in addition to several challenges in exercising their rights under international charters and laws. Conflict and insecurity have created staggering socio-economic consequences in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. According to UNICEF, there are about 68.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance across the MENA region, including 27 million children. In addition, 50 million people in need live in conflict-affected countries.
Challenges and dilemmas arise in implementation of humanitarian action. While governmental and non-governmental organisations share the responsibility of delivering timely and equitable humanitarian action, the scale and chronic nature of crises in the region have aggravated ground realities to the extent where simple things are proving to be the difference between life and death.

There should be fresh momentum in addressing acute funding shortfalls and other issues that prevent aid from reaching those most in need. Innovation is critical to enable the delivery of effective and efficient programmes in complex conflict zones.

This is where the role of youth comes into play, says Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), a Sharjah-based global humanitarian charity dedicated to helping refugees and people in need worldwide. They can help create effective communication tools to bring the plight of refugees to the forefront in countries around the world.

According to Al Hammadi, many of the initiatives adopted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provide a wide range of opportunities for different groups of society to engage in humanitarian work and support refugees.

She pointed out that the main challenge today is to redefine the image of refugees from recipients of financial aid to people with rights who, if properly empowered and supported, can find sustainable solutions beneficial to themselves and the country they reside in. This follows the fact that before becoming displaced and labelled as refugees, they were productive citizens in their home country, and contributed to their economy and society in various fields. They can continue to do so even as displaced refugees.

The director said the role of youth gains importance from the fact that they are the ones coming up with new ideas using the latest technologies and communication tools to create new programmes and initiatives that aim to ease the burden on refugees and help them regain a sense of normality. These ideas are based on a basic conviction that refugee are humans who still possess skills and competencies despite the loss of their comfort zones.
Al Hammadi gave examples of some bright ideas shared by youth. One group in Brazil suggested converting buses into food trucks used by refugees to make and sell dishes from their home cuisine to the local community of the host country. This would open a cultural window for the local community to be introduced a new culture, as well as give refugees a sense of accomplishment and motivation to lead a normal active life in their new environment.
She added that several applications had been created targeting refugees to help them learn the local language of the host countries, in addition to advice and tips on how to deal with challenges and obstacles, and ways to access basic services in the new country.
Many development projects had been created through crowdfunding. Al Hammadi said that this kind of contribution was now imperative as the UN estimated it would cost between US$5 to 7 trillion annually to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, with US$4 trillion required for developing countries. The challenge was in securing the annual US$2.5 trillion annual deficit.

Humanitarian institutions have adopted crowdfunding to encourage individuals and the private sector to contribute to sustainable development projects.
Al Hammadi stressed that the biggest challenge remained in building bridges between refugees and community members, and the economic, educational and cultural institutions of host countries. Raising awareness of refugee rights as stipulated in the international charters was of utmost importance and still a challenge.
TBHF director said the need of the hour was to empower the youth to raise awareness about human rights in general, as well as refugee rights, to ensure a stable economic and social environment for refugees in their host countries.
Al Hammadi said TBHF volunteer programmes are designed to raise awareness about refugee rights. They include field visits to several countries including Malaysia, where they interacted with children and pupils enrolled in the Dignity for Children Foundation’s educational programme. They also visited the private building named after TBHF that was funded by the award money from the Sharjah International Award for Refugee Advocacy and Support (SIARA), which was won last year by the Dignity for Children Foundation.

This year’s winner will be awarded at a special honoring ceremony in May, 2019. The ceremony will mark the award’s 3rd edition. SIARA’s spirit aligns with the humanitarian approach of Sharjah and the UAE, known for their continued efforts and supportive stand towards underprivileged peoples and vulnerable communities affected by natural disasters and political and economic turmoil.

About The Big Heart Foundation:
The Big Heart Foundation was officially developed into a full-fledged foundation in June 2015, following a decision by Sheikha Jawaher Al Qassimi to transform the “Big Heart” campaign into a global humanitarian organisation, coinciding with the World Refugee Day. The decision aimed to double efforts to help refugees and people in need all over the world, a move that added value to the UAE’s rich record of humanitarian initiatives and contributed to reinforcing its reputation regionally and globally.