Three refugees from war-torn countries have been honored for their work creating educational and economic opportunities for other displaced people. Victoria Cavaliere reports for VOA about the Voices of Courage Awards in New York City.
The annual Voices of Courage Awards is hosted by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children. According to the United Nations Refugee Office, there are over eight million refugees around the world. The Women's Commission says more than 80 percent are females and youths.
The Voices of Courage Award honors former refugees who have created non-governmental organizations to help other people suffering under conflict, poverty and inequality. This year's recipients are from the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Liberia. They have formed local-level aid groups focusing on improving education, health and personal empowerment.
Emily Sloboh, who fled Liberia's civil war in the early 1990's, says her organization, Today's Women International Network, teaches women they are valuable. This includes literacy and vocational training, outreach to sex-workers and rape victims, and micro-credit loans for business start-ups. "Being that most of our beneficiaries are vulnerable, we want to build their capacity to be economic, to be strong," she said.
Sloboh says her group has assisted 5,000 women, and will soon expand from its current offices in Guinea and Liberia into Sierra Leone.
Attu Waonaye, a young man from the Democratic Republic of Congo, received an award for the work done by his organization, The Center for Youth Development and Adult Education, CELA. As a teenager, Attu and his brother fled violence in the D.R.C. landing at the Lugufu refugee camp in Tanzania. With a modest budget and a grand vision, CELA was formed in 2002, and now provides English classes, micro-credit loans and vocational counseling to others in the Lugufu camp.
"I was thinking we could assist those people, but it was very hard for me because I had no opportunities. When I got the opportunity to go to the University of Dar Es Salaam, I studied there, I thought it was a very good time for me and that other people would be interested in what we are doing," he said.
Education and conflict resolution are the focus of the third person honored, Noraida Abdullah Karim. Based in Mindanao, in the Philippines, she works to resettle some of the nearly one million people displaced by the armed conflict between the Philippine Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Her group, Community Family Services International, has formed a primary school in Mindanao, and distributes food to other schools and health clinics.
"Our primary concern, in Mindanao, of course, is education. Our framework is human security, and we are a humanitarian institution. Humanitarian in a sense that we are not only developing the community, but we need to protect them from their situation being worsened," she said.
All three honorees say they hope that the Voices of Courage Award will give their organizations more international attention, and more opportunities for funding.