Turning Crisis into Possibility on World Refugee Day
As part of its Corporate Social Responsibility strategy, Cisco and the Cisco Foundation support nonprofit organizations that serve people who are displaced by humanitarian crises and natural disasters.
Today, World Refugee Day, is an opportunity for us to recognize organizations that are doing this important work right now around the world.
One organization that is actively serving refugees is Mercy Corps – whose mission is to alleviate suffering, poverty, and oppression by helping people build secure, productive, and just communities. In 2017, Cisco committed to a 5-year, US$10 million, multi-faceted partnership with Mercy Corps to help deliver aid and development assistance faster, better, and to more people around the world.
Here’s a look at just two of the many areas where Mercy Corps is working right now to help refugees survive through crisis and build better lives.
Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, over 600,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan, the second most water-poor country in the world. While many Syrians live in refugee camps, like Zaatari and Azraq, the majority live in towns where competition over housing, services, natural resources, and jobs is increasing social tension.
To help refugees and their local neighbors come together, Mercy Corps developed a conflict resolution program that breaks the ice, teaches mediation and negotiation skills, and ends with the completion of a community project. Each project is different, and deciding what each community needs is part of the learning process. Together, each group must brainstorm ideas, come to a consensus, get the wider community to back their project, and follow it through to completion.
As a result, playgrounds, libraries, community centers, soccer fields, and medical facilities have popped up in communities around the region. With both refugees and their neighbors invested in these projects, they have become places to gather, dismantle tensions, and build connections.
Another program making a big impact in Jordan is the site Khabrona.Info, which provides crucial information on important civil documents and paperwork for refugees settling in the country.
Khabrona is part of Signpost, a joint digital initiative of Mercy Corps and IRC, which provides refugees, asylum seekers, and other displaced people with up-to-date information on vital needs such as legal rights, transportation, and medical services in multiple languages.
The program evolved from Refugee.info, which launched in Greece in 2015 with initial funding from Cisco. In addition to Jordan, the service has also expanded to Serbia, Bulgaria, Italy and El Salvador – and has served more than 800,000 people.
Every day, an average of 2,000 South Sudanese refugees fleeing political conflict, violence, and food shortages arrive at Uganda’s northern border. Eighty-two percent of these refugees are women and children under the age of 18, and Uganda now hosts nearly one million refugees from South Sudan in places like Bidi Bidi, Palorinya, and Rhino Camp.
But Mercy Corps’ Uganda response goes beyond meeting basic needs. Recognizing that many refugees will not return home soon, the organization seeks to improve their lives while creating economic opportunity for surrounding host communities.
For example, Mercy Corps supports farmers’ groups comprised of Ugandan and South Sudanese men and women who combine their resources to buy more vegetable seeds, harvest more produce, and improve their yields. Members receive training in business skills to grow subsistence plots into small-scale commercial farming operations.
Refugees in Uganda are given a small plot of land when they arrive at the settlement; local farmers have larger plots, but few people to work them. By joining forces, they have more land, more seeds, more physical power, more food – and more opportunity.
Mercy Corps is also seeking to empower both refugees and local residents with access to mobile phones, and in turn, economic and financial opportunities. For example, Mercy Corps is facilitating a relationship between a mobile phone distributor and village traders in the settlements and host communities. The distributor sells basic mobile phones to traders at subsidized prices. Village traders then resell the phones to beneficiaries for a small, predetermined markup.
The program is creating business opportunities for both the traders and those who purchase the phones. The latter group may use their phones to get crop pricing information, to find buyers for their hand-made clothing, or to advertise a service within the local community.
These are only two examples of the many locations worldwide where Mercy Corps is connecting people to the resources they need to build better, stronger lives. Please join us in supporting humanitarian organizations like Mercy Corps on World Refugee Day.