Michelle from Lebanon explains why empowering refugees is vital

 

“In January 2016, I conducted research on the programs offered to Syrian refugee women in Jordan as part of my Seniors Honors thesis. I interviewed more than 50 women and asked them about their experiences as refugees. Many of the women expressed stories of loss and hardship, while others talked about their strengths and their unwavering will to provide for their families.

I asked one woman the following question: “What do you want people to know about you and your situation?” Her response was simple yet powerful: “I want them to know I’m a person. We are people.”

With the media’s negative depiction, it’s often overlooked that refugees are regular people who were going about their everyday lives until they were forced to flee from their homes due to violence and insecurity. This woman’s need to emphasize her own humanity highlights the importance of empowering refugees and enabling them to retain their dignity.

Urban Refuge (UR), a team of students that I’m a part of, is working to do just that. UR began as a class at Boston University in which 25 women set a goal of addressing challenges posed by the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan. Our team created a phone app that maps assistance locations—from international aid organizations to local clinics, schools and community centers—to make aid more accessible for refugees and vulnerable people in Amman, Jordan (in the hopes of expanding to other countries).

Extensive research has shown that urban refugees, especially those living in Amman, struggle to access aid in the city. As the Chief Operating Officer of UR, I’m assembling a team in Amman to continue verifying the assistance locations in our database before our upcoming launch.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, nine out of 10 registered refugees in Jordan live in poverty. Through our app, users can filter searches by aid type, location, and beneficiary type. We’re putting the power in the hands of the people who need it so that they can access the services they need on their terms.”

 

Michelle Abou-Raad who was born in the United States to Lebanese parents is one of the 20 OFID-sponsored delegates who attended this year’s One Young World Summit in Bogotá, Colombia. She is 23 and passionate about shifting the focus in protracted refugee and humanitarian crises from short-term aid to long-term development projects that support all people—including refugees and those in their host communities—to reach their full potential.

Michelle is a graduate of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. She has degrees in International Relations and Middle East & North Africa Studies, and her research in college focused on vocational and livelihood programs for Syrian refugee women in Jordan. She currently works at an international development firm in Washington, D.C. on stabilization and development projects.


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