Support for refugees starts with sharing of community resources

posted on February 18, 2016 3:03pm

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The winning team at the University of Minnesota (from left): Besufekad Alemu (Food, Agricultural and Natural Sciences); Shuangqi Wang (Law School); Cyrus Kimani Ndung’u (Food, Agricultural and Natural Sciences); Patrick Williams (Public Health); Hiwote Bekele (Public Health); and J’Mag Karbeah (Public Health). The team was coached by Dr. Carolyn Porta (Nursing).

Cyrus Kimani, a first-year Ph.D. scholar studying in the Applied Plant Sciences department at the University of Minnesota, recently contributed to a first-place team finish at the 2016 U of M Global Health Case Competition.

Fourteen teams spent five days immersed in the Syrian refugee crisis and developing proposals for sustainable interventions.

The teams made their presentations Jan. 30 to an expert panel of judges that represented an agency of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) seeking fresh perspectives to cope with the large and growing number of refugees in the countries surrounding Syria.

Kimani shares his thoughts on how the project came together:

“TuLe (pronounced like ‘tool’) refers to a pilot project’s host countries – Turkey and Lebanon – and a proposal to assess the impact that economic initiatives can have on the resilience and security of Syrian refugee populations.

“The program impacts the economic, educational, security and health service needs of refugee populations throughout the region. From these two pilot sites, inter-agencies can experience and learn how to anticipate the challenges associated with empowerment of refugees in environments with different economic and social climates.

“We proposed a few projects which included rotating savings and credit (RoSCA) programs, vocational education and training (VET initiatives) for unskilled refugees and certification process of refugees with skills. RoSCAs have been employed as an economic development strategy and have proven to be successful.

“The basic idea is that those who participate in RoSCAs periodically contribute to a pool of money. For each period, the pool of funds is given to one of the individuals within the group. In the next period all contribute to the pool, and another individual receives the pool of funds. This process repeats itself until each individual within the pool gets an opportunity to receive a large sum of money at least one time, which they can invest in a meaningful venture.

“VET initiatives will aim to provide the participants with basic skills such as masonry, carpentry, mechanic and tailoring, which increase their employability as well as enable them to start their own businesses. Our certification programs allow Syrian doctors, teachers and other skilled professionals to continue serving their community through provision of essential services like health care, training and education.

“We also proposed an additional Moringa tree planting program in Lebanon to improve access to clean, safer water which is a problem unique to this country. Moringa tree is a multi-purpose ‘magical’ tree which can be used for water purification, nutritional supplementation and medicinal purposes.

“TuLe eventually impacts the health, nutrition, security and educational attainment of the Syrian refugees. This projects can also contribute to the reduction of gender-based violence and forced early marriages through the economic empowerment of women. Through this projects refugees are presented with multiple opportunities through which they can acquire financial and social capital.”

The winning Minnesota team will compete in the Emory International Global Health Case Competition on April 9 in Atlanta.