Campus and Community

UHD Student Brings Peace & Hope to African Refugees

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While the Malian refugee crisis might seem distant to many Americans, 12 committed individuals traveled to Burkina Faso, Africa—where more than 100,000 Malians sought refuge from the violence in the Republic of Mali—to spread hope and encouragement.

Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa and the eighth-largest country in Africa, with an area of more than 770,500 miles. The population of Mali is 14.5 million. Approximately half the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 (USD) per day.

In October, UHD student Eisha Khan joined Be the Peace – Be the Hope’s 10-day trip to Africa as part of the organizations’ Educational and Healing Arts program that is offered in collaboration with UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and IEDA Relief.

Be the Peace—Be the Hope’s mission is to invite youth from Houston-area schools and communities to share a spirit of hope, peace and mutual concern with children in refugee camps. According to its website: “Globally, an estimated eight million children are living in camps after being separated from their home and families without expectations for a safe return.” This project is led and supported by a collective of prominent Houston and international organizations.

Khan and the team visited two refugee camps in Burkina Faso—Mentao and Goudebou—where the children were exposed to an educational curriculum focused on therapeutic arts. They were shown pieces of art by Houston-area youths in hopes that it would inspire them to create art that expresses their desire for peace and hope. Also, the team encouraged an open dialogue with the children for them to express the positive change they wish to see in the world despite their disparate situations.

“We began the project by working with refugee, immigrants and underprivileged youth in Houston to build resilience in the absence of hope,” said Khan. “The children learned about the refugee crisis, participated in leadership and action-plan workshops.”

At the of conclusion of the workshops, the artwork created by the children from Houston and the refugee camps were combined and installed on top of the camp tents. Khan noted that it was magical to see the tents covered in beautiful and positive works of art. The refugee camps are managed by IEDA Relief and UNHCR in partnership with the government of Burkina Faso.

The team implemented an eco-friendly plantation program that will grow food out of straw (hay) bales that require very little water. They also collaborated with other organizations to help assist the refugee community in acquiring basic needs, like shoes and clothing.

With the desire to help the refugees in other capacities, the team also wanted to take action against infected mosquitoes, and the lack of educational programs.

“We are now working with NothingButNets to provide 22,000 mosquito nets in Burkina Faso, said Khan. “We also maintain contact with the teachers in Africa via email and Facebook to continue assisting them with implementing more workshops and educational programs.”

Be the Peace – Be the Hope wishes to continue the spirit of hope and creativity in Houston. The organization is offering grants to students who are interested in creating more avenues to encourage hope, peace and love within their local community.

“With the success of the program, we want to highlight this initiative in order to bring more awareness and support to those is in need,” said Kahn.

By Toni Carter