This summer, 8 Stanford students will travel to the Mwange refugee camp in northern Zambia to implement community development projects in collaboration with the community. Undergrads Rhianon Liu, Emily Allegrotti, Elizabeth Kersten, Daniel Gonzalez, Annie Kalt, Katrice Williams, Liz Brody and Alison Root, are the eight Project Facilitators on the 2007 Mwange FORGE team.
A nonprofit organization founded in 2003 by Stanford student Kjerstin Erikson, FORGE, an NGO committed to empowering and enriching the lives of refugees, stands for “Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment” and works to engage U.S. students and African refugee communities in collaborative projects.
The 8-member Stanford team will work in the Mwange Refugee camp near Melu’s Village, a rural area near Mporokoso, Zambia. Mwange is home to about 20,500 refugees, all fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Stanford team will spend seven months in an intensive training and planning phase, in which members will learn about international law and refugee rights, the history of the region, and the problems facing refugees in Mwange.
Between now and June, they will work to design effective and locally-tailored projects, and to compile all resources required to carry them out. After project planning and training, the team will travel to Mwange, where they will live and work for two months to implement these projects in partnership with local leaders, looking for ways to make sustainable impacts.
Working in partnerships of two students, the 2007 Mwange team will implement projects in the four areas of:
(1) Health Services: The Health Services project will involve an assessment of the health needs and knowledge in Mwange, identifying key areas for intervention. The FORGE health team will then establish a Health Outreach & Education Center to cater to these areas. Weekly workshops led by trained community members will inform the refugee population about prevalent health issues such as malnutrition, malaria, and sexually transmitted infections. These workshops, along with lessons in basic anatomy and physiology, seek to empower individuals to care for themselves and their family, to avert unnecessary illness and death, and to enable refugees to improve their health in an environment of extreme material deprivation.
(2) Women’s Empowerment: The Women’s Empowerment Project will help women identify dimensions of their lives in which they can exert greater control, and then support them with the resources, information, and infrastructure they need to realize this control. We will offer women concrete tools through two sets of workshops. The Women’s Health Empowerment Workshops will offer women relevant tools to help them articulate and pursue solutions to the most pressing problems in the area of health and wellness, stressing education about women’s rights, sexual health, AIDS, malaria, reproductive care, and gender-based violence. Meanwhile, the Women’s Rights and Leadership Workshops will support women as they develop the leadership and job skills that may allow them to claim and create opportunities in their lives, stressing women’s history, women’s rights, economic concepts and job skills, and public speaking. A weekly women’s circle will bring members of both workshops together to explore women’s rights and wellness in the camp.
(3) Educational Enrichment and Library Development: The Educational Enrichment and Library Development Project seeks to empower the refugees by connecting them to relevant educational resources. The project will have a dual focus on training teachers and improving the existing library. Firstly, we will teach skills to help the teachers in Mwange communicate effectively with their students in the face of extremely difficult circumstances. Secondly, we will help transform the existing library into a community center, where every inhabitant of Mwange feels welcome to engage in self-directed learning. More specifically, we are planning a book club or writer’s workshop, in which we hope to teach young people that reading and the transfer of knowledge can be enjoyable processes.
(4) Preparation for Repatriation: The Institute for Successful Repatriation will facilitate the experience of repatriation to the DRC by providing residents of Mwange with accurate information, relevant skill sets, and economic stepping stones. Our Repatriation Information Network will disseminate information related to repatriation rights, conditions, and logistics. 10 refugee leaders in the program will be liaisons between the UNHCR office and their community. Meanwhile, through the Entrepreneurship Business Simulation, we will run engaging simulations of business models that have been successful in the context of the DRC, with real life application that will culminate in an awards ceremony. Viable business models will be selected to receive small grants to be used as startup capital. Finally, the Community Skills Resource Center will teach skill sets relevant for repatriation in an all-inclusive, creative way. The CSRC will teach workshops on mediation, personal finance, public speaking, resume building, and community leadership.
In order to realize our projects, each member of our eight-person team at Stanford must raise a minimum of $5000 to support travel, living, and project costs. This $5000 minimum helps ensure robust, well-equipped and sustainable projects. Several project teams hope to raise more than the minimum in order to meet great needs in their program areas. Knowing the commitment of the Stanford community to service work, we ask you to support us in making these projects a reality. All donations are tax-deductible and the FORGE tax ID number is 73-1690559.
As these projects will contribute invaluably to our education and our goals of creating positive social change, we encourage you to get people you know involved! Ask your boss, your drawmates, your professors, and your departments if they’d like to make a contribute to FORGE. The Stanford community’s commitment to public service, international understanding, and diverse forms of learning has been critical to enabling teams to meet fundraising goals in the past, and we’d like to reach our goals again this year.
So how do you help support FORGE? Go to www.FORGEnow.org and click on “Contribute”. Additionally, personal checks can be made out to FORGE with the individual Project Facilitator’s name in the memo. Or, feel free to donate to the team as a whole.
Your efforts can go an amazingly long way! As Abby Speight, a 2006 FORGE Project Facilitator and 2007 FORGE Hub Coordinator, says:
“Giving someone the bare essentials does not equal their humanity. People need something more than to just to keep waking up and breathing. Part of the reason I believe in FORGE so much is that we look beyond the basics. When you go to the [refugee] camp, you will meet so many people who are all about FORGE and the work that it does. They believe in it as much as we do. In that sense, what we do is invaluable .”