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Emily Larson 2017-6-20

Empowering Refugees Through Education

Elizabeth Roscoe, Executive Director, Western Union Foundation

On this World Refugee Day, I want to share the story of Abdulazez*, who was forced to leave his home in Syria with his family. They ended up in a refugee camp in Greece with thousands of other people, living in tents through the heat and the cold, waiting in long lines for food and not knowing what the future would bring. But despite these harsh conditions, Abdulazez says that smiles and hope filled the camp, and this is what inspired him to take up photography. His goal is to use his photos to break down the walls of misunderstanding between refugees and the world, which end up creating fear and hate and “us” versus “them.”

Abdulazez and his family are not alone. Across the globe, more than 65 million people have been displaced from their homes and forced to start over. In their home countries, they were doctors, teachers, business owners and more. But as they seek to rebuild their lives in a new land, all too often their experiences are reduced to the stereotypes that the “refugee” label can imply.

That’s why the Western Union Foundation recently launched the #IAmMore Challenge, a global campaign to educate the public about the refugee crisis and to shift perceptions about who refugees really are.  Participants in the #IAmMore Challenge are encouraged to swap out their Facebook profile picture and share the story of a refugee, and for every picture that’s changed now through September 1st, the Foundation will donate USD $1 (up to USD $50,000 total) to organizations that support refugees around the world.

This effort builds on the work that the Western Union Foundation – and Western Union itself – is already doing to empower refugees to improve life for themselves, their families and their communities. Our number one goal is to enable refugees to participate fully in the global economy, and we believe that education is the surest pathway to doing just that.

We fund a range of non-profits that provide education and job-training services to refugees and displaced persons to help them advance their skills in their new countries. These organizations include Education for Employment, which empowers youth – especially young women and girls – to build careers through job training and placement, and the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative, to which the Western Union Foundation has pledged more than $1.1 million over three years to teach 10,000 refugees business proficiency, entrepreneurship and life skills. There are no quick fixes, but we are working together to make a difference.

How can you help us do even more?

  • Visit and show you stand with refugees by updating your Facebook profile. Then reach out through your social accounts and encourage your customers, employees and stakeholders to do the same.
  • Establish a special committee at your organization to look for ways to extend a hand of support to refugee communities, including by offering your products/services to refugee communities at a reduced rate or setting aside jobs and internships specifically for refugees struggling to gain a foothold.
  • Donate directly to organizations that are supporting refugees or partner with the Western Union Foundation to extend the impact we’ve had on programs that are helping thousands of people overcome the circumstances they have been dealt.

I’m happy to report that Abdulazez moved to Belgium two months ago, where he is hoping to start university soon and study computer science. His story – and his belief that by simply sharing the stories of refugees, the world will start seeing them as human beings above all else – is the reason that he was asked to be the face of the #IAmMore Challenge and his photographs are featured prominently on the #IAmMore site. (That’s him in the picture above.)

World Refugee Day is an important reminder that opportunity has no borders, and that we all have a role to play in improving the lives of those who are less fortunate. Let’s continue to work together to ensure they have the support they need for a brighter future.

* For his voluntary participation as the face of the Challenge, Abdulazez was not financially compensated by the Western Union Foundation or Western Union.

This Article was written by

Emily Larson Spirited marketing and communications manager with almost a decade of experience in finance, retail, and non-profit. Passionate about design, creativity, and above all... adventure.

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