Jul. 1, 2013 by Cynthia Rockwell
Sasha Chanoff ’94, founder and executive director of RefugePoint, hosted an inaugural event on June 19 in advance of World Refugee Day in Cambridge, Mass., near the organization’s headquarters. Featured was the work of photojournalist Amy Toensing, a regular contributor to National Geographic, whose latest project, In the Shadows: Urban Refugee Children, documented the lives of urban refugee children in Africa, one of the populations RefugePoint works to protect.
RefugePoint, an action-oriented organization, is focused on locating people whose lives are caught in an untenable zone—unable to go home, yet unable to find themselves a new, safe place to live—and helping to resettle them to a place where they can rebuild their lives. Funded through a robust Kickstarter campaign, Toensing’s collection captured the poignancy of the childrens’ plight as well as the hopefulness of their spirit.
At the event, the RefugePoint team shared a refugee story with a happy ending. As part of the night’s programming, the attendees Skyped with a family whom RefugePoint had recently reunited: the parents had been separated from one of their five children—a five-year-old daughter when rebels invaded their village nine years ago. RefugePoint relocated the parents and four children to St. Louis, Missouri, in 2009, while the father continued to search for his daughter through connections in Africa. Eventually, she was found and RefugePoint helped facilitate her reunion with her family. Their smiles, projected onto a screen, lit up the gathering of supporters, friends, and volunteers.
“It’s about being really creative and making a framework to change a situation for the better,” said Chanoff. “You save one person and that saves a family, which saves a community, which saves a nation, which saves the world.”
RefugePoint summer intern Maeve Russell ’14, a double major in government and environmental studies, says she was drawn to the internship opportunity with Chanoff because of her interest in Africa’s refugee crisis.
“Having worked last summer in Kibera, where many displaced people seek refuge, I was really excited to see how a Wesleyan alumnus was successfully making an impact in their lives. So far, I have had an amazing time interning for RefugePoint. It has been incredibly rewarding in terms of work experience, information, and self-growth,” she said.
Russell is the coordinator for the Wesleyan chapter of Shining Hope for Communities, the Kenyan-based non-profit founded by Jessica Posner Odede ’09 and Kennedy Odede ’12 that provides the only tuition-free school for girls in the slum of Kibera. Connected to this school for girls is a network of other social services, including a health clinic and community center.
In Russell’s words, “Both RefugePoint and Shining Hope for Communities really epitomize the transcending innovation of social entrepreneurship and change. By mobilizing a large community of support both here in the US, and in their countries of operation, these organizations have really utilized the power of collective human action. It is thanks to organizations like RefugePoint and Shining Hope for Communities that I have been inspired to really dedicate my life to nonprofit work. I’ve seen firsthand the power it has to change lives and communities for the better.”
For more on Amy Toensing’s exhibit for RefugePoint, see this link.