The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children May 10 presented its annual Voices of Courage awards to three refugees who have dedicated their lives to promoting economic opportunities for refugee and displaced women and youth. The luncheon was a tremendous success; more than $500,000 was raised and over 500 people attended the sold-out event at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City.
Noraida Abdullah Karim, from the Philippines, said that the Voices of Courage award will, "serve as an inspiration for, and challenge to, every Muslim woman in the world. I firmly believe we have a role to play wherever hope and life is at stake. We must serve as instruments of hope and peace." Click here to watch a short video of Noraida's work.
In her acceptance speech, Emily Sloboh, a refugee from Liberia, told the audience that as a refugee, she "stood ground and took courage to fight a battle for women and children's total freedom, respect of human dignity and self-reliance." She added, "the best minute I spend is the one I invest in people because everyone is a potential winner."
Atuu Waonaje, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that the center he founded believes that "educating women is like educating the whole world. We want women to tackle their problems theselves and develop confidence. We want women to live without fear. We want them to participate in the decisions that affect their lives." Watch a short video on Atuu.
Lesley Stahl was the host of the event and author Ishmael Beah presented the awards. More on the honorees below.
Noraida Abdullah Karim (Keynote): As a child, Noraida Abdullah Karim and her family were displaced by recurrent fighting in the Philippines. She was determined to get an education, even when it meant selling food in the camps to support herself. A social worker, Noraida is head of Community and Family Services International (CFSI)'s Mindanao operations. She led the testing of a World Bank-funded program that helped train poor, conflict-affected women to read, write, add and subtract; plant backyard gardens; and carry out simple self-sufficiency projects that increase family income and promote participation in community affairs.
Emily Sloboh: Emily Sloboh fled the Liberian civil war in 1990 to Guinea. While working for the International Rescue Committee, Emily formed the Refugee Women Self-Help Club, a credit union, with five other female refugee teachers to alleviate their financial difficulties. "Iron Lady" Emily then founded Today's Women International Network (TWIN), a local NGO that reaches out to more than 5,000 women and young girls victimized by sexual exploitation and violent conflict. TWIN has trained more than 600 women and girls in vocational and marketable skills. The organization's courses include tailoring, baking, soapmaking, hairdressing, carpentry, cane work (arts and crafts), tie-dye, embroidery and batik.
Atuu Waonaje: As a teenager, Atuu Waonaje escaped the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo by boat with his brother. They had no food, no water and nowhere to go. He ended up as a refugee in the Lugufu camp in Tanzania. Atuu studied hard and earned a scholarship to the University of Dar Es Salaam. Prior to university, he started the Center for Youth Development and Adult Education (CELA), an organization within the camp that empowers refugee youth through education and communication with students in developed countries. CELA provides English classes and vocational training, including sewing, knitting, agriculture, micro-credit and business development for displaced women and youth.
Ishmael Beah: At 13, Ishmael Beah became a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war. When he was 16 he was released and entered a UNICEF rehabilitation program that helps former child soldiers recover from the atrocities they witnessed and were forced to commit. He came to the United States when he was 17 and graduated from Oberlin College in 2004. His book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, published in February, is a New York Times best seller and a Starbucks featured book. He has spoken before the United Nations and appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He lives in New York City.
Learn more about the Women's Commission work on economic opportunities for refugee and displaced women and youth.