Refugees provide vital support to fellow refugees in Ethiopia
A vibrant volunteer programme in Addis Ababa offers a crucial link between refugees in need and key humanitarian support and services
Eritrean refugee, Semhar, volunteers her time to help urban refugees in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
© UNHCR/Diana Diaz
Semhar Mehari listens keenly to the ongoing discussions at a meeting of refugee volunteers in Addis Ababa.
She is attending the monthly monitoring meeting held by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its partner agency, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) for the 53 refugees who work as volunteers under the Refugee Outreach Volunteer (ROV) programme.
“I love volunteering because I feel the need to help other refugees,” explains Semhar, an Eritrean refugee. “I understand how difficult life can be for urban refugees in the city.”
With nearly 23,000 refugees scattered across the city, the active role that Semhar and her fellow ROVs play within their communities is essential for UNHCR to reach more refugees needing help.
“I love volunteering because I feel the need to help other refugees.”
“The Refugee Outreach Volunteers connect vulnerable refugees with key humanitarian support,” says Dominique Reinecke, UNHCR’s Child Protection Officer based in Addis Ababa. “But most importantly, they get trained with the skills to take an active role in addressing the needs of vulnerable members of their communities.”
With the help of the volunteers, UNHCR and partner agencies are able to reach at least 140 refugees with specific needs every month.
“Many of them are unaccompanied or separated children who are at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse,” adds Helen Gebreyohannes from JRS.
Semhar is thankful that she did not encounter numerous problems when she first arrived in the city although she confirms that it can be stressful especially when trying to access services.
“I didn’t know about the services the government provides. I heard about them here from refugees like me,” she says.
She adds that the volunteers help other refugees to access vital services from UNHCR, the government and other aid agencies.
“Many people live far, it’s their first time here so we help them to find the agencies and other services they need,” she adds.
The ROV programme was launched in Addis Ababa in December 2016 and has since then helped hundreds of urban refugees. Funded by the Government of Switzerland, the programme is in line with UNHCR’s community-based protection approach that aims to empower refugees and enable them to play a role in their own protection.
“This group of kind-hearted refugees volunteer their time to work in teams that follow-up on general protection, health, child and youth focused needs,” adds UNHCR’s Reinecke.
Later on, Semhar does her daily rounds of home visits, checking in on other refugees living across the city.
“I dream that my daughter will be educated and graduate from university,” she says after she is done with her rounds. She adds that
she hopes to return home one day.
“I miss Eritrea, all my friends, the country, the air. Everything,” she says. “I hope to return home one day.”