Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana has gotten lots of attention in recent years, and rightfully so. An estimated 42,000 refugees from the Liberian civil war were packed into a settlement 45 km from Accra, the capital of Ghana.
In May 2003 the Population Caring Organization (PCO) was founded in response to the needs that still existed for the refugees even though the camp had been established years earlier and supported by many governments and agencies over the years.
After the rise to power by Charles Taylor, the refugee camp at Buduburam was established in 1990 to accommodate the large numbers of Liberian refugees fleeing to Ghana. In the early years, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided the refugees with individual aid and relief.
When elections were held in Liberia in 1997 that were judged by the UN to be free and fair, the UNHCR discontinued its refugee assistance at Buduburam and much of the funding for the settlement dried up. Subsequently, approximately 3,000 refugees returned to Liberia, but most remained in Ghana. During this time Buduburam settlement served as the center of the Liberian ex-patriate community.
Unfortunately, not long after the 1997 elections, things in Liberia worsened, and the refugees fled once again from Liberia to Ghana. During the latter period of the Buduburam camp the UNHCR limited its personal aid efforts to only unaccompanied minors, the elderly. UNHCR did, however fund infrastructure work within the community, making possible construction and education projects.
PCO is unique among the NGOs that work in Buduburam because it was founded by and is run by Liberian refugees volunteering their time and effort.
PCO focuses on the needs of young people because it is cognizant of the many crises that the young face when they are displaced by war and violence. PCO also feels that it is important to focus on the young because they are the ones who must rebuild for the future.
A staff of six individuals, supported by six Information, Education and Communication (IEC) Officers and Field Supervisors, develops and implements the PCO's many projects.
In order to prepare these young Liberians for the future PCO provides literacy and numerical programs to those children who are the most disadvantaged in the Liberian community. They also provide skills-training programs with the intent to help the young achieve sustainable livelihoods. Another very important aspect of PCO programs is the promotion of a culture of peace and democracy. And training in conflict-resolution skills.
In addition to these things, PCO looks to
- raise the awareness of children's rights and issues surrounding domestic violence;
- develop a clean and healthy living environment for children and their families;
- promote the physical and mental well-being of young people through sports and
- raise awareness about sexual reproductive health and
- engage youth in survival and development-oriented activities.
Conflicts among the youth in the camp are resolved through the use of 14 community peace cells that PCO developed throughout the camp. These peace cells provide conflict resolution training and facilitate dialogue and reconciliation in the broader Buduburam community.
PCO also established Sanitation Teams comprised of 24 refugee men and women who clean the Buduburam Settlement six mornings a week by sweeping roads, collecting garbage, and controlling dirt.
Supported by Femmes d' Europe , PCO's Refugee Children's Learning Center provides free literacy and numerical education to children between the ages of 6 and 14 whose parents cannot otherwise afford to send them to school.
Live performances, followed by guided discussions conducted by the PCO's Cultural Troupe and Drama Group help the refugee population think about the causes of conflict in the Liberian community and transmit conflict resolution knowledge.
There is also a Skills Training Center for refugee mothers where sewing skills are taught.
A Liberian Tribal Leaders' Reconciliation Forum is conducted in collaboration with the Liberian Refugee Welfare Council. This forum brings together all tribal elders in the camp to discuss Liberia's reconciliation needs and develop an action plan for reconciliation.
In addition to utilizing local volunteers, PCO has become a partner with Global Volunteer Network that provides international volunteers as well.
PCO is registered with the Ghanaian government as a charitable NGO and is currently making plans to set up another office in Liberia, now that voluntary repatriation has begun.
In addition to PCO working to improve the quality of life in Buduburam, there is "The Vision." The Vision is a bi-monthly newspaper published by refugees living in Buduburam.
Communication for Awareness and Development (CAD), a 'Voluntary Refugee Journalists' media group' publishes the paper in collaboration with the Liberian Journalists Union, Ghana (LIJU). The publication is an eight-page newspaper that is committed to reporting human rights and socio-economic development issues.
As its Mission, The Vision is dedicated to working with journalists, social, civil and human rights organizations, local and internationally, for the empowerment of exile Liberians and Ghanaians, by education and awareness creation, through information for the protection of their rights including others.
And its Objectives are to help to train Liberian media practitioners to report on human rights, social justice and economic, as well as HIV/AIDS-sensitization, and Environmental issues. And to also help members of the general public to realize their civil, constitutional rights, and Promote good governance.
The U.S. based Unite For Sight has launched Microenterprise Initiative in Buduburam. While Unite For Sight was established to carry out a program of eye health care and education , it is pioneering a microenterprise venture in the Buduburam refugee settlement. Its pilot microenterprise program was began at Buduburam in February 2005, and it is hoped that it will serve as a model for future Unite For Sight microenterprise programs in other refugee settlements worldwide.
Unite For Sight's has committed to the Buduburam refugee community for a three-year period that will sustain its new microenterprise program that will generate income for Buduburam residents while raising funds to support Unite For Sight's programs operating on the ground.
Unite For Sight's web site says that:
"To generate income, business members will create eyeglass and sunglass cases using fabrics and threads purchased locally. The cases will then be sold within the camp and also on university campuses across North America and Europe by Unite For Sight chapter volunteers. 100% of the proceeds will fund eye care expenses at Buduburam Refugee Camp.
The initial outlay of monies for the purchase of sewing materials were supplied by Unite For Sight to the participants. Microenterprise participants will also be allowed use of the machines to generate their own personal business."
Africa Aid has presented the poverty driven problems of Buduburam to its vast network of support within the San Diego community in the U.S. Africa Aid says that "San Diego is taking responsibility for this displaced African community, confronting the ills of extreme poverty while making an investment in our nation's youth."
Through its programs Africa Aid intends to provide:
In the area of Education:
o School Lunch Programs
o School Supplies
o Teach Abroad Programs
o Teacher Training
o Student Scholarships
In the area of Health:
o HIV/AIDS Testing and Anti-Retroviral Drugs
o Basic Health Awareness Programs
o Licensing for Medically Trained Liberians
Regarding Water & Sanitation Africa Aid will attend to:
o Water Filtration and Wells
o Refuse Disposal and Sewage System Development
o Additional Restrooms at a Reduced Cost
o Irrigation Systems
And in Economic Development it will initiate:
o Microlending Program
o Small Business Development
o Export Opportunities for Africans
The Humanist Society of South Australia has lent its efforts to helping in Buduburam. And in a 2005 report, its Vice President, Dick Clifford stated that this organization was enabling up to 50 Liberian Children to be sent to school in the Buduburam Refugee Camp and sent a package of school art materials. Additionally they made a contribution to getting connected to the electricity supply to run their Computer Literacy program.
They also support The Centre for Youth Empowerment (CYE) which, among other efforts, intends to organize food packages on a monthly or bi-monthly basis depending on funds being available and has trained 32 persons in the use of computers.
Still, the Humanist Society of South Australia acknowledges that there are still many problems in the camp.
In the summer of 2005, Harvard University sent four undergraduate interns to Buduburam with the help of Saah Charles N'Tow a Liberian poet named and the Black River Project (BRP), as part of a collaborative effort with the Liberian Professionals in Rhode Island (LPRI). The Black River Project focuses on refugees' health and the organization of Liberian professionals in Rhode Island focuses on refugee orientation and adjustment to their new environment.
The Harvard University undergraduates were sent to Buduburam to provide support by working at the camp's clinic.
Many people and organizations came together to help the refugees living in Buduburam, and many were needed. I have not been able to write about all of the organizations that have helped the people of Buduburam but such a coming together of assistance should serve as an inspiration and model for others to answer the calls for aid that go out all to often all over Africa.
Let me post this Honor Roll so that you may visit the web sites of some those Organizations that have been so generous.
The Vision Online
Unite For Sight
Africa Aid - San Diego
Humanist Society of South Australia