President of Armenia Recognizes NEF for Assistance to Refugees and Orphans during Genocide

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May 26, 2015 – Yerevan, Armenia. On May 26, the President of the Republic of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, awarded NEF the President’s Prize in recognition of its “help to thousands of refuges and orphans who survived the Armenian Genocide and for saving their lives during and after World War I by means of funds donated by the American people.” NEF President, Charles Benjamin, accepted the award with the following remarks.

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Mr. President, Mr. Boghossian, Your Excellencies, Esteemed Trustees of the Hayastan All-Armenia Fund,

It is truly an honor to accept the President’s Prize on behalf of the Near East Foundation. The story of NEF has been largely unknown to recent generations, though that has begun to change over the past year as the efforts of many have drawn the world’s attention to the Armenian Genocide and to America’s response 100 years ago.

In 1915, a small group of concerned Americans launched an unprecedented campaign in direct response to Ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s reports of genocidal acts in Ottoman Turkey. Between 1915 and 1930, these extraordinary Americans united the nation to raise $117 million (more than $2 billion today) through grassroots campaigns across the country. This group founded the Near East Foundation, initially known as the American Committee for Syrian and Armenian Relief and later as Near East Relief, to organize and lead these fundraising and relief efforts. Their efforts saved more than one million Armenian lives, including the lives of 132,000 orphans, whom they cared for in NEF orphanages, schools and vocational training centers.

Against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide, the creation of NEF marked the first great outpouring of American humanitarian assistance abroad; there were chapters in every major American city and every state. The fund, clothing and food drives conducted in response to the Armenian Genocide marked the birth of “citizen philanthropy” – the idea that average people could make a meaningful difference in the lives of people in need in far-away places.

Nearly one thousand relief workers volunteered and risked their lives to help an ancient civilization they knew little about. Thirty of them made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives. Thousands more volunteered around the United States raising millions in aid and supplies. Everyone from the President down to schoolchildren was engaged. It is unimaginable to think of how many Americans responded to this “Call to Duty”. I can think of no other humanitarian effort since then that mobilized the American public for such a sustained period – nearly 15 years. This experience had an indelible impact on American and international philanthropy.

This year, NEF proudly celebrates 100 years of groundbreaking international humanitarianism in the Middle East and Africa. Our friend and a member of our President’s Council, Vartan Gregorian, once said, “The Near East Foundation stands on the shoulders of history”. I can think of no better statement that epitomizes the essence of this organization and guides us in our work today.

Many of the individuals on NEF’s board of directors are proud descendants of the original founders and workers of NEF and of Genocide survivors saved by NEF. Our work during the past century has continued uninterrupted and has impacted the lives of millions of people across 40 countries. This work that began helping Armenian orphans to rebuild their lives and their communities was later acknowledged as a model for the Marshall Plan, Truman’s Point Four Program, which became the US Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Peace Corps.

Today, NEF works in nine countries in the Middle East and northern Africa. We continue to work to build the economic independence of displaced and conflict-affected people in Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan, northern Mali and the Palestinian Territories. And we continue to serve Armenia by helping people in rural areas and survivors of gender-based violence achieve economic security through microenterprise development.

On September 16, 2015 – 100 years to the day since the Near East Foundation was established – I invite you to join us as we celebrate the altruism of those who responded to Genocide, to the birth of an enduring tradition of citizen philanthropy, and to the resilience of those who survived Genocide.

Nearly 100 years have passed since the Near East Foundation was founded, but in some respects, it is as if time has stood still. We watch with horror as another human tragedy unfolds in the Middle East.

As part of our own Centennial, NEF has launched an initiative to help Syrian refugees and members of their host communities rebuild their economic security and resilience through the creation of small businesses and income generating activities. This initiative is intended to reflect and celebrate the spirit and lessons of our early service, helping Armenian orphans rebuild their lives. And it has been seeded by the Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation – the family that organized and sustained America’s response to the Armenian genocide and that has been committed to this organization and this cause ever since. I also invite you to join us in taking action in response to this humanitarian crisis of our day.

With all humility, we are deeply honored by this recognition, Mr. President. The history and work of the Near East Foundation is a reflection of the strong and enduring bond between the American and Armenian people. We feel strongly that Americans should know about this chapter in our national history – a history we share, about the Genocidal events behind it, and about the strong ties that have long existed between the American and Armenian peoples.

Thank you.

NEF Commits to Support Syrian Refugees and their Host Communities

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MARRAKECH, Morocco – May, 2015 – NEF announced at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Middle East & Africa Meeting our Commitment to Action to build economic resilience among urban refugees and poor members of their host communities in Jordan and Lebanon.

In partnership with local community organizations, we will establish three support centers to equip more than 2,000 people with the tools and training for dignified, long-term economic self-sufficiency through small business grants, skills training and community support.

The Syrian refugee crisis has plunged more than 170,000 Lebanese into poverty and is exerting stresses on Jordan’s stretched resources, costing the government $7 billion to date. Meanwhile, 70 percent of Syrian refugees are food insecure and 77 percent are in debt, pushing many families to resort to harmful earning strategies. Children contribute nearly half of household incomes among refugee families living outside camps, and a quarter of refugee families are headed by women, many of whom are earning for the first time.

Building on NEF’s successful work with Iraqi refugees in Zarqa, Jordan, the Siraj Centers, named for the Arabic word for “lantern,” will provide a safe space for women refugees and poor members of host communities to come together and extend mutual support. Jordanian and Lebanese participants will also be eligible to compete for grants to start-up or expand small businesses. For refugees, whose right to work in formal sectors is limited, Siraj Centers will provide economic and livelihood services such as life skills, vocational and financial literacy training, as well as cash assistance.

Here is the full text of our commitment:

Building Resilience of Refugees and Host Communities
Commitment By: Near East Foundation

In 2015, The Near East Foundation will establish three “Siraj Centers” to build the economic self-reliance of 2,250 people in Lebanon and Jordan. The centers will serve as safe spaces where Syrian refugees, and vulnerable Lebanese and Jordanian people can access financial education services or start income-generating activities with access to training, information and financial resources. This investment in education and workforce development will further the Near East Foundation’s goal of providing long-term solutions for refugees and vulnerable people to safely support their families and their communities.

World Refugee Day, June 20, 2015

Every year on June 20th we observe World Refugee Day and recognize the millions of men, women and children around the world who are living as refugees. 

Conflicts and persecution have forced 50 million people to flee their homes, disrupting lives and communities and, in some cases, challenging individuals’ ability to survive.

For the past 100 years, the Near East Foundation has stood as a resource to assist the world’s refugees as they seek safety, shelter and a path to a new life.

In 1915, our attention was on Armenian refugees. Today we are working with internally displaced people Jordon, Lebanon, Mali, Sudan, and the Palestinian Territories. 

Despite great challenges, there have been great victories for the individuals we have served.  And we believe there can be more.

So today, take a moment to learn about the lives of a few of those 50 million and lend your support.

“For a small amount of money, we can do a lot” –Faten, Iraqi refugee in Jordan & NEF program participant

NEF helps the internally displaced in Mali return home and start on the path to economic recovery

Poor Jordanians face increasing difficulties due to an influx of refugees & NEF is responding

NEF equipped Dalia, an Iraqi refugee, with the skills and training to develop her sewing business

Cultivating Olives, Relationships, and Sustainability

For generations, Palestinian olive growers have had to cope with the challenges of tending their crops in a political and environmental climate where water and other resources aren’t nearly as reliable as the hot, mid-day sun. One such olive grower, Abd Al-Jabar Awda Ismail, from the small town of Kafr Ad-Dik in Salfit, West Bank, is one of 20 farmers who has benefitted from training that links the technical expertise of Arab and Israeli agronomists with the longstanding, local experience of the olive farmers in this area.

The training Mr. Ismail received is part of the Olive Oil Without Borders (OOWB) initiative spearheaded by the Near East Foundation with support from USAID.  Through economic cooperation and transfer of industrial and scientific knowledge, OOWB has been fostering egalitarian relations between Israelis and Palestinians involved in olive oil production and trade since 2005. Taking a break in the shade of his olive trees, Mr. Ismail explained the benefits of the training in tangible terms: “The irrigation process was successful from last year—there was about a 25 percent increase in oil production.”

Without any reservations, Mr. Ismail also reflected on the positive experience of going to Israel and meeting the agronomists who covered such diverse topics as tree diseases and olive oil tasting to help improve oil production and quality. Upon his return home, he was able to share this new knowledge with his sons and other farmers. He hopes to see the OOWB project expand to benefit others, stressing the importance of rainwater collection, since peak irrigation for the trees needs to occur during some of the area’s hottest and driest months. “If USAID develops this project…we can cover 1,000 trees in this area without buying water,” he says.

The cross-cultural partnerships created through OOWB are highly effective. By adopting conservational farming methods, the Palestinian farmers’ olive trees, land, and livelihoods can be preserved—and even improved—for their children and future generations to come.

An Intrepid Leader

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Emma D. Cushman of Burlington, New York, worked as a nurse with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions at the Talas Hospital in Turkey. When her term ended in 1907, Miss Cushman continued to work in hospitals throughout the country, including the city of Konia in central Turkey. In 1917, the Turkish government offered her safe passage from Konia to Constantinople, but she turned it down because they would not agree to protect Konia’s refugee population in her absence. She was particularly devoted to the young girls in her care. Gadarine Topjian Boudakian, one of Miss Cushman’s young charges, later referred to her as a guardian angel—praising her not only for her courage, but also for her ability to help the girls heal from psychological trauma.

Miss Cushman began working with Near East Relief in 1919, serving as director of relief activities at Konia, an area with which she was already familiar. She was later placed in charge of 1,000 children in the Boyadjikeuy and Yenikuey Orphanages in Constantinople. In July 1921, she sent a letter to the secretariat of the League of Nations explaining the difficulties of rescuing women and children, many of whom had sustained physical and psychological trauma after years of captivity in Turkish harems. In response, the League opened Neutral Houses for rescued women and children in Constantinople and Aleppo. After the Smyrna Disaster, Miss Cushman accompanied her young charges to Corinth, Greece, where she supervised the new Near East Relief orphanage in a converted army barracks.

In honor of her more than 30 years of service in the Near East, Emma D. Cushman received the Gold Cross of Jerusalem in April 1921 and was named a Knight of the French Legion of Honor in December 1921. She died in Cairo, Egypt, in 1931.

Special thanks to Sara Boudakian Cegelski, granddaughter of Gadarine Topjian Boudakian.

NEF Expands Support for Displaced Syrians and their Host Communities in Jordan and Lebanon

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As the conflict in Syria enters its fifth year, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and over three million people are seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Lebanon and Jordan host more refugees per capita than any other countries in the world. The majority of Syrian refugee households are in debt and experience some level of food insecurity. Increased competition over jobs, lodging and food with hosting communities in Lebanon and Jordan has made life harder for everyone.

In January 2015, NEF started a new initiative, to provide financial literacy and group saving to Syrian women. We offer financial literacy training to help families minimize debt, manage household expenditures, and maximize savings. Savings groups encourage savings habits that help families meet daily financial needs, mitigate household emergencies, and set financial goals. In savings groups members save together, NEF matches savings based on milestones, and members take funds from those savings to invest in productive assets.

 

Food Vouchers Allow Return to Northern Mali

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Douentza – An elderly and visually impaired woman from Douentza, Dicoré was forced to flee at the height of the 2012 crisis in northern Mali as threats and torture had become part of daily life for the city’s populations.  Taking refuge in the city of Diabaly (a town about a hundred kilometers from Segou), Dicoré thought she would be safe.  But, just after her arrival, the conflict came to Diabaly.

“When I saw that the situation was worse in Diabaly than in Douentza, I decided to leave the country,” Dicoré said.  “This is how I found myself in Burkina Faso without family or any support.  I had to beg just to survive.”

Unable to survive like this, Dicoré returned to her native city of Douentza – unsure what to expect.

In Douentza, she found the Restoring the Economic Capacity of Populations Affected by the Crisis in Northern Mali II (RECAPE II) project, financed by United States Agency for International Development/Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA).  Implemented by the Near East Foundation, the project responds to the immediate recovery needs of people in northern Mali to restore their livelihoods and food security.

Arriving in Douentza without resources or support, Dicoré was identified as a vulnerable person affected by the crisis and benefited from the support of the project. With this support, she was able to start a small trade activity.

“The food voucher support I received not only allowed me to provide food for my family, but also to revive my economic activities,” Dicoré said.  “I was able to invest the little amount I earned–which otherwise would have gone to feeding my family–into my business.”

Today, Dicorè manages a drinking water station and conducts other small trade activities, which allows her to support the food, health, and educational needs of her children.

The RECAPE II project has distributed food vouchers to 2,178 people, distributed fishing equipment, rehabilitated and stocked fish ponds, trained fishers on improved production techniques, distributed cereals (millet and rice) and gardening seeds, and rehabilitated vegetable garden infrastructure.

Microfranchise Jobs Offer Opportunities to Marginalized Women in the West Bank

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Schoolchildren in the West Bank are enjoying healthy food alternatives from canteens that women from the Balata Women’s Association manage, thanks to a microfranchise program the Near East Foundation (NEF) developed with support from the London-based Rangoonwala Foundation.

Microfranchises promote economic development by generating sound business opportunities and services. Since 2004, NEF has worked with the Balata Women’s Association in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, providing it and three other women’s associations with a business model and the necessary support to successfully manage and grow nine school canteens.

Adla Je’an—volunteer manager of her association since 2008—embodies in her work the spirit of empowerment, dedication, and energy that NEF endeavors to harness in its initiative for women’s microfranchises. She plays a key role in the Balata’s school canteen’s  success by managing its food quality, finances, and compliance with a new Ministry of Education policy to ensure that a variety of nutritious food is served in school cafeterias.

Adla has been instrumental in hiring at-risk women who formerly had poor employment prospects but who now, thanks to her efforts, are able to earn a stable income as cashiers, cooks, and food inspectors. Through the microfranchise model, all employees are also shareholders in these small businesses.

“My association is running nine canteens, three of which are part of NEF’s project,” said Adla. “I notice positive differences in productivity, in sales, in the workers’ attitudes, and in the increase in varieties food sold at the canteens. All these changes are because of the new partnership system that has been introduced by NEF. I hope NEF can include the other six canteens in this project.”

Initially, the Balata Women’s Association worked with the World Food Program (WFP) and NEF, preparing and delivering nutritious snacks as part of WFP’s effort to feed schoolchildren.

When that program ended, the association leveraged its experience in food processing and established private businesses in the form of concession stands in primary schools. Since 2010, they have been providing nutritious snacks to schoolchildren.

With this new phase of support and training from NEF, the association expanded its franchise, increasing efficiency, standardization, and professionalism. It has created 26 new jobs for vulnerable women who, with revenue from the franchise, are supporting social development within the local community. The association was recognized for its efforts by the Ministry of Education and now manages a group of canteens in Nablus, three of which are managed as part of the microfranchise project supported by NEF.

“It is more organized now,” Adla said of the changes since NEF began this latest intervention. “For each canteen we have the same financial and administrative systems, food standards, school canteen design, food containers, and uniforms.”

This sort of success has a ripple effect of increased prosperity.

One of Adla’s hires was Muna Dweikat, 53, who works at the local school canteen as a cashier. She is one of many in her age group in her community who were hard-pressed to find jobs, given their limited education. Muna often had to borrow money from family and friends to cover basic expenses. Now she is making ends meet and can occasionally treat herself to a few luxury items while helping her family members with their expenses as well.

“I can now assist my brother’s family by helping them pay my niece’s tuition,” said Muna. “What’s more, I have improved my overall communications skills and can deal with customers more professionally now.”

Assisting and empowering women like Muna and Adla using the microfranchise model goes a long way toward finding grass-roots solutions to the economic stagnation that regional political stalemates cause. These two women and many others like them in the canteens who participate in the project are forging their own way ahead and helping their families and the greater community.

Catching Up With Rania

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Last year, NEF brought you the story of Rania, a beneficiary from Zarqa, Jordan. She is part of NEF and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration’s Enhancing the Economic Resiliency of Displaced Iraqis and Poor Jordanians project. When we first met her, she was in a precarious situation. Her husband had just taken ill and was struck blind. The roof of her home had collapsed, and the local authorities were going to have to evict her for safety reasons. She was in dire straits.

“I used to be shy,” Rania says. “Even if I just had to go to the market, I didn’t know what to do.”

The Enhancing the Economic Resiliency of Displaced Iraqis and Poor Jordanians project is a joint effort designed to help those in most need to develop business and vocational skills. NEF teamed up with local community-based organizations (CBOs) to find those who stood to benefit most in their communities from such help. They would learn business administration and marketing, as well as bookkeeping. Vocational training options included computers, perfuming, and leatherwork.

The end of the training was marked by a cash grant. Jordanians filled out grant requests and submitted a business plan. After a review by NEF and CBO staff, the amount was granted if the business model seemed viable.

“NEF gave us their trust with this money,” Rania says. “It influenced me a lot.”

Being unable to work in their host countries, the Iraqi refugees received grants of cash assistance, designed to help increase their quality of life, until they could be resettled and use their newly learned skills legally.

“We could barely pay the rent,” Rania says, “and when we did, we’d have nothing left over.” She immediately set upon breeding and selling songbirds, which can fetch a good price in her area. Songbirds are a vocation with which she grew up, as her father bred the birds

In just six months, Rania has developed a thriving business. Her husband now assists with taking care of her birds and she can buy him the medicines he desperately needs. She has repaired the roof of her home and purchased new bedrooms for her three children. She does not want for anything. She does not ask for help and she doe not take government assistance. She revels in her newfound independence.

“This changed my situation from the worst to the best,” Rania says. “I can keep up with my family’s needs without help from anyone.”

 

This was funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.