By Pi James
NEW YORK, USA, 21 June 2010 – This year, World Refugee Day – which is commemorated each year on 20 June – had ‘Home’ as its theme, in recognition of the many millions of people around the world uprooted by conflict, persecution or natural disasters.
To mark the occasion, UNICEF podcast moderator Amy Costello spoke with two guests, Alhaji Jeffery Kamara and Annalisa Brusati, about the experience of refugees in West Africa.
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‘My dreams are gone’
When Mr. Kamara was only 11 years old, an armed rebel group attacked his village in Sierra Leone, killing his father and brother and forcing him to flee alone to Guinea.
Living in a refugee camp there, he met a group of musicians and formed the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars, who have achieved global fame since being featured in a 2005 documentary film. The band has toured the world and released two albums.
Mr. Kamara, who is now 24 and goes by the name Black Nature, said that losing his home and family was devastating. The dreams he once had of a successful future were all but crushed. “I found myself in a refugee camp and I thought that was it – my dreams are gone,” he recalled.
The other guest in the podcast discussion, Ms. Brusati, works with the non-governmental International Rescue Committee. Until recently, she was based in Sierra Leone and managed programmes on education, child protection, and youth and livelihood.
Ms. Brusati explained that Black Nature’s struggle is one shared by many refugee children after leaving their homes behind.
“It’s extremely sad, and it really highlights the need for psycho-social support, for emotional support,” said Ms. Brusati. It is essential that organizations working in refugee areas support children, she added, ”making them see that there is a possibility for them to continue their education, to realize those dreams, despite what’s been happening.”
Keeping the faith
It is also essential that education programmes work with governments to provide continuity for children and teachers who have been affected by conflict. For example, certificates and credentials received in temporary schooling programmes must be recognized when students return home.
“You have to give the whole community the chance to build on what they’ve achieved while they’ve been in the refugee camps,” said Ms. Brusati.
Black Nature agreed. “I think we all have to just keep the faith and have hopes and say, ‘One day I’m going to become the person that I want to be,’” he stated. “Among the refugee kids, there are talented people… They are people who can change the world into a better place.”