In the last few days, I’ve seen a huge surge in members of the Church wanting to reach out to refugees in any way they can. I’m thrilled about this, as I’ve been following the middle-eastern refugee crisis since last year, and I would love some company in trying to do whatever we can to alleviate the suffering. I hope this can serve as a very basic reference guide for anyone unsure of where to start. This is only from my own experience and research, so if you have ideas and organizations you recommend, please share your experiences in the comments.
If you’re feeling low on inspiration or ideas, here are my recommendations:
Elder Kearon’s talk This was a conference highlight about helping refugees.
I Was a Stranger The RS’s website is great in that it first gets you excited about serving by providing doctrinal, historical and contemporary reasons to serve our brothers and sisters in need. Then it gives some really good general suggestions on how you can help, and what questions to ask.
Latter-Day Refugees 4 short stories about Mormons and refugees, including a story of when Latter-Day Saint refugees fled to Syria and were welcomed.
Basically the entire Women’s Session of General Conference I tried to pick the best parts, but there were too many. Just watch most of it and you’ll get the gist.
Many cities have organizations that focus on integrating refugees with their broader community. This is where some sweet Google action is handy. It’s often as simple as typing “refugee center in [city]” or “volunteer to help refugees in [city]”. For example, in my state, several organizations like the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, and the International Institute of Minnesota, have volunteer opportunities already in place that serve to connect refugees with native families, establish relationships, and help refugees learn to be self-sufficient. You can also see if the International Rescue Committee has a center in your home-city where you can volunteer. If your time is limited, or you are too far from a refugee center to help regularly, you can also ask if they need donations. Many basic necessities are often needed for incoming families.
If you cannot find anywhere nearby that focuses on refugees, another option would be to help out at a nearby battered women’s shelter, or a youth homeless shelter. Many of these women and children have also had to flee their homes in fear of their lives, and often come with very little in the way of physical and social resources. Local shelters can be found on-line, and volunteer duties can range from playing with children, cleaning a shelter, gathering donations, to being an advocate and friend for those who seek refuge.
These are large, international organizations that I’ve either donated to or that have been recommended by someone else. While financial donations to these organizations are often the most efficient way to help, you can always check out their websites to see if there are more local or direct volunteer opportunities in your area.
International Rescue Committee This is one of the larger charities that the LDS Church works with. There are no IRC centers I am personally close to (but check here to see if you’re near one), but they did mail me several updates to let me know what my donation was going to.
AMAR Foundation This is another group the church partners with. One of their current endeavors is providing psychological counseling to escaped, traumatized victims (mostly women) of the Islamic State.
Save The Children Another large charity that focuses on meeting children’s needs both here in the US and abroad.
Small Organizations & Individual Initiatives
Many of these are small non-profit organizations that were started by individuals or groups of individuals who saw a need and met it. All of them you can follow in detail on social media to keep up with what they’re doing.
Lifting Hands International This was started by a young LDS woman from Arizona named Hayley Smith. Last winter she volunteered as a translator in Greece (she speaks Arabic), and was inspired to start this organization to help even more. You can follow her efforts on Facebook. You can also buy specific items off an Amazon wishlist to be taken to refugee camps, or you can collect items locally that are needed in the camps (though you will have to ship it to their warehouse in AZ. They explain how on their website).
Carry The Future This is one of my favorites. This was started by a mom in California who wanted to get baby carriers to the exhausted parents she saw having to carry around their babies while fleeing. It was supposed to be a small IndieGoGo campaign, but blew up into something much bigger. I follow them on Facebook, and they share photos and stories of their experiences helping families. You can donate cash or baby carriers.
Winter Clothes For Refugees This was started by a woman named Megan Tucker to provide warm clothes to traveling refugees who had come from warmer climates. She is currently at the Greek/Macedonia border, and updates frequently on Facebook if you want to get a sense of what is going on “on the ground.” The group is now a registered charity with an option for tax-deductible donations.
Proactiva Open Arms These guys are epic. Started by a group of professional lifeguards from Spain, they came to Greece to help the refugees from drowning during their dangerous crossing. You can follow them on Facebook, (though posts are usually in Spanish) and see the passion they have for saving lives.
Lighthouse Relief A Swedish-based organization that is one of the premier small groups working on the ground in Lesvos, Greece. Their work has been paramount in making the journey of refugees less chaotic and more safe. You can follow their daily work on Facebook.
Innovative Organizations (Connecting across distances)
I put these on here because I’m not really sure how else to qualify them. They are using social media, technology and philanthropy in new, innovative ways to directly connect refugees with help from across the world (be that emotional, legal or financial help.)
CARE Letter-Writing While CARE is a huge international charity, this particular campaign was brought to my attention because they are sending letters to Syrian refugees. All you have to do is go to their website and enter in your words of encouragement and love, and then maybe take a few minutes to watch the touching stories of former WW2 refugees sharing their stories with current Syrian refugees.
Torchlight Legal This organization uses a network of attorneys and academic volunteers to crowdsource the research required in cases for refugees seeking asylum. Founder and CEO Jennifer Gonzalez was inspired to start Torchlight after working as a legal fellow with the NC Immigrant Rights Project, and witnessing the legal and structural obstacles facing refugees fleeing gang and cartel violence in Mexico and Central America.
Humanwire The founder of this org wanted to create a more direct interaction between giver and receiver. Humanwire allows you to “sponsor” a specific family in a refugee camp, and sets up a campaign web-page for you to raise funds for your selected family (you decide what to put the money towards, and how much you want to raise.) You are also provided the opportunity to meet the family through video-chat (translator is provided), and photos are always sent to you of anything purchased for the family you are supporting.
If running a fundraising campaign for a family sounds too daunting, you can also send orders of groceries, blankets, clothes, diapers and other necessities directly to a family. Humanwire emails you back pictures of the family receiving their items, as well as passing along a small message if you wish to give one to the family.
SPECIAL NOTE: As of today, I am sponsoring a family in Lebanon with the help of another women in my ward. We are raising money for basic necessities as well as medical needs for a pregnancy complication. Their family’s page is here: