Rebuilding and Empowering Refugee Communities
The Refugee Empowerment and Support Taskforce (REST) believes that the world’s top experts on refugee and humanitarian crises are refugees themselves. This guiding principle is the basis of what we call the “shoulder-to-shoulder” model. The REST creates a continuing dialogue with refugees and their neighboring communities, listening to the problems they face every day. The REST works shoulder-to-shoulder with these communities to develops projects that are sustainable, community-focused solutions to those problems. (All our programs are proposed by refugee community groups.) We then work with these refugee communities to turn their proposals into reality and implement them. Our methodology empowers refugees, helps them reclaim their agency, develops communities, fosters self-reliance, and improves lives.
In early 2015, as Burundian refugees began settling in Mahama Refugee Camp, three friends met in Kigali, Rwanda and discussed ways they could help. The Refugee Empowerment and Support Taskforce was born from discussions between Edward Makara, a Rwandan student, and two American volunteers: Ryan Bose and Jacob Sprang. Since 2015, Edward Makara has been working with a community of Burundian refugees living in Mahama. Through his “shoulder-to-shoulder” model, he organized a small community leadership board within the camp, comprised of refugees interested in improving the quality of life in Mahama Camp. After achieving 501(c)(3) status in 2016, the REST and its Rwandan partner, the Disaster Response Initiative (DRI), began working with Burundian refugees by funding community-led projects in Mahama Camp. To date, the REST has organized a tree-planting campaign, a women’s sewing collective, and a high school scholarship program.