The Refugee Empowerment and Support Taskforce

Dedicated to the empowerment of refugees and migrants.


Photographer: Fanny Shertzer, © Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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Our Mission

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.


“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

Desmond Tutu



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The Burundian Crisis

In early 2015, growing tensions in Burundi accelerated in anticipation of national elections. In response to the mobilization of armed factions and due to fear of the outbreak of violence, many Burundians began to flee into neighboring countries, including Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania. In May 2015, a failed coup occurred, throwing the capital of Bujumbura into disarray and leading even more Burundians to leave their homes amidst the chaos and uncertainty. Since 2015, the situation in Burundi has remained tense, as uncertainty and fear abound. 

The 2015 violence in Burundi has created over 400,000 refugees, more than half of whom are under the age of 18. Over 80,000 refugees have resettled in Rwanda, Burundi’s northern neighbor. Mahama Refugee Camp is the largest refugee camp in Rwanda, housing over 50,000 Burundian refugees. Despite the prevailing image of refugee crises as temporary emergencies, the reality is that it often takes years, and even decades for displaced persons to return home. The refugees in the Mahama camp will likely remain there for the foreseeable future.



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Ready to help?