The mission of the Global Emergency Response and Assistance (GERA) organization is to protect human rights and to restore the dignity, well being and safety of those affected by conflicts and disasters. They provide aid relief and alleviation assistance to refugees, new arrivals in host countries, and internally displaced persons. Nextgen chatted with Oumarou Kouraogo, GERA co-founder, to learn more. Connect with them on Facebook.
What inspired the creation of GERA? Tell us any specific moments that moved you to develop or join GERA?
My experience living in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, where I witnessed political tensions, economic inequalities and the daily suffering of families especially children, triggered the implicit promise within me to be a voice that spoke up against injustices, to fight poverty and to never ever stop until the basic rights to food, clean water, education and healthcare are a reality for all people around the world.
Sikandar Kaan [GERA president] served with the U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan where he got to experience the everyday struggles and experiences of those living in a conflict zone due to the ongoing violence between terrorist organizations and armed forces. He came across children who had been brainwashed and recruited by the Taliban to be used as suicide bombers or as human shields. One experience in particular, which according to Sikandar had a lasting effect on him, was having to clean the blood off children’s bodies who were the same age as my little brother and sister.
Upon returning to the U.S., Sikandar related his story to me — we were roommates at the time — and we started brainstorming on how we could help children in conflict zones and fight poverty around the world.
Two weeks into brainstorming we still did not know what to do, until one morning while watching CNN, the news broke out that Peter Kassig, a humanitarian aid worker and founder of SERA (Special Emergency Response and Assistance) was captured and killed by ISIS while he was delivering aid to Syria. That was the moment that really drove us to create GERA as we were inspired to continue the great work Peter Kassig was doing throughout the world.
What are your objectives as an organization and what are some of the actions that you take to achieve these objectives?
The mission of Global Emergency Response and Assistance is to protect human rights and to restore the dignity, well-being and safety of those affected by conflicts and disasters. We do this by providing aid, relief and alleviation assistance to refugees, new arrivals in host countries, and internally displaced persons.
Currently, GERA is working with refugee families in Jersey City and Paterson, New Jersey to provide relief assistance. We bring together humanitarian actors to ensure a proper, coordinated and effective response to crisis. GERA works with translators, tutors, ESL volunteers, lawyers, certified psychologists, and partners to ensure that humanitarian assistance is reaching refugees.
We seek to re-integrate refugees as functional members of society; thus we have a huge focus on educating refugee children by providing ESL classes and career development for adults. Our current project is to develop a mobilize education system for kids in conflict zones; while helping their parents in the integration and adaptation process.
As a young organization, what challenges do you face (especially financial among others) and how do you overcome them?
As a young organization one of our main challenges was gaining credibility; however we have worked hard to make a name for our organization. As you mentioned finance is one of the biggest challenges however we have had various successful fundraisers. We have a great team that is very organized and motivated; thus we are able to delegate tasks through specialized committees to get the work done.
What kind of youth involvement is driving GERA and how is GERA influencing change?
GERA is made up almost entirely by young professionals. Our individual stories tend to motivate other youth. Almost, every week we receive up to fifteen volunteer application forms from college students thus we are seeking to create GERA campus chapters so that more students can get involved.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of GERA’s work thus far?
Some of the goals that we have been able to accomplish this year include, but are not limited to, hosting fundraisers to garner awareness and support, partnering with the Malala Fund, being present/attending UN meetings at the high-level political forum, applying to speak at the UN NGO DPI Summit, networking with UN Women and UNICEF, and hosting a mission trip to the Turkish-Syrian border to deliver aid; where GERA worked in partnership with Embrace Relief and other local organizations to provide food, blankets, winter shoes and coats for over 4,000 refugees. However the most rewarding aspect has been the creation of GERA itself as it has given us a platform to work on projects that promote human rights and that truly make a difference in someone’s life.
Where do you envision GERA in 10 years? What do you wish to achieve?
We would like to see GERA on the ground around the world working to ensure the human rights and dignity of all human beings. Ultimately, GERA’s goal is to combat terrorism through education. We would also love to inspire thousands to continue Peter’s work, stand up for those that can’t, and speak for those that do not have a voice.
What are your thoughts on Generation Y/Z regarding non-profit work, especially in social issues such as refugees?
I think many young people are willing to help but not all of them understand the problem they attempt to solve. I believe that real information is key when it comes to working with refugees. I will encourage everyone who is looking to help refugees, to take some time to sit with those they are looking to help to hear their histories and their struggles rather than assuming.