Hiking to Help Sudanese refugees


By Maja Mihalinec, Contributor

A refugee camp in Doro, Southern Sudan, currently accommodates 25,000 refugees. Half of the new arrivals are children; nearly 2,000 are unaccompanied by adults.

Doro is just one of the emergency response camps of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and even with 25,000 people, it is not the largest.

With hopes of a better life, refugees are often brought to the United States. Omaha is presently the home of the largest Sudanese refugee population in the nation.

Hundreds of thousands of people are currently fleeing Sudan due to increasing violence. Bombings and plane attacks, often leading to deadly stampedes have become a daily constant and too many people have been killed. Fleeing the fighting between the government and the military, Sudanese refugees are unable to find food or shelter in the wilderness and seek relief from organizations such as UNHCR.

On April 20, Omaha students and the metro community will come together to help these refugees in Global Youth Service Day / Hike to Help Refugees event hosted by the University of Nebraska Omaha at Turning Point youth services center, located at 3223 N. 45 St. The hike is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.

“The day will educate students and the Omaha metro community about the plight of millions of Sudanese refugees. More than 600 volunteers from UNO and the community participated in last year’s event and we are expecting more participants this year,” Kathleen Oleson Lyons, director of UNO Student Community Leadership and Service, said.

For the Hike to Help Refugees event, UNO is partnering with Central High School’s junior English students and their “American Experience” curriculum connections by having students participate in a mile-long walk as well as create “learning stations” placed throughout the walk that will simulate the refugees’ stories.

 The Central High School students say they are thrilled to be working on the project and are coming up with great ideas for the learning stations, including themes such as human trafficking and a true refugee story.

Also featured at the event will be UNHCR refugee tents and entertainment provided by African music groups, as well as salsa dancing. A brief closing ceremony will include Sudanese refugee Seth Mock, who now owns a small business in Omaha, Cathy Finney of USA for UNHCR and Margaret Hahn of Hike to Help Refugees, a local UNHCR nonprofit. Lunch and a t-shirt will be provided for all participants.

Along with a largely informational role, the event is also considered a fundraiser for the Hike to Help Refugees local office. Money donations will be accepted on site, but attendees are encouraged to bring small electronics to be donated to Recycle 4 Refugees, a program that collects small electronics for “green” recycling, with 100 percent of donations going to Hike to Help Refugees.

Hike to Help Refugees is provided to the community as a part of the Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), April 20-22, 2012, when millions of children, teens and young adults, ages 5 to 25, and adult allies and champions work together to be a part of the largest, and longest-running, annual day of service, and the only day of service dedicated to engaging and celebrating children and youth. This year, GYSD has been extended into a weekend-long event.

Earlier in the day, on April 20, GYSD volunteers will clean up local parks, help community outreach organizations and conduct neighborhood improvement activities. Check-in for Global Youth Service Day service activities begins at 8:30 a.m.

UNHCR was established on Dec. 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Hike to Help Refugees has been educating communities about and raising funds for USA for UNHCR since 2002.

A dedicated community of volunteers from Nebraska and Iowa exists under the name of Hike to Help Refugees, to support the humanitarian work of the United Nations Refugee Agency which provides protection, shelter, food, water, sanitation and medical care to more than 34 million refugees worldwide.

When people decide to flee, they take on dreadful experiences that only they can imagine. They walk up to four months in extreme heat, with no food or water, carrying children and their rare belongings on their backs, in hope to find a safer place.

Family tents, kitchen sets, blankets, jerry cans, plastic sheets, sleeping mats and mosquito nets are just some of the emergency relief items provided to the refugees by the UNHCR.

When the plane arrives, thousands of people are hoping to receive just a small portion of its cargo, which could help a family survive.

In the local drive with an international mission to help refugees, donations collected will go toward providing tents and other emergency necessities such as protection, water, food and sanitation. One tent costs about $345 and houses five people. One hundred percent of the money will be used by The United States Association for UNHCR, to provide emergency relief services for refugees fleeing the conflict in Southern Sudan.

Refugees are in immediate need of  physical security and access to basic services, nutritional well being and increased access to drinkable water and education.

It doesn’t take a lot to increase chances of survival for these refugees. A donation of only $4 provides a blanket for one person, $10 provides a mosquito net to protect children from the threat of malaria and $20 provides a kitchen set or blankets for one family.

To participate in the 2012 GYSD, register today at http://www.unomaha.edu/serve/gysd2012.php.


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