(Washington, D.C.) September 5, 2016 — There are more than 65 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide, the highest level ever recorded. This offers a challenge to all of us. Pope Francis urges us to see these refugees as more than statistics, but as persons, each with a face, a name and a story.
Because Jesuit Refugee Service does view refugees as invididuals, we launched the Global Education Initiative. JRS is committed to raising $35 million and doubling the number of people served in our education projects to more than 240,00 by the year 2020.
In August, Jesuit Refugee Service watched with millions of people around the world as the first ever Refugee Olympic team marched with national teams during the opening of the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janiero.
As representatives of the 65 million refugees and displaced people across the globe, the eleven Olympians — Mardini, Anis, Masenga, Kinde, Busaka, Mabika, Biel, Lokoro, Chiengjkiel, Lohalith, and Lokonyen — went on during the games to showcase both their individual talents and drive, and the resilience that enabled them to conquer horrific realities to make it to Rio’s Olympic stadium.
JRS applauds the Olympians for both their physical feats and determination and for sharing their powerful stories to a global audience who was predisposed, via an affinity for sport, to hear them. In October, JRS plans to continue to shine the spotlight on the facts driving today’s unprecedented refugee crisis, and as on the need to support refugee education. We are bringing together some of America’s most thoughtful and beloved artists for Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees. (See the sidebar on the upper right of this page to learn more about the artists.)
Singer/songwriters Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, and The Milk Carton Kids have donated their time and incredible talents to this singer/songwriter tour. The concerts will support the JRS Global Education Initiative, which was endorsed by Pope Francis in November of 2015. Proceeds from the tour will support the GEI, and will help enable JRS to build capacity and expand our educational programs in order to help refugees and displaced people heal, learn and thrive. (Click here to listen to an interview with Patty Griffin about her involvement with JRS.)
“After witnessing first-hand the work of JRS in Ethiopia this past June, I have never been more inspired to champion such a critical cause,” said Emmylou Harris, 13-time Grammy winning artist. “The better angels of our nature call upon us to act with compassion and not with fear in the face of so much suffering.”
Our life’s journey begins somewhere — and for too many people that journey begins when they must flee their home and country. Those who make this trek from North Africa often pass through Lampedusa, an Italian island off the coast of Sicily that serves as a waypoint in a refugee’s search for safety and security. In 2013, Pope Francis took his first official visit to the island after hearing of an incident in which refugees traveling in a fishing boat towards Lampedusa drowned at sea while clinging to tuna nets.
“Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters? No one feels responsible,” said Pope Francis.
JRS feels responsible, and we believe education is a vital component to end suffering and to help refugees become self-sufficient. JRS has long considered quality education as our best way of providing refugees with a future of hope and promise. As important as food, clothing and shelter are for refugees, education provides skills that endure and will enable refugees to provide for their families, strengthen bonds in their communities, and promote lasting peace.
“Education is the one life-saving intervention offered to a displaced person that cannot be taken away,” said JRS International Director Fr. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J.
Less than 50% of all refugees have access to primary education. That number drops to 25% for secondary education and only 1% for higher education. Through the GEI, we are striving to reshape this global reality via educational projects that open minds and unlock the rich potential of refugees.
Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees attendees will be treated to an intimate musical experience featuring a handful of artists performing acoustically in turn. Called a “guitar pull” in Americana music circles, the format stages the feeling of sitting in a friend’s living room where the audience listens to live and relaxed music. And, it just so happens that Lampedusa’s living room spaces are some of the best in North America (click here for venues).
To bring a tour like Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees to life is a large undertaking, fraught with detail and logistical management, and could not have come to fruition were it not for the talent and support of the artists, their management companies, booking agencies, and publicists.
Additionally, APCO Worldwide — one of the worlds largest communications and business strategy companies — and Ethiopian Airlines have embraced JRS as a partner and have committed to support our efforts at raising awareness and funds for refugee education. JRS is immensely grateful for their professional services and financial support.
JRS works in more than 45 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social, and other needs of many of these refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. The scale of this humanitarian crisis is staggering: one in every 122 people is a refugee. More than half are women and children; at least 30 million are under the age of 18.
“We are ready to bring this critical issue to the stage and help people understand that education provides a path forward in life for refugees,” said Fr. Timothy P. Kesicki S.J., the President of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.
“Most people don’t realize that refugees spend an average of 17 years displaced from their homes and many never return.”
Our mission to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons drives our efforts. To accompany means to be a companion. Jesuits are companions of Jesus, so we wish to be companions of those with whom he preferred to be associated, the poor and the outcast.
JRS services are made available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs. JRS advocates for just and generous policies and programs for the benefit of victims of forced displacement, so that those made vulnerable by exile can receive support and protection and durable solution to their plight can be achieved.
JRS is dedicated to provide a quality education within traditional classrooms, via hands-on skills training, and via online higher education learning chambers — all JRS hallmarks. Education services are offered at elementary, secondary, vocational, and tertiary levels; particular emphasis is placed on training for girls, too many of whom have no seat in the class.
The focus of our work is to help those we serve to heal, to have the opportunity to learn and ultimately to thrive. Heal because the refugee experience is one of sudden, catastrophic loss — of family, friends, home, community, livelihoods — and ongoing trauma of fear, violence and despair. Learn because education is the one life-saving intervention that cannot be taken away, providing a path to a better future, community empowerment and peace building. Thrive because enabling devastated people to take back their lives re-instills the self-reliance and independence they once had and builds confidence and hope for a better future for all of us ó now and for generations to come.
“What Iíve seen in these refugee camps is that there’s still hope,” said Emmylou Harris after visiting two refugee camps in northern Ethiopia where JRS works. “There’s a spirit there, and I believe the seeds of great promise. But they do need a leg up, they do need resources, and it’s going to take money. I was so impressed with the work of JRS in these camps. I don’t know what the answers are going forward, but I know we can’t abandon this amazing group of people.”
For more information on venues and tickets for Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees, click here.
To learn about VIP events around the concerts, and to find out ways you can contribute to the Global Education Initiative, please email Gail Griffith, Director, Global Education Initiative or call Gail at 202-629-5943
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