Elizabeth Grady (KRB 1992) works at Australia for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency in Sydney, heading up the Philanthropy and Partnerships team.
Elizabeth shares with us a personal account of her trip to the Tigray region on the Ethiopian and Eritrean border and the activities the UNHCR are currently involved in, supporting Afghani refugees.
I love my role and no two days are the same. At its core, my role is about connecting people’s desire to help others with practical action. One of the highlights is meeting the wonderful supporters who would like to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Pre-COVID, part of my role was visiting countries where UNHCR operates. This was always a fantastic opportunity to witness firsthand the impact UNHCR has but more importantly, it was an opportunity to meet and listen to the people UNHCR supports.
The last trip I took was to the Ethiopian and Eritrean border area in the Tigray region. I visited four camps to interview children who had crossed from Eritrea into Ethiopia without their families. They told us that their parents had smuggled them across the border (an incredibly dangerous activity) to avoid the open-ended National Service and lack of opportunity in the region. Once they arrive in Ethiopia the biggest risk these children then face is being trafficked—all too often young refugees are detained in Libya or undertake the perilous journey to Europe.
One way that UNHCR supports these children is by placing them with foster carers, who are other refugee families. I met one woman called Biri. She was a single mum, caring for four foster children as well as her two biological children. Biri told me that before the children moved in with her, she would visit them and she quickly realized that she could minimize their suffering by sharing what little she had. She likened the children to flowers: they will flourish if taken care of. They lived in a crowded two-room mud structure but, importantly, they felt safe and were able to go to school.
Over the last three months our main focus has been on the emergency situation in Afghanistan. Over 600,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and over half are women and children. UNHCR provides emergency shelter, food, cash assistance and health care. We are now also planning for the onset of winter and the set of challenges that brings to families who have nowhere to live or have to make difficult choices when it comes to caring for their families.
The outpouring of support from the Australian public has been incredible. Australian artist Ben Quilty has been instrumental in helping us raise a record $10M. All of these funds have gone directly to help those on the ground who need it most. The need continues though as the number of people who need support also grows.
I feel very fortunate to have a role that allows me to be the conduit through which people are able to transform the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
If you would like further information, please contact EGrady@unrefugees.org.au