During Unprecedented Times, We Stand For Action

Unprecedented. Never done or known before. Unheard of.

65 million people are unable to go home because of war, persecution, terrorism, or other forms of violence. That’s more than the entire population of France. This is unprecedented, and the world stage is now taking steps to solve this global crisis.

Last week the UN General Assembly held two groundbreaking summits on refugees and migrants, where world leaders including President Obama committed to new actions support the displaced and address record numbers of global refugee and migration crises. Heartland Alliance added our voice to those urging policymakers to do more for the world’s most vulnerable refugees and migrants.

In such uncertain times, we recognize the responsibility to stand with and for the marginalized – especially as the numbers mount to unprecedented levels. Here is what we did during the summits:


We pledged our support – and our resources (Download the PDF)

The UN summits focused on world leaders and their governments, pushing our heads of state to act. In response, fifty-two countries pledged billions to support the cause. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were not provided a seat at this table, even though we are on the frontlines of the crisis – and bring our own resources to the table. As a response, Heartland joined the largest alliance of U.S.-based international NGOs, InterAction, in pledging our own privately-raised dollars to the cause. A total of 31 organizations have pledged to commit resources from private donations to bolster funding from government and UN donors so that together our collective effort reaches more people in need.


aisha2We Recognized the Marginalized of the Marginalized (Link 1, Link 2)

Heartland Alliance International also became a member of the Call to Action on Gender Based Violence in Emergencies. And we also signed on to a policy statement about the need to better support and empower women and girls in humanitarian crises. We’ve seen first-hand what war and violence does to women, girls, and children – and just how dangerous these times are for them. Just recently we highlighted the story of Aisha, a woman who was kidnapped and trafficked in the Congo – as she said:

“Once we arrived at their camp, the four of us were distributed amongst the men as their new ’wives’. I was taken by the commander.

My days consisted of going to the forest to collect food and tend to their farms. In the evening, I was expected to fulfill all the demands of a wife.

I cannot sincerely express the impact [Heartland Alliance International] has had on my life. Returning to my village I began selling merchandise and gaining profits. I used the interest gained to support my family, to pay school fees for my children and purchase food for the home. I feel confident in myself and proud of my small business.”

These are the dangers that half of the refugee population struggle through. We will continue to serve women like Aisha, and are growing our list of services around the world. In the coming months, we hope to expand safe spaces and counseling services for GBV survivors in places like Lebanon. Right now, demand for these programs outpaces our resources.


story1We highlighted the need to invest in conflict prevention

We joined an alliance of organizations fighting to ramp up investments in peace building, conflict mitigation, and reconciliation programs. When entrenched wars show no end in sight, these programs can reinvigorate stalled or otherwise unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to find political solutions to the conflicts driving forced displacement (

Just as we have served those affected by decades-long civil war in Colombia, HAI is on the ground and prepared to contribute to peacebuilding efforts as communities rebuild their lives in search of reconciliation and healing. Since 2010, HAI, with the generous support of USAID, has worked with nearly 1,400 men and women whose lives were devastated by the conflict. HAI provides individual and group counseling to Afro-Colombians who are survivors of torture and other forms of severe violence, creating a path for them to heal.


We gathered advocates and service providers in the Midwest

story2Our own National Immigrant Justice Center led an event about the current U.S. response to the global refugee crisis the same day of the first summit. With panel discussion from some of the top experts in the field, we brought people together to share our collective experiences and better understand the current refugee situation and the personal experiences asylum seekers face. 



We Made It Clear And Simple: Human Rights Are Inalienable (Link)

We joined our NGO peers to promote a vision for action and impact coming out of these summits. Keeping it simple, that vision can be distilled down into 3 parts:

(1) Every refugee can access asylum from persecution;

(2) Every refugee will be given the opportunity for a durable solution to his or her plight, to be and feel safe, welcome, and at home, without having to wait years for that solution;

(3) Every refugee, displaced person, and migrant is entitled to the same human rights as everyone else.

Going forward, we will be engaging with the refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers we work with as well as our peer organizations, governments, UN agencies, and our partners on the ground to help translate these commitments into action and impact- in Chicago and throughout the world.


Stay tuned – we will need your help to make sure these promise are followed through. It’s time we all stand #withrefugees

In Her Own Words – Aisha’s Story


My name is Aisha, and I cannot thank HAI enough for the incredible impact their services have had on my life. Where I am from, wood is our primary fuel source and one must walk far distances down insecure routes to collect wood. Women are tasked with this charge and, due to insecurity, myself and eight women collectively go out into the forest to collect and bring home wood. One day, while we were collecting wood we all heard a loud, unfamiliar noise behind us. When we turned around we were confronted by a group of armed men.

Some women, struck with fear, began to run. The armed men immediately fired upon them, killing four women. The rest of us frightened to move for fear of being shot, remained unmoved. Following the event, the group of men brought us far into the forest, an unimaginable distance from our homes and families. Along the route we could not help but think that our families imagined we were killed once the other bodies of our group were discovered. Once we arrived at their camp, the four of us were distributed amongst the men as their new “wives”. I was taken by the commander. The place I was then taken, filled my everyday with struggle. During the day I was considered nothing more than another laborer. My days consisted of going to the forest to collect food and tend to their farms. In the evening, I was expected to fulfill all the demands of a wife. 

A month later, I observed the commander and another soldier discussing something quietly. I could not hear the conversation, but shortly after he turned to me and stated simply, “Stay here. You see this man, he is your new husband”. I was surprise and asked him, “but it is no longer you?”. He responded, “No, this man also is interested in you.” It was at this moment I realized I had been sold to another man. I stayed here for a period of time, tending to the same tasks, performing forced labor during the day and exploited sexually in the evening. Once this man tired of me, I was sold to a third man. I had become a simple product to sell, I was merchandise.

I soon discovered I was pregnant. I began bleeding excessively due to the pregnancy and non-stop hard labor I was subject to as well as ongoing sexual abuse. Once the man noticed the bleeding, he immediately brought me back to the commander saying, “Take your wife, we are tired of her”.

I was no longer seen as useful, and the soldiers returned me to where they had originally abducted myself and the four other women. Leaving me there, they told me to go home now. I was free, but now weak and not sure how I would make it home given my condition. Fortunately, I saw friends from my village collecting wood. I tried to yell to them, but I couldn’t find the strength to speak. One of my friends saw me, remarking “Look, that is Mama Aisha, I thought she had been killed!”  They noticed the blood on my clothes and carried me quickly to the nearest health center. At the health center, I was told I had major complications with the pregnancy and they would have to abort the child. After the operation, I continued to suffer from terrible contractions and consistent pain in my abdomen. I was constantly weak and couldn’t perform any of my daily activities. My husband was grateful to have found me again, and promised to do his best to tend to my needs. Despite his willingness, he was overwhelmed mentally and economically incapable of caring for me. My situation continued to worsen and I was powerless to change it.aisha1

One day, I noticed people from my village gathering for a large meeting. I went to see what was occurring and it was here I first learned of human trafficking from local leaders and representatives from HAI. After the sensitization I approached the leaders and presented my situation. I was told there was an assistance program for me. Not long after I was brought to HAI’s emergency shelter where I would spend six weeks. At this stage I was relieved to be out of my village, I felt constantly insecure. When I went out of my house, community members would point and stare at me. In the center, I found immediate refuge and security. My physical needs were tended to, I was finally relieved of my severe contractions. Additionally, I was supported psychologically, they changed my way of thinking, of seeing myself. I started to find myself again, to feel confident. When it came time to return to my village, the center prepared me economically, enhancing my ability to manage finances and equipping me with the finances and material to perform my own income generating activity.

I cannot sincerely express the impact the center has had on my life. Returning to my village I began selling merchandise and gaining profits. I used the interest gained to support my family, to pay school fees for my children and purchase food for the home. I feel confident in myself and proud of my small business.

Today, women have begun to confide in me, denouncing trafficking cases and discussing how human trafficking has impacted their lives as well. Many women once too scared or embarrassed to discuss their experiences have begun looking to me as a role model. As such, it is my hope that HAI continues to expand its services to others.



Protecting Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

With 1.2 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon is host to the highest percentage of Syrian refugees per capita—one in five—of any country in the world. Women and children make up 79% of the registered refugee population, with children constituting 53.2% of this figure. Violence, overcrowded shelters and insufficient incomes are the most pressing issues among this community.   

HAI has been working in Lebanon since 2008 in the following ways:

Combatting gender-based violence and expanding access to services. HAI has created and continually staffs safe spaces that serve over 2,700 women and girl refugee survivors of violence and those at risk of experiencing violence. These walk-in safe spaces include mental health and legal services, vocational training and child care services. These locations also share information about the rights given and services available to refugees.

Healing trauma and restoring well-being. HAI collaborates with existing social and health clinics to provide sliding scale and free services for Syrian refugees. The organization has trained clinic staff to provide mental health services for refugee survivors of violence.

  • Paving a path to sustainability. HAI brings together high-level national and local government, along with non-governmental organizations to help them better understand and respond to violence against Syrian refugee women and Lebanese host community member In addition, HAI partnered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to expand gender-based violence response and prevention in eight community centers inside eight Palestinian camps in Lebanon.
  • Protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) refugees. LGBT individuals have the right to be safe, healthy, engaged and empowered. HAI works with local partners to meet the most pressing needs of LGBT communities and increasing acceptance and support from within the larger refugee and host communities. HAI conducted the first assessment of its kind on the specific vulnerabilities facing LGBT refugees in Lebanon. This landmark report informs HAI’s and other organizations’ programming in working with this particularly vulnerable group of refugees.

Ensuring education for all. HAI provides training for Syrian refugee adolescent girls and children who are unable to participate in formal education because of language barriers.

Healing in Colombia

The Colombian civil war is the most destructive conflict in the Western hemisphere, causing widespread displacement and a legacy of pervasive, severe human rights violations dating back decades. Fighting among guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN), government forces and various paramilitary groups has especially affected rural communities along the Pacific Coast, home to the third largest African diaspora community in the Americas. Hundreds of thousands have fled massacres, torture, kidnapping and forced conscription. During a high point in violence in 2002, more than 4,000 civilians were killed for political motives, over 1,000 people “disappeared” and at least 2,700 people were kidnapped.  Severe human rights violations continue, with 200,000 individuals fleeing their homes each year. A vast majority of torture and abuse cases are not reported at all, as a result of fear of retribution and lack of data collection.

In 2011, HAI began delivering mental health services to victims of torture in Afro-Colombian communities, and the organization is working with civil society organizations to address the needs of torture survivors. HAI is increasing mental health treatment for victims of Colombia’s internal conflict by providing treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as suicide education and prevention tailored to indigenous communities. These projects have been developed in a manner that can be replicated throughout the country, and HAI is working with partners from universities, civil society and Colombian government agencies to expand the reach of its models to new regions and diverse populations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Growing Healthy Food, Good Jobs

For workers who have struggled to find and keep employment, a short term, skill-building job can be a springboard to success. Through our FarmWorks program, we’re preparing people with basic education as well as training for well-paid jobs in Chicago focusing on farming and warehousing.

Participants gain experience planting and harvesting fresh produce on our urban farm in East Garfield Park and then join our partner, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, assisting in their warehouse.

The approach has been enormously successful – this year we quadrupled the size of the farm, growing 34,000 servings of vegetables for communities struggling to get fresh food and prepared 34 individuals for in demand jobs.

Growing Careers: FarmWorks Combines Transitional Jobs + Contextualized Learning  

Heroin Crisis Act Passes

The new legislation will make treatment more accessible.

Currently, Illinois sees more heroin overdoses than any other state in the country. The Heroin Crisis Act, which makes rehabilitation programs accessible through Medicaid, and overdose antidotes more widely available, was a long, uphill battle, but its passage will save countless lives.

Read more here: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/02/437057914/illinois-house-leaders-override-governors-veto-on-heroin-addiction-bill

Rising to the $1 Million Innovation Challenge

For the formerly incarcerated, rejoining the community can be incredibly challenging. Finding work becomes increasingly difficult, putting them at risk for homelessness just as they’re looking to start fresh. For those with mental illness, this challenge can be nearly insurmountable without support.

Our new program, a $1 million challenge grant from the University of Chicago to work in partnership with XXX and the Cook County Sherriff’s Office, will build centers to support this severely underserved group, from connections to XXX to OTHER THINGS.

Read more: https://urbanlabs.uchicago.edu/page/urban-labs-innovation-challenge