The conflict in Syria has entered its fifth year, leaving 220,000 people dead and half of the country's population displaced. While governments and international organizations explore possible responses to the resulting humanitarian crisis, two students from the School of Diplomacy have found their own way to help those affected.
Sikandar Khan and Jeremiah Ifaorumhe have started an NGO aimed at addressing the needs of Syrian refugees. Global Emergency Response and Assistance (GERA), the NGO founded by Khan and Ifaorumhe, was largely inspired by the work of Peter Kassig, the former U.S. Army Ranger who was captured and killed by ISIS while delivering aid to refugees through his own NGO.
Khan said he first learned about Kassig after returning from his service in Afghanistan. “His life and his devotion to helping others inspired me to the extent that I made it my goal to follow in his footsteps,” said Khan. “In a way our NGO is a living tribute to his work.”
The mission of GERA is to protect human rights and to restore the dignity, well-being, and safety of those affected by conflicts and disasters. GERA provides aid, relief, and alleviation assistance to vulnerable refugees, new arrivals in host countries, and internally displaced persons.
“By assisting such individuals with basic supplies and supporting their assimilation processes both physically and psychologically, we help support the values of human dignity and human rights to those in vulnerable situations,” said Khan.
The team felt it was important to personally meet refugees affected by the Syrian conflict, and travelled to Turkey in the spring with the help of Turkish NGO Embrace Relief. While in Turkey, the team distributed food and clothing and talked to refugees about their experiences.
“My life hasn’t been the same since I visited these refugees,” said Ifaorumhe, whose everyday perspective was altered by the trip. “This experience made me revaluate my life and has made me make certain changes so that I can be a channel of hope to others.”
Ifaorumhe said that observing the psychological effect of the conflict on children was especially powerful.
Ifaorumhe described the work of building an NGO as challenging, but noted that these challenges have made the team stronger. The team’s diversity and its “ability to lend a helping hand without thinking twice” are qualities Ifaorumhe identifies as making GERA especially suited to the work of assisting the vulnerable.
In building the capabilities of GERA, Ifaorumhe and Khan have worked with different community leaders, including Passaic County Freeholder John Bartlett, and Mayor of Prospect Park, NJ, Mohamed T. Khairullah, and have sought the advice of professors and deans at the School of Diplomacy. The two hope to continue the work of GERA past graduation and to ultimately expand in order to assist populations around the world.
“I believe that if you are passionate about something and you put the necessary effort into making it work, that it is ultimately up to you how long you can keep it viable,” said Khan. “I certainly plan on continuing to try and serve those who are in need for as long as I live. If I can look back on all of this and say that our organization is able to truly help people, that I was able so share a little bit of hope and that I never stopped learning then I will know this all stood for something.”
GERA joins a tradition of Seton Hall Diplomacy students who have chosen to give back through the creation of NGOs. One World Today, which focuses on female empowerment and education, was founded by Diplomacy students as were Sandji and Aya Woldwide, which both focus on poverty alleviation and community development.
To learn more about GERA, click here.