Help Make A Difference at a Refugee Camp - Anyone See Hotel Rwanda?


Membership Revoked
10+ Year Member
Mar 8, 2005
Hi all,

Please read below details about urgent health
and education needs at Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana. We hope that
many of you will be interested in volunteering your expertise.

I will start with part of an e-mail received by Julie Harris, a current
Unite For Sight volunteer at Buduburam Refugee Camp:

"For those of you who saw Hotel Rwanda, do you remember the scene where
the journalist is talking to Don Cheadle, saying that he thinks people
will watch the tragic events in Rwanda on their televisions, and way how
awful it is, and then go back to eacing their dinner? Help is needed
here, desperately - if you know how to inspire action, PLEASE help. If
you work for a publicity organization, help me to get the stories here
out....Don't assume that if it were major enough, you'd have heard of
it. Please help me to tell people about it. If you work for any
organizations that want to donate people or supplies, or you want to
donate yourself for a week or more, PLEASE help. The needs here vastly
exceed the capability of the volunteers present. I hope I can convey in
this e-mail how dire these circumstances truly are."

As background, I am writing on behalf of Unite For Sight ( , a 501(c)3
nonprofit organization that empowers communities worldwide to improve
eye health and eliminiate preventable blindness. Since January 1st, our
volunteer teams have been providing eye care at Buduburam Refugee Camp
in Ghana. Our teams are incredibly impressed by the people at the
refugee camp, especially their local NGO called SHIFSD (Self-Help
Initiatives for Sustainable Development). SHIFSD is an inspiring story,
borne out of the removal of the UN from the camp in 2000, which forced
the refugees to fend for themselves. The goal of SHIFSD is to implement
programs and make changes that will better lives as well as prepare
people for the eventual return to Liberia.

In addition to the eye care being provided by Unite For Sight, Buduburam
Refugee Camp also has many other urgent health and education needs, and
we are hoping that many of you may be interested in volunteering your
expertise and time, whether at Buduburam or from your own home

The urgent health and education needs include:

1) HIV/AIDS education and a sustainable source of condoms
2) Psychologists to assist with war-induced and camp-induced
psychological trauma
3) Education: sponsorship of children to receive an education. There are
many schools at Buduburam, all refugee-run, but many people cannot
afford school (about $100/student/year). Given the choice between food
and sending kids to school, some families do choose school. However,
their child then goes to school hungry, is fatigued and can't learn, so
the $100/year is wasted.
4) Volunteer teachers for 1 month or more (preferably 1 year or more) to
educate the children at Buduburam
4) Books for a library that we are hoping to create
5) Volunteers for a literacy program to teach the mothers how to read so
that they can help teach their children. Teaching the women is key to
teaching the rest of the population.
6) Computer donations, volunteers to teach IT
7) Volunteers to help refugees create small businesses
8) Volunteers to teach agriculture skills
9) If you're thinking of throwing away that old computer or accessories,
please ship it to Buduburam
10) Volunteers to provide eye care as Unite For Sight volunteers
11) Do you have connections to publicity organizations that can alert
people to the urgent needs at Buduburam Refugee Camp?

Unite For Sight's volunteer Julie Harris is working on eye health, HIV
education, teacher education (biology, basic math, chemistry, eye health
education), microenterprise, polio vaccination campaign, measles
vaccination campaign, literacy, clinical work, you name it. However,
Julie needs help from others who can assist with all of these needs
since there are only 24 hours in a day. The people at Buduburam Refugee
Camp are incredibley grateful for any support and volunteers. Our
Volunteer Teams can't stop raving about the incredible people, and 2 of
our volunteers who just returned back to North America are already
booking flights to return to Buduburam within 5 weeks! I hope that many
of you will be interested in helping, too.

I'll end with a story written by Julie about Ali, a man she has befriended:

Ali, the first patient, is a very shy, quiet man with a square
face. He always looks at his feet when he speaks, and he speaks so
quietly that it's difficult to hear him. He shuffles his feet in the
dust when he walks, probably because he cannot see well. He has
nystagmus, a condition that makes his eyes jump around when he tries
to focus, but when he is looking at nothing in particular, they stay
in place. Unrelated to the nystagmus, he has very low visual acuity –
he can count fingers that I hold up at 1 meter away, maximum. He's
married and has 4 kids of his own, plus his brothers' 3 children. I
went to interview Ali today, because his story touched me (and to be
honest, I'm in the first phase here. I'm still wide-eyed, and I know
it. But I can't ignore stories like this, and I hope you can't

Ali was born in 1965 in Monrovia, Liberia. In Liberia, very poor
families will often send their children to be sponsored by a wealthy
family, and the child will live with and work for that family in
exchange for school tuition. The child takes on the name of the
sponsor, which is how Ali acquired his name (I don't know his old
name). Many people in the camp were subject to this same arrangement.
Ali finished school and became a math teacher in Liberia, and taught
until January of 1990, when fighting in Liberia forced he and his wife
Elizabeth and their baby daughter Grace to flee. The rest of Ali's
family stayed behind.

Liberia is divided into 16 tribes that are often at odds. When the
war started, Ali's father, a popular local businessman, was removed
from his house early one morning in June 1990, arrested, and jailed on
the premise that he was selling rice to rebels; he was actually being
targeted for his tribal affiliation and ethnicity. Local supporters
came to the jail to make appeals on his behalf; to discourage such
appeals, they took his father out of the jail and shot him in front of

Ali fled Liberia in January of 1990, prior to his father's death. His
brother John, who now also lives at Buduburam with another brother and
one sister - 3 other brothers and 1 sister were also killed in the
Liberian war - told me the story of his father and that he watched his
father die. Ali fled to the Ivory Coast, as did most of the refugees
that are now here. In the Ivory Coast, he began teaching math,
unaware of what had happened to his family. Eventually, someone
brought his brothers' children to him (3) and he had 3 more of his
own. He assumed the position of Director of the Frontline Education
Project in the Ivory Coast, and worked there until 2002. On September
20th, 2002, the Ivory Coast erupted in war, the president was
overthrown (doublecheck this - I had trouble understanding him at this
point). Liberian refugeees, who had inundated the Ivory Coast, were
targeted for persecution by rebel forces as they attempted to aid the
current government. THe women and girls were raped and the men were
killed. Ali was beaten and tortured until his eyes filled with blood.

In late 2002, Ali came to Buduburam, and reunited with 2 brothers and
one sister, where he found out about his father and siblings being
killed in the war. I went to inteview Ali today at his house and
found that he had moved. His son, who was sewing outside the house,
took me to his brother's house, where Ali is now living. There are 13
people - Ali, Elizabeth, their 7 children, and his brother, his
brother's wife, and 2 children - living in a room that is
approximately 8 x 10. I asked them to show me how they sleep, and
they closed the door and showed me. I have a picture of a bunch of
refugees curled up on the floor. I swear to you that it is tragic.
Ali is an educated, intelligent man who lived a regular, normal life
as a math teacher prior to coming to Buduburam.


Membership Revoked
10+ Year Member
Mar 8, 2005
Ali came to our eye clinic on Wednesday, and on Friday I took Ali and
his wife to Tema to see if they could operate and help him – he was
suspect for bilateral cataract. Long story short, he has retinitis
pigmentosa – his retina is, through the ophthalmoscope, speckled with
yellows and blacks and reds (my best descriptive medical terminology).
It's an untreatable genetic condition, and his vision will not
improve. Like everyone, Ali wanted surgery, but there is no treatment
for his condition at all – not here, and not in the US. Dr. Addy, the
clinic doctor, explained the situation to me, and I explained it to
Ali. He was devastated. He asked if he could talk to me privately.
We went outside. Still looking down, he quietly explained his family
situation to me (which inspired me to return to him and find out
more), and he whispered how could he study if he won't be able to see?
I can't remember ever feeling so helpless. I wanted to cry for him.

I do have a few other bilaterally blind patients, but some have family
who can send them money and help. Ali does not. We are trying to set
up a microenterprise program with him and his wife, and are also
trying to get him a magnifying glass and strong magnifier glasses so
that he can read – they cost about $10, a relative fortune here, and
anyway are almost impossible to get a hold of here. I think the next
volunteer, Farhad, is bringing them next week when he comes. Jennifer
suggested that we set up a microenterprise system for him, and today I
asked him what sort of work he thought would be appropriate. He can't
sew, he can't teach - there are few things a blind man can do here.
He can, however, sell water. What is needed, in rough terms, are a
Deep Freeze (about $150-350 US, depending on the size), current (about
40$ US to register, and then about $11 per month to have 24-hour
service), and input to buy water (Not very much money). I asked his
wife about sewing, but she does not know how and it would take some
time to learn. A sewing machine here runs about $100, or you can rent
for about $11 per month. Anyway, it's a story I wanted to share, and
contributing to this particular microenterprise (or a general
microenterprise fund) can easily be done, and if you're interested,
you can email me to find out how to do it.

Jennifer Staple
Founder, President & CEO
Unite For Sight