The International Rescue Committee helps people whose lives have been shattered by conflict and disaster. 

From treating hundreds of thousands of children for malnutrition in East Africa to creating safe spaces for young refugees fleeing war in Ukraine, our teams work around the clock to ensure families can survive, recover and regain control of their futures. 

Our work and methods vary depending on context and the needs of a community. Below, explore five innovative ways the IRC supports people coping with crisis around the world.

Helping children "Play Well" in Colombia and East Africa

While remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge for many children, the pandemic has compounded issues for the most vulnerable, including young refugees and migrants. 

By early 2021, it was estimated that 1.8 million Venezuelan children faced significant challenges in accessing quality education. Venezuela has been facing a severe economic downturn, with millions leaving for neighboring Colombia and other countries. 

In 2020, the IRC launched “Play Well” in Colombia. Funded by the LEGO Foundation, Play Well finds new ways to help children learn how to understand their emotions, the feelings of others and how to interact with the world around them.

Play Well content is designed to help promote this type of social and emotional learning through play and storytelling. We deliver this content through radio, phones and free apps like WhatsApp to reach children in regions where internet access is unreliable or limited. Play Well uses social and emotional learning to help refugee and migrant children integrate into their new communities while also helping local children welcome and empathize with these young newcomers.

In Colombia, we partnered with Click Clack, a local creative agency, which has developed a world of educational characters loved by thousands of teachers and students. Together, we expanded the story of Enrique, the migrant chameleon, to develop a 20-episode radio show called On Air with Enrique. This show aired weekly on one of Colombia’s biggest radio stations and provided 3.6 million listeners with social and emotional learning content.

Two girls sit together smiling and holding dolls.
Duberlyng* (left) and Rosmerlyn* listen to On Air with Enrique every week. Their mother, Deylin*, says that the show has "a very positive message about the responsibilities of life.”
Photo: Bianca Bauer for the IRC

Play Well will continue to support vulnerable children in Latin America with videos, face-to-face services in community centers and a second season of On Air with Enrique.

In 2021, the Play Well program traveled to support the needs of young refugees in Uganda and Tanzania, as well as children from the communities hosting them. The COVID-19 pandemic led to long school shutdowns in Uganda and Tanzania, making it difficult for children to access education.

With this in mind, we produced 20 episodes of a radio show called Dunga to promote the social and emotional learning of East African children. Play Well in Uganda and Tanzania reached an estimated 3.5 million people weekly through radio, in-person community sessions and digital platforms.

Yofrayner holds up his mobile phone, showing his access to Play Well.
Yofrayner*, a student in Colombia, accesses Play Well content from his phone.

Providing cash assistance in Afghanistan

Almost 23 million Afghans, over half of the country’s population, face acute food insecurity. That means that their lack of access to food has put their life or livelihood in immediate danger. Forty-three percent of the population lives on less than one meal a day. 

One key way the IRC helps Afghan families is through our cash assistance program.

Recognizing that people in crisis are best positioned to know what their families must have to survive, the program provides Afghans with cash or cash vouchers that they spend according to their needs. 

Afghan families have been able to buy food, clothes and other essentials after receiving cash assistance. Many have also used the money to travel to hospitals, purchase livestock and start businesses. 

The IRC has developed strong ties with the people of Afghanistan through more than 30 years of delivering humanitarian aid and support in the country. With 99% of our staff Afghan nationals themselves, our ability to operate in communities across the country is rooted in their expertise and our decades-long presence.

Noor holds her daughters hand while standing at a market.
Noor* takes her daughter to buy groceries using cash assistance she received from the IRC. Noor says of the program, “It means that my kids will not starve. I can get them medicine if they are sick.”
Photo: Kellie Ryan for the IRC

Partnering with local women's organizations in Uganda

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many communities around the world reported an increase in gender based violence. In Uganda, the IRC partnered with local organizations like the Karamoja Women Umbrella Organization (KAWUO) to address the issue head on. 

Working with local organizations allows us to better serve people affected by crisis because these groups understand the challenges their community faces, as well as how best to address them. Often they’ve already earned the trust of community leaders. Through partnerships, we support local leaders and nonprofit workers as they help their own neighbors.

Grace draws on a sign at COMESS
Grace Muuduru works at COSMESS, a local Ugandan women’s group supported by the IRC that helps train women in professions like carpentry and mechanics while also conducting awareness sessions on sexual harassment and abuse. “I am a feminist," Grace says. "For me, a feminist is somebody who stands up and speaks out for women.”
Photo: Esther Mbabazi for the IRC

In Uganda, our partnership with KAWUO provides safe spaces for women who report gender-based violence and trains men on how to treat and support the women in their lives. 

This collaboration reached a new level of importance as cases of violence and abuse increased during the COVID-19 lockdowns. 

The IRC provided biweekly training to KAWUO on key topics requested by the organization and we continue to provide technical support to KAWUO today.

Together, we were able to coordinate psychological, medical and legal support remotely for survivors of gender based violence.

By working with local partners and implementing innovative solutions to hurdles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRC and KAWUO’s 617 case managers have provided uninterrupted support to courageous survivors of gender based violence in Uganda.

Loyce holds a sign advocating for women's rights in Sierra Leone
Loyce*, an activist from the Togoletta women’s group stands up for women’s rights in Uganda. The Togoletta women’s group is one of several local Ugandan organizations the IRC supports.
Photo: Esther Mbabazi for the IRC

EAGER in Sierra Leone: transforming educational opportunities for girls

In Sierra Leone, early marriages and pregnancies have prevented many adolescent girls from attending school. 

During the 2014-16 Ebola crisis, girls in Sierra Leone experienced high levels of gender based violence and an increase in early and forced marriages as families married off daughters they could no longer afford to care for. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a similar negative impact  in many girls’ lives and further reduced their access to education when schools closed.

Through the Every Adolescent Empowered and Resilient Project, or EAGER, the IRC and our partners are providing education to girls aged 13-17 who never attended school or have dropped out. We have supported over 27,000 of these girls in Sierra Leone since launching the project in 2020 in collaboration with the researchers and planners of the IRC’s Airbel Impact Lab.

Through a 30-week learning program for girls, participants learn to read, write and do math as they also develop life skills like financial literacy. EAGER also provides one-on-one mentorships, which connect girls with female leaders in their community and help them develop a personalized plan for a successful future. 

EAGER also brings caregivers and community leaders together to discuss ways they can support adolescent girls. The program maximizes its reach through a weekly radio program that focuses on issues impacting young girls in Sierra Leone.

4 girls take a break from their EAGER course to pose for a picture
Teenage girls in the IRC’s EAGER learning program in Sierra Leone take a break from their lessons.
Photo: Michael Duff for the IRC

Rising to meet the needs of refugees in the U.K.

The IRC has a long history of helping resettle refugees in the United States, developing highly effective programs to support the integration and wellbeing of refugees in their new homes. For example, 84 percent of refugees enrolled in IRC employment programs in the U.S. become economically sufficient within 180 days.

We are now using our expertise to support refugees resettling in the United Kingdom.

In early 2021 we launched the Resettlement & Integration in Southeast England program, or RISE, to help resettled refugees in the U.K. gain the knowledge and confidence to thrive in their new communities. The RISE program provides training to newly arrived refugees that helps them navigate local services and understand the culture around them.

RISE places a particular focus on supporting refugee women. From the IRC’s work in countries around the world, we know that women refugees may face discrimination and barriers to employment. The RISE program helps refugee families and in particular, women, engage with their new communities and take control of their futures.

Marah and Razan pose for a portrait
The RISE cultural orientation program helped Syrian refugees Razan, 60, and Marah, 25, learn about local services and made them feel more welcome in their new community. Marah says, “There was plenty of useful information that everyone needed, information about laws and regulations that we didn’t know before”.
Photo: George Baxter for the IRC

In addition to the RISE program, the IRC provides employment assistance to refugees who are resettling in the U.K. We also train teachers who work in schools that have welcomed refugee students from Afghanistan and Ukraine to support the integration of these young newcomers.

Nasrin and her frather, brother and mother
Four- year-old Nasrin (center left), was born with a heart condition. Her family are Syrian refugees and were supported through RISE when they resettled in the United Kingdom. “We learned about our rights and obligations,” says Nasrin’s father, Masson, of the program. “We have a better idea of how to book appointments with the general practitioner. This program has helped us learn many things.”
Photo: Elena Heatherwick for the IRC

The IRC is proud to be a leader in building innovative programs to deliver humanitarian aid across the world. To find out more about our mission and work, read our annual report.

*Last names omitted for privacy