Refuge International Owensboro has kicked off their new fundraiser, Routes to Refuge, in hopes of fostering support for refugees in the community and across the state.
The fundraiser, which started on May 20 and ends on World Refugee Day on June 20, asks participants to donate to Refuge International and pick a symbolic route to “travel.”
The route — which can be cycled, walked or run — is equivalent to the distance a refugee from the Congo, Afghanistan, Ukraine, or Cuba would have to travel to reach safety. Miles can be logged online, or through devices like a smartwatch or phone.
Entry fees range from $25 to $45 and can be paid online.
According to the Refuge International website there are approximately 1,275 refugees settled in Kentucky, with many taking up residence in Owensboro.
Realizing the need for refugee support systems in the community, Refuge International Owensboro started as the Welcome Project in 2017. In 2020 it affiliated with Refuge International in Louisville and took its current name.
Director Natalie Gunderson said that after an influx of refugees over the past couple of years, Refuge International currently supports 40 families that come from Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and across South America.
“Originally we were hosting asylum seeking families,” Gunderson said. “Now we’ve shifted gears a little bit and are more coming alongside refugee families and helping with daily practical needs such as English learning, learning how to drive, and helping children with homework.”
The funds raised will go directly to supporting these efforts.
Lindsay House, volunteer and event coordinator, said that although the fundraising is important, the main goal of the project is to combat misconceptions about refugees and raise awareness about their experiences.
“A lot of refugees that come are seeking safety, they weren’t necessarily seeking to leave their country,” House said. “We just want to bring awareness to the fact that these refugees travel long, difficult miles for the purpose of seeking safety.”
Aisha Babirye, from Uganda, talked briefly about her trip to the U.S. which she made when the organization was the Welcome Project.
“We had to flee because of political instability,” Babirye said. “(The trip) was long and hard. We came through Mexico. There were times where we couldn’t afford water.”
By developing awareness, House hopes that more people and churches volunteer with Refuge International Owensboro and make connections with refugees in the Owensboro community.
“There’s a young lady who came here from Afghanistan by herself and one of our volunteers, she loves them like her parents because she’s here without her parents and she’s only 19. (Another volunteer) started out helping (a group of single men) with English and now they all just enjoy each other’s friendship” House said. “We do see friendships like that grow and develop and it’s really rewarding for both us and them.”
As for Babirye, she said she can’t choose what memories and friendships to talk about because the amount of positive connections she has made in Owensboro is too great.