Photo: Gahigiro Salima became a refugee in 1972 when a wave of ethnic violence engulfed her country of Burundi. She fled to Rwanda, and later to to a refugee camp in Tanzania. In 2007, she and her four children were resettled by the IRC in Boise. She has steadily acquired skills which have helped her get a full time housekeeping job at Shilo Inn and is now able to provide for her family.

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International Rescue Committee

Gahigiro Salima and her familyUniversity of Idaho Martin Institute Honors Boise International Rescue Committee in Boise


By Donna Emert
Originally written Spring 2011

MOSCOW, Idaho – A famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Most non-native inhabitants of North America can trace their lineage back to those huddled masses.

One agency in particular, the International Rescue Committee, still holds its lamp beside the golden door.

The University of Idaho’s Martin Institute honored the Boise-based IRC as the inaugural recipient of its Distinction of International Service Award on Monday, May 2, at the institute’s Advisory Board meeting and awards reception on the University of Idaho campus. The award acknowledges the important work of IRC: responding to the world's worst humanitarian crises by providing refuge from violent persecution, and helping refugees become self-sufficient and productive American citizens.

Since 2006, IRC in Boise has helped more than 1,300 refugees escape religious, ethnic and political persecution in areas of intense conflict around the globe, including Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, Congo and Afghanistan.

The demanding criteria for earning the award were established by a panel of University of Idaho international studies students, led by sophomore Nikki Henderson of Boise, and including: freshman Dan McCarthy of Idaho Falls; sophomore Lauren Layton of Spokane, Wash.; junior Maria Mandujano of Weiser; and senior Brittany McCormick of Boise.

The selection criteria, devised by Henderson and implemented with the help of the student panel, allowed the students to carefully scrutinize 89 NGOs around the region, all of which are active in the international sphere.

Henderson said the exercise helped her hone research skills, and led to some discoveries.

“I learned that there are a lot of NGOs doing great work,” said Henderson. “I never realized how many interests they served and how many countries they’re in.”

The process also renewed her faith in her educational choice as international studies major. It is the right choice, she believes, for those who want to change the world. “When I graduate I might not have a million dollar job, but there are tons of opportunities out there, and I know I’m in the right field,” she said.

The students used the rubric they created to weigh the NGOs’ global and local impacts, taking into consideration the organizations’ impact on women and girls, children and youth, and refugees. They looked at the organizations’ investment in education, and how they address poverty and violence. They took many factors into account, including financial efficiency. The IRC shone brightly in all categories, including finances: 90 percent of IRC funding goes directly to their programs; six percent to administration; and four percent to fundraising.

When the students finished researching each of the 89 NGOs, the IRC in Boise emerged as a regional and global leader.

The award is a valuable acknowledgement of Boise IRC and the State of Idaho, said Rabiou Manzo, resettlement program specialist for IRC Boise and a 2003 graduate of the University of Idaho.

Manzo also has been recognized for his work and impact in Boise. He holds the Sarlo Foundation’s international Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award for providing outstanding service to refugees and displaced persons.

“The Martin Institute’s Distinction of International Service Award is an honor and a validation of all the work the IRC does,” said Manzo.

“We have spent five years creating a network of community connections in Boise and the greater Treasure Valley," he noted. "Without them we could not function. We are excited to see the Martin Institute’s recognition of refugees, and I hope that connection and awareness will spread throughout the state of Idaho.”

There are several ways to provide support for the IRC in Boise, including donations of time and money, said Manzo. The need is great.

“The initial funding that we are getting from the federal government for support services is not enough to cover some of the high-needs refugee population,” he said. “Most of the refugees that are coming have trauma, and the eight months that the government gives us to help them become self sufficient is not enough time. Sometimes we need to support them [beyond the eighth month] with private funding.”

For more information about IRC in Boise, and how to support it, visit: http://www.rescue.org/us-program/us-boise-id.