Psychology Alumna Forms Aid Organization for Refugee Children
Celina Guich (MA ’05) has taken the road less traveled.
Her penchant for traveling has led her to India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and many other countries. These international experiences inspired her volunteerism for various nongovernmental organizations, including the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees at a refugee camp in Buduburam, Ghana. While there Guich befriended fellow volunteer Penelope Chester, who became her partner in establishing The Niapele Project, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable strategies for the empowerment of vulnerable refugee children through the development of community-based initiatives.
“Niapele” (pronounced nee-uh-peh-lay) means “children” in Kpele, a Liberian dialect. Guich and Chester chose the name to identify their organization as a project ultimately intended to support the needs of refugee children in the Buduburam refugee settlement, originally established in 1990 to accommodate Liberians fleeing civil war in their country. These children are often the hardest hit by the economic hardships, health issues, and food and water shortages affecting the 40,000 refugees living in the camp.
“Our approach is based on the principles of sustainable development, which is much more effective than handouts,” explained Guich. “We support grassroots initiatives that address the needs of refugee children, providing them with increased access to health care, education, shelter, food, and a stable, nurturing environment. We provide our partners with multidimensional support—helping them to develop long-term strategies for independence, and assisting them in strengthening their organizational capacity through the provision of skills and management training, expertise and advice, and financial aid.”
As executive director of The Niapele Project, Guich establishes policy, coordinates the organization’s field efforts with project partners, develops collaborative relationships, and monitors and evaluates projects to ensure quality control of all operations. Current projects include the development of a nutrition program at a free school for vulnerable children in Monrovia, Liberia, and the relocation of the Harmony Children’s Center for handicapped children from the settlement to Monrovia.
“We work with local leaders in order to strengthen the fabric of communities, an essential element of a vibrant and open civil society,” Guich offered. “The services provided by local organizations are indispensable in places where government capacity is limited. In addition, by assisting the local leadership we contribute to the overall vitality of the communities in which we operate. We strive to integrate best practices into all of our work by encouraging women’s empowerment, local ownership and leadership, and environmentally sound practices.”
Guich invites anyone with an interest in the effort to participate. She noted that while financial donations are always helpful, there are numerous ways that people can contribute to the cause, such as linking to the organization’s Web page from a personal Web site or blog; using the organization’s Goodsearch toolbar when navigating the Internet; making online purchases through the organization’s We-Care site; forwarding information on the organization through social networking sites; and donating old cell phones, ink cartridges, and laptops to the organization for reuse. Guich is also looking for enthusiastic volunteers who share her vision to assist with event planning, fundraising, grant writing, and marketing.
Guich asserts that her education at GSEP has been invaluable to her current work. “Some ask me why I am not pursuing a career in the field of psychology considering that I hold a degree in that subject. However, I utilize the skill set acquired through my course of study in my role as executive director of The Niapele Project. Coordinating sustainable development projects for refugee children requires one to exercise empathy and compassion, sound judgment, critical analysis, and objective, goal-oriented decision-making—all which have been enhanced through my education at GSEP.”
For more information, visit www.theniapeleproject.org.