Sasha holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MA in Humanitarian Assistance from the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Friedman School of Nutrition, Science and Policy; a joint degree program implemented through the Tufts Feinstein International Famine Center. At the Fletcher and Nutrition schools his focus was on NGO management, ethics and humanitarianism, humanitarian aid in complex emergencies, nutrition in complex emergencies and forced migration.
Mapendo International identifies, rescues, and protects refugees fleeing conflict and violence in Africa whose lives are in imminent danger and who fall outside of existing relief efforts. Focusing on urban refugees who are targets of genocide, torture survivors, rape victims, widows, orphans, and those with urgent medical needs (HIV positive refugees foremost among these), Mapendo International devises and implements short and long-term solutions for those whose struggle to survive would otherwise go unattended. The organization responds to the plight of such people through its medical clinic in Nairobi and through its rescue initiatives program in East and Central Africa.
While working in refugee relief and rescue operations in Africa, Mapendo International’s co-founder, Sasha Chanoff, travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo. There he undertook a US-funded emergency mission to rescue Tutsi victims of countrywide massacres, part of the ethnic violence that stemmed from the Rwandan genocide. In the Congo he met Rose Mapendo, a Tutsi who had been put into a death camp with her family. Rose listened as soldiers executed her husband, gave birth to twins in prison, and managed to keep her nine children alive under appalling conditions.
The rescue team’s success in getting Rose and her family out, despite the fact that they were not on the refugee evacuation list, became the inspiration behind the organization’s name. Mapendo means “great love” in Swahili. The advocacy organizations, Human Rights Watch and Refugees International have documented the many thousands of refugees in similarly untenable situations who have no access to aid. For Sasha, working regularly with individuals and families in such dire circumstances created an imperative to act. With advice and guidance from senior officials in the UN, the State Department, and NGOs, Sasha launched this new initiative with Dr. John Wagacha Burton, Mapendo’s co-founder, to address the critical and unmet needs of those refugees whose lives are in peril.
In the coming years, Mapendo will continue to identify and assist at-risk refugee populations in East and Central Africa and plans to build a hospital and protection center in Kenya. The organization is creating a model of urban refugee assistance that can be replicated in other African countries.
Sasha Chanoff has worked for over a decade in refugee rescue, relief and resettlement operations in Africa and the US. Before launching Mapendo, he consulted with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kenya and worked with the International Organization for Migration throughout Africa, identifying refugees in danger, undertaking rescue missions and working on refugee protection issues with the US, Canadian, Australian, and other governments. He has appeared on “60 Minutes” as well as on other national and international TV programs; radio and print media outlets; has lectured, presented, and given keynote speeches at universities and international refugee conferences; and has published extensively on refugee issues.