GERA grew from a fortuitous synergy in our personal and professional backgrounds and strong presence in the refugee community. We share a background in International Affairs and a passion for human rights. Our varied backgrounds, experiences, talents, and language abilities, help us easily connect with refugee families, interfaith groups, and media and political institutions. But ultimately it is our focus on the wellbeing of each refugee family that makes GERA unique and effective.

Sikandar Khan, Founder and Executive Director

Sikandar served in the US Army in Afghanistan in 2014, and experienced the horrors of crisis firsthand. He conducted GERA’s first humanitarian mission on the Turkey-Syria border in March 2016. The urgent needs of newly-arrived Syrian refugees in New Jersey led him to refocus GERA’s work to provide emergency relief and advocate for refugee families in the United States. Sikandar’s grassroots presence has won him the support of refugee families, interfaith groups, and local leaders in New Jersey. He holds a Bachelor’s in International Relations and Diplomacy from Seton Hall University in New Jersey, is an elected ward leader for Paterson, NJ, is an Assistant Coordinator for Youth Programs at the One Stop Career Center in Paterson, and has won recognition and awards for his humanitarian work. He speaks English, Pashto, and Urdu, and is currently studying Arabic and Farsi.

Oumar Kouraogo, Co-founder and Deputy Director

Oumar was born in Ivory Coast and raised in Burkina Faso where he witnessed people’s daily suffering to meet basic needs. He determined at an early age to work for human rights and development. He enrolled in Seton Hall’s program in Diplomacy and Economics to further his formal understanding of poverty alleviation and sustainable development, which is when he co-founded GERA with Sikandar. Oumar interned with the United Nations on issues related to economic development and humanitarian affairs. Oumar leads GERA’s fundraising and development, and also oversees GERA’s financial matters. He is fluent in French, English, Moore and Dioula.

Valeria Gomez-Palacios, Cofounder and Program Director

Valeria  has a B.S  in Diplomacy and International Relations  and a B.A in Modern Languages from Seton Hall University, as well as certificates in Humanitarian Response to Conflict and Disaster from Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and Human Rights and the Rights of Refugees from Amnesty International.  She is one of GERA’s Co-founders and has served at the United Nations, the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry, the International Justice Project, the European Union Delegation to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, and the Inter-American Program of Judicial Facilitators of the Organization of American States on various projects that promote sustainable development and human rights. She has been published in Foreign Policy Journal and Global Public Policy Watch. Valeria is currently enrolled in a Masters of International Affairs with a  Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy Concentration and an Advance Policy and Economic Analysis Specialization at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, and leads program management at GERA. She is fluent in French, German, Spanish, English and Italian.

Heba AbouBakr, Director of Education

Heba leads the ESL component of NJ ReBuild, and is passionate about enabling Syrian refugee families to become proficient in English as part of their economic and social resettlement in the United States. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and is a member of the TESOL International Association, holding certification in Leadership Development. Heba is an engaging and energetic educator with expertise in the integration of technology in classrooms as well as youth development and leadership programming. She has taught at the elementary and middle school levels in varied parts of the United States, and currently teaches English and Social Studies at the Academy of Greatness and Excellence where she also serves as the Advisor to their National Elementary Honor Society program. She is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Global Affairs, and Certification in the TESOL Core Certificate Program (2018). She is fluent in English and Arabic

Teresa Reynolds, Program Coordinator

Teresa plays key roles in GERA’s operations, communications, and events, and coordinates numerous interfaith gatherings, fundraisers, and events. She also oversees logistics for, and volunteer and intern participation in, the NJ ReBuild ESL and Enrichment programs. Teresa is currently enrolled in the International Justice program at Montclair State University in New Jersey, with a double minor in Pre-Law and Paralegal Studies. She is fluent in Spanish and English, and is currently learning Turkish and Arabic.