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The Care and Training of Refugees

Mar 09, 2016 01:45PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Alisha Soeken | alisha.s@mycityjournals.com

Murray - What turns the disposition of the unfeeling heart to kindness? Do we care about a stranger in need?  

There are over 60,000 refugees from all over the world living in Utah. They come here by the thousands every year with as little as the clothes on their backs, fleeing their homelands from starvation, persecution and death.

In our community, people care about the lives of those refugees, whether strangers or not. Tiana McCall works as an intern with the University Neighborhood Partners and with the State of Utah’s Department of Workforce Services as an employment counselor for a refugee-specific team. Her goal is to help families become self-sufficient by attaining employment. 

“I began working with refugees in 2010 and am inspired by the individuals I’ve worked with. Many come to the United States after experiencing extreme war-related trauma. They have seen family members and friends killed and tortured. They have had to endure so many hard things, yet they are still so happy and grateful for the opportunity to start a new, safer life. Their resiliency is overwhelming, and I can’t help but want to be a part of their new journey,” McCall said.

To help in this journey, the state of Utah conducted a survey. Upon its findings, they decided to build the Utah Refugee Education and Training Center. Its purpose is to provide a place where refugees can be understood and where they can come together to learn English, take computer and vocational classes and receive job training. 

The skills they learn at the center are critical for self-sufficiency. But McCall sees beyond that. Her desire is that the refugees will become active and vocal in making political change.  

“Refugees have a unique perspective and they are often not heard by lawmakers. Speaking up about their experiences and about what they want to change will hopefully help them to feel like they are a part of their new communities in Utah,” McCall said.

The Somali Community Self Management Agency, supported by the University Neighborhood Partners, is hosting a series of workshops at the Glendale Library in Salt Lake throughout 2016 to encourage people of refugee and immigrant backgrounds to become involved in lobbying, speaking with their representatives and voting. 

“We hope that these workshops will encourage people to get involved in talking about issues that are important to them. Refugees want to be heard. They just need an invitation to speak up and some guidance on how to be effective,” McCall said.

Excited to be heard and to have access to the Utah Refugee Education and Training Center is Andre Bukuru, a refugee from Congo. 

“It’s a dream to be here in the U.S.,” Bukuru said. 

At age 14, Bukuru was shot in the hip and spent 11 years in bed unable to move. Bukuru left for Uganda and was a refugee there for five years before coming to America. 

“I hope to improve my English. I come to the center to learn how to use the computer and Internet,” Bukuru said.

While Bukuru spoke, his face brightened with excitement. He said he likes speaking to people to improve his English, but outside the center most people don’t give him that chance. Despite his past and current hardships, Bukuru is joyful and has hope in his new home.   

“The best thing you can do to help a refugee is to befriend a refugee,” Gerald Brown, director of the Utah Refugee Services Office, said. 

And talking to Bukuru proved that. 

As McCall continues her efforts to help strangers that soon become her friends, she hopes for the kindness of Utah people.

“I hope the refugees I’m helping begin to feel like they belong here. I hope they know there are many kind, loving people out there that are ready and willing to help them,” McCall said. 

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