Business group leads minority members of the Utah community

Slideshow and story by WOO SANG KIM

Salt Lake City Pacific Island Business Alliance (SLCPIBA) opens the door for minorities by giving people networking and mentorship chances.

Tracy Altman, manager of government programs at the University of Utah Health Plans, said the business alliance connect Pacific Islanders and the rest of minority members to this community. In short, SLCPIBA bridges communities in finance, business, retail, service, real estate, mortgage, nonprofits, government entities, healthcare, insurance and food service.

Altman also said training, learning, podcasting and profiting are the goals of this group. The members exchange employment chances, startup ideas and interviewing tricks with each other. Altman said mentoring happens too.

“Companies get together to help new organizations become popular and stronger and to access the mayor of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. They teach skills for small business owners and find jobs for refugee groups,” Altman said.

Pioneer Rugby 7s, a rugby tournament for men, women, and youths of all ages, was sponsored by this group to distribute 600-1,000 T-shirts. “It teaches people how to get along and work as a group. It also helps to build character and teach kids to learn how to follow through an example. It helps the underserved community,” Altman said.

The tournament also hosts an afterschool program. “Children with autism talks to us to play rugby. It’s a success story because we show them that the work can be done. We sponsor more opportunities than just handing out T-shirts,” Altman said.

The group typically meets from 8-9 a.m. on the first Thursday of each month at different locations. One meeting took place at Oish Barbershop at 4300 3500 South in West Valley City. “We plan the event, conduct the meetings and facilitate the business. It is a community locale where people come out to hang out. They have pool tables and a lounge. People go there and just relax,” Altman said.

Susie Feltch-Malohifo’ou, executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), and Agnes Lomu-Penitani, employer coordinator at the Refugee Services Office and secretary of PIK2AR, created this group in 2016. Lomu-Penitani said it serves to teach blue-and white-collar workers available resources and services of many departments.

Lomu-Penitani connects refugees to possible employers. “I focus specifically on employers willing to partner with us in helping refugees with transportation, culture and English.”

However, this friendship is not for everyone. “We look for something else. We look for employers who give up their time to contribute to the community and people. If not, the business alliance is not for you,” Lomu-Penitani said.

Altman said four types of membership exist: volunteer, emerging, enterprise, and enterprise plus. Emerging is $195, enterprise is $295 and enterprise plus is $495. There are about 30 members.

SLCPIBA is divided into groups. “African-American and Hispanic chambers are focused more on generating profits, but we are focused in education. We look to recruit those who want to give back to the community,” Lomu-Penitani said.

Puanani Mateaki, a substitute teacher at Granite School District and Salt Lake City School District, connects with those in her field. She said she plans to speak to a real estate broker because his team has an opening. She is interested in working in Park City markets, so her appointments are based in that area.

Mateaki also gained a lot through participating. “A conference channeled me to meet Mitt Romney and a wide variety of people. Real estate is all about contacts. Increasing the contact and networking has been a great help,” Mateaki said.

Other members gained, too. “I got connected to businesses through our department. I helped those in power to connect to refugees and to get refugees hired,” Lomu-Penitani said.

SLCPIBA even created an online shopping network. “We connected a woman who sells jewelry to online shopping center. She gathered a lot of customers,” Lomu-Penitani said.

The organization offers free training in many fields. “We offer free photos, business cards, and trainings that cost thousands of dollars. We also offer access to the city council and national entity representatives,” Altman said.

The group, however, is still setting up and has imperfections. “I think that the weakness is getting more memberships and not having an establishment of our own. The problem is all of us work. We have full-time jobs. It’s hard to juggle regular jobs and family lives continually so not having an office is negative. It is something we should work on. Signing up people to be a member is the most difficult part,” Lomu-Penitani said.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou tries to set up a system. “Susie sends out emails inquiring people to work for us. She makes sure that the organization is working by sending out surveys to make sure people get something out from us,” Altman said.

The members are fond of the organization. “This group is unique and positive. It doesn’t matter what else is going on. This is a way for people to get together, no pressure, in the business community. It’s really positive,” Altman said.

Mateaki commented, “I love it so far.”

A strong, interdependent atmosphere creates a synergy overall. “You come in, give hugs, different from handshakes. Culturally we hug or kiss on cheeks when we meet someone for the first time,” Lomu-Penitani said.

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Strong spirited Islanders strive for freedom in the “land of the free”

Story and photos by HANNAH CHRISTENSEN

Pacific Islanders who leave their homes and villages in search of a better life in Utah often experience culture shock and feel “stuck,” with no idea of what to do next.

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Martha and Mike Meredith at their home in Millcreek, Utah.

Mike and Martha Meredith are Pacific Islanders who have overcome many social barriers in order to be living comfortably in Millcreek, Utah. Martha vividly remembers her father cutting down and cracking coconuts in Tonga and then watching her mother clean them out. Martha was 10 when her family left Tonga and moved to New Zealand.

That’s where she met Mike. Mike was born in American Samoa but grew up in European Samoa until his family moved to New Zealand when he was 13. Martha recalled, “My family went through several migrations, first among the islands, then in New Zealand, and finally to America. My sister came first, then my parents. Mike and I were married and we had two little children and a third on the way when we came. We had no idea what on earth we were getting into.”

These migrations seemed so natural for their families, Martha explained, but when they got to America and it was so vastly different, they felt isolated and trapped. They weren’t sure how to assimilate while remaining true to their cultural practices.

Matapuna Levenson, a lead advocate at the Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center, said, “Culture is living. It is not stagnant. We don’t stay the same. Pacific Islanders are navigators. We were the greatest ocean navigators in the world. We are explorers. So the idea of just staying the same, staying in one place, staying in one mindset, is so contradictory to the values that our culture is perpetuating and encouraging, what our ancestors were hoping for us.”

And now that these navigators are here, pursuing the American dream, what can they do? Where can they turn for help?

Jake Fitisemanu Jr., a clinical manager with Health Clinics of Utah, Utah Department of Health, said it is difficult for Pacific Islanders to navigate a social system that has completely different values because they aren’t sure how to do their part. In a village, everyone has their role and every role contributes to the overall wellness of the village.

According to the Utah Department of Health, “the overall proportion of NHPIs (Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders) in Salt Lake City is greater than [in] any other city in the continental U.S.” One would assume that having a larger population would mean people have a community, a place to go, individuals who want to help. But what happens when those who came before you still feel adrift and disillusioned?

Fitisemanu wants to empower people who feel misplaced or lost. “I’m interested in mobilizing communities for political power, because this is the United States, that’s how it works here.” Fitisemanu sees the bigger picture after working for the government in the health department and as a city councilman for West Valley City. If the goal is getting Pacific Islanders to feel comfortable utilizing resources, then including them in the governing structure is one good way to do that.

Mike Meredith is another advocate for Pacific Islanders. He served on an advisory board for the Pacific Island community in Utah that focused on ways to improve education and resources for their communities. Because of his service on the board, Mike knows the issues that make it difficult for Pacific Islanders to start looking for resources, even if they are available.

“Especially in Utah, there’s a vast window that is open for them,” Mike said. “But one of the fears is picking up the phone, calling and setting up an appointment or approaching where there is help and seeking that. But it’s not really fear, it’s just something that’s in them, because they’ve lived in villages. You can go from home to the beach and throw in a fishing rod. Where here it’s wide open. They don’t know where to go or who to talk to.”

While it is true that the Pacific Islander population creates a place for tribal identification and emotional resources, Mike said there is confusion about how the American educational system applies. “The old tradition comes into this country and it’s difficult. Folks come in and think ‘you should have your kids finish school and then send them to work.’ That’s what we did back home. But that’s not the case that’s required here. To grow and progress you need education.”

Mike added that Pacific Islander parents lack the understanding of the benefits of graduating from college and entering the professional workforce. The family culture creates alternatives to college graduation and training required for high-level jobs, resulting in economic instability. The impact on families without sufficient financial stability affects all aspects of life — housing, medical care, food security — not to mention future school and work opportunities.

The Merediths are an exception because Mike was able to graduate with a degree in engineering and have a prosperous career. But he says this ethos was not easy to pass along even to his own children. And it is much more difficult for parents who feel at sea here in the high desert of Utah. Yet he still believes that Pacific Islanders can have it both ways — in his case American prosperity, along with a strong commitment to the values, mythologies, rituals and symbols at the heart of his Samoan-Maori culture and Martha’s Tongan culture.

Activists like the Merediths, Levenson, and Fitisemanu lead the way by empowering and educating Pacific Islanders. Fitisemanu said it is important to continue tradition while also moving forward. “We’re walking into the future backwards,” he said. “That’s how Polynesians see time. This is how we stay connected. Even though we’re moving in distance and in time into the future, we’re always facing the past.” Maintaining this connectedness while moving forward propels Pacific Islanders toward their dreams.

Levenson Quote

A quote from Matapuna Levenson, lead advocate at the Salt Lake Area Family & Justice Center.

Refugee Services Office, Catholic Community Services support integration of refugees in Utah

Story and slideshow by BLAKE LANCASTER

When a refugee resettles in a new country, oftentimes they are in a new community with new rules, a new language and a new culture. How do they approach this challenging situation and become integrated members of American society? Organizations such as Utah’s Refugee Services Office can help with the transition.

Gerald Brown is currently an assistant director and state refugee coordinator at the Refugee Services Office, which is one of these organizations. The Refugee Services Office help refugees learn English, find and gain skills for employment and build connections with locals who can help show them the way things work in their new community.

Brown became interested in working with refugees during a year-long trip to Egypt with the YMCA where he experienced a culture with hardship unlike what we know in America. This sparked his passion for social justice. He went on the service trip expecting to help people, but when he finished he realized he learned the most.

Since his eye-opening service trip, Brown has worked in refugee agencies from Houston to New York to Cuba before becoming one of the godfathers of major Utah refugee programs.

For several years, Utah held monthly town hall meetings to discuss the state of refugee resettlement programs in Utah. In 2008, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. approved the addition of refugee services and Brown was appointed to direct and lead the new program toward success.

Brown hasn’t stopped serving refugees since then and can be credited with the efficient success the Refugee Services Offices is able to accomplish when it comes to the integration process.

“If you can accomplish integration, then you have the strongest community possible,” Brown said.

From all of his experiences, one of the things Brown has learned that he stresses is understanding the important distinction between integration and assimilation.

Integration can be defined as incorporating individuals from different groups into a society as equals. Though similar, assimilation means to adopt the ways of the new culture and fully become part of it resulting in an immense loss of cultural identity.

Danielle Stamos, public relations and marketing director for Catholic Community Services, said it is important we make it acceptable and comfortable for refugees to continue their traditions and maintain their culture.

“Not only do they preserve their culture, but they also share their culture with the community in Utah,” Stamos said. “I love when we see refugee communities creating their own events taking some of their traditions from their own countries and implementing them here.”

Catholic Community Services is another organization with programs in place to help refugees integrate into Utah. Catholic Community Services provides case managers to refugees as they are resettled in Utah who help them get on their feet. They provide them with housing, teach them the way the American system works when it comes to everyday life, help them learn the language, find them jobs, and much more.

One way Stamos suggested the everyday community member could help with integration is approaching refugees and being welcoming and friendly. If, however, you’re really feeling ambitious and eager to get involved, finding an organization that helps refugees and interests you to volunteer with can be rewarding to all parties involved.

“Once you work one-on-one with a refugee you can see daily how easy it can be to help support them in their goals and support them in maintaining their culture,” Stamos said. “There will always be a lot of fear out there of change and things that are different, but if we instead embrace it we can see how much more strong and beautiful our community and relationships can be if we share and work together.”

Nirmala Kattel provides a unique understanding of assisting the integration process of refugees as she is a refugee herself as well as an employee at the Refugee Education and Training Center.

The Refugee Education and Training Center is located at the Meadowbrook campus of Salt Lake Community College where Kattel also attends as a student. Kattel said one of the center’s most popular services utilized by refugees is help with jobs similar to Catholic Community Services, but the Education and Training Center is there to help after refugees no longer have their initial case manager.

Another popular service at the center that Kattel has noticed are the English classes. Some refugees come with very limited knowledge of the English language, which is a key hurdle for refugees to clear as once they can surpass the language barrier, it makes the rest of the steps in the integration process a little easier.

Kattel came to Utah as a refugee from Nepal in 2009 and quickly learned that isolation is another of the bigger barriers refugees face upon arrival for her and other refugees alike. She had to wait six years before the rest of her family was able to resettle in America.

“Refugees who come alone feel isolated and depressed missing their families and their past lives, so involvement and engagement in outside activities can help them through these feelings,” Kattel said.

Kattel said the elderly refugees can especially struggle with the isolation and loneliness. Since they don’t have a job or school to go to, it confines their reasons to leave their home. This seclusion can lead to difficulties with learning English and understanding the system of our community as a whole.

“The system is hard to understand at first. Refugees from almost everywhere come from somewhere with a totally different system in their countries or the refugee camps they waited in before coming here,” Kattel said.

Showing interest in refugees as a person and who they are culturally can help them with almost all of their integration barriers. Additionally, it can make them feel more comfortable in sharing their culture with their new community. Kattel said a friend with experience in the community always proves to be a valuable asset to refugees trying to make sense of their new home and sharing their cultural values.

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What happens to refugees who come to Utah?

Story and photo by BLAKE HANSEN

The trek out of danger is only the first step for refugees. Once they arrive in the U.S. it becomes difficult to navigate a new culture, utilize assets and stay afloat. Doctors and lawyers who were once able to comfortably use their education and expertise to take care of their families are left to work minimum wage and start completely over.

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A Colombian refugee living in Salt Lake City.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), “The total number is slightly greater than 1.2 million which is above 2017 levels and reflects needs from 63 countries of asylum, from both protracted and more recent refugee situations.”

While some suffering and fear for life may stop upon arrival to the U.S., refugees are faced with a new and unique set of challenges. Some have come with families to provide for, some have come alone, but one thing is always common and it is that these refugees are in a unique, new place with a new set of survival tasks. No longer can they put together tin huts, wait for UN resources to keep them alive, and exist with so many other people in their same situation.

For many refugees who haven’t had much time with the language or culture, they can sometimes find it difficult to look for employment here. Their skills, degrees, and certificates, most of the time, are invalid in the U.S. as well. It is very possible for more refugees to make it here and to flourish but without local help from individual mentorship and entity funding, it is near very difficult.

Jadee Talbot, director of refugee programs at the Granite School District on the southwest end of Salt Lake City, said, “We have had a lot of success with different programs we run here for the refugee community.” The school district manages an app called “Serve Refugees”, which provides information for after-school programs as well as other programs around the community that help refugees integrate. The district has five main community centers, one at each school, and they offer different types of classes for kids, parents and refugees in general, teaching things like computer literacy and different ESL courses as well, all free of charge.

At the Refugee Services office in Salt Lake City, many refugees are receiving help finding housing, jobs and transportation. The department and other organizations like it are helping refugees to get help with some of the essential parts of living in the U.S. but there is still much more needed to help these people integrate fully into society.

Gerald Brown is the state refugee coordinator for the Refugee Services office and he says jobs are slowly getting easier to find. But this isn’t happening without a lot of hard work from programs like the one that Brown runs which help provide refugees with employment in hotels and restaurants doing things like cleaning.

Brown went on to explain that the work they do is meant to teach the refugees how to become self reliant. Refugees are usually supported for about six to eight months before they have to be cut off from funding and assume responsibility for themselves. This time is crucial for both program administrators like Brown and the refugees receiving support to learn and develop the skills needed to prosper in the U.S.

They start to learn English if they don’t already know it, they learn about how to transport themselves, where things are, how to shop, as well as what kinds of skills they have and where they can be utilized for employment locally.

“Programs like this don’t typically do enough for the refugees, simply because the resources can only go so far. At the end of the day, a doctor from Somalia cannot practice here in the U.S. Some refugees come from such starkly different backgrounds and cultures that they don’t know how to get anywhere once they leave their apartments other than by walking. They almost always cannot make enough money to support themselves, let alone families.” Brown said.

Community members also can help refugees integrate into the Salt Lake Valley by volunteering with organizations such as the Refugee Services office. They are always looking for volunteers as well as donations of different types. Many people who cannot volunteer due to varying circumstances, who would otherwise enjoy volunteering can always donate to any of the agencies in town who help refugees to settle in and get to living a normal life and those donations are always greatly appreciated.

 

Refugees in Cache County confront unique problems far from Utah’s urban center 

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Story and slideshow by EMILY ANDERSON

Since the ratification of the Refugee Act of 1980, more than 60,000 refugees have traveled thousands of miles — escaping war, oppression and famine — to resettle in Salt Lake City.

About 400 of those refugees decided to migrate 82 miles farther, making a home in Cache County.

Being away from Utah’s capital and largest city presents a number of issues for members of a population struggling to confront memories of their home country, adjust to a new culture and society and make their way in America.

Most of the refugees living in Cache County moved to the valley to obtain work.

“In Logan, many refugees we spoke with had come to the area originally based on recommendations from friends about the meat packing plant locally,” read a report on refugee needs written by Utah State University (USU) researchers and presented to the Utah Department of Workforce Services in 2015.

Julie Taquin of Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection said in a telephone interview that about 80 percent of refugees in Cache County work at the JBS Swift & Co. meat-packing factory in Hyrum.

While JBS Swift provides a stable entry-level job opportunity that does not require fluent English, refugees frequently find themselves discontent with work conditions, said the USU report. The company offers benefits for its employees, but wages for factory workers are low.

Glassdoor, an online company database that includes employee reviews and salary reports, shows that wages for factory employees range from $10 to $12 per hour. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s 2017 poverty guidelines dictate that a family of five must bring in more than $28,780 to be considered above the poverty line. With these wages, a refugee working at JBS Swift would have to work at least 56 hours a week at $10 per hour, or 47 hours a week at $12 per hour, to merely keep a family of five from living in poverty.

JBS Swift did not respond to requests for comment.

“Whereas refugees in Salt Lake are afforded somewhat greater flexibility in their job options, those in Heber and Logan feel confined to these positions even when work conditions are not satisfactory to them,” said the USU report. “Although there are likely many other employment opportunities available in Logan and Heber, the communities there do not appear to be aware of them. This makes the refugee communities in smaller areas more vulnerable to changes in one company’s policies or employee needs than those in larger metropolitan areas.”

The report went on to recommend that the Department of Workforce Services look for ways to diversify job opportunities for refugees. However, difficulties for refugees in the area extend beyond the workplace.

Although JBS Swift commonly provides employees with health insurance, refugees in Cache County face other limitations to receiving health care.

Another study conducted at USU in 2016 found that refugees must confront physical, structural and cultural challenges when seeking health care.

“The most prevalent barriers to health care access included language barriers, the fear of missing work and difficulty navigating a complex health care system and its corresponding insurance policies,” said Josh Hoggard, one of the students who conducted the study, in a telephone interview.

Some of the cultural problems that refugees have when receiving health care, according to the report, include a wariness of preventative treatments, difficulty understanding when to call 911 and dealing with gender roles in medicine — for example, some refugee women are uncomfortable with male obstetrician-gynecologists.

Many refugees involved in the study weren’t sure how to schedule time off work for doctor’s appointments and struggled to comprehend insurance policies.

These structural issues are connected to the most prominent physical problem — language differences and limited access to translators.

Difficulties surrounding language, however, transcend health care to affect every aspect of life, according to Nelda Ault-Dyslin, one of the founders of Cache Refugee and Immigrant Connection. Some refugees take classes at the English Language Center of Cache Valley, but not all have the time or money for the $25 per quarter courses.

“One of the biggest resources we need is translators,” said Ault-Dyslin, who is also the program director of USU’s Center for Civic Engagement and Service-Learning. “We don’t receive any help from some of the larger refugee assistance organizations in Salt Lake City, so we rely entirely on volunteers,” she said in a telephone interview.

CRIC currently has one person on staff, Julie Taquin, who is paid through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, and two volunteer translators.

“We’re very small,” Taquin said. “Up until recently, we were a completely volunteer-run nonprofit.”

The four-year-old organization, however, is quickly growing. CRIC opened a physical office space in September 2017 at 429 S. Main St. in Logan.

Here, CRIC welcomes refugees during walk-in hours, which are Monday through Thursday from 4-6 p.m. The organization helps refugees with any responsibilities they are struggling with. That might include paying medical bills, scheduling doctor’s appointments and applying for government assistance like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — food stamps — and Medicaid.

“Anything they come in with, they can present to us and we help them work through everyday tasks,” Taquin said.

The nonprofit also works to integrate refugees into the community.

CRIC operates a community garden for refugees, located west of Logan High School. There, Taquin said, refugees can grow produce from their home countries that they might not typically find in an American grocery store.

With the help of Michael Spence, who is a USU track and field and cross country assistant coach, CRIC has organized an all-refugee track and field team. Taquin said this helps refugees build relationships and find an active outlet.

Despite these efforts, CRIC still finds it difficult to make refugees feel completely comfortable in Cache County.

“One of the largest challenges we face, just because there isn’t such a large refugee community, is just making the general population understand that refugees are here,” Taquin said. “Then, they can kind of be adapting their services to fit the needs of the refugees.”

Once residents are aware of refugees in their area, however, Ault-Dyslin said they are welcoming.

According to the USU report for the Department of Workforce Services, many of the refugees who move to Cache County are Muslims from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The Muslim population in Cache County is small. In 2010, there were approximately 308 Muslims in the county, according to the U.S. Religion Census. This amounted to not even one-hundredth of a percent of the county’s population at the time. Their only place of worship is the Logan Islamic Center.

“Can you practice your religion in Logan?” is listed in a frequently asked questions section of the Logan Islamic Center’s website.

“Praises all to Allah, yes, we can,” answered the center. “As a Muslim, we need to pray five times a day, and, fortunately, we usually do not face any issues in performing prayers. We heard reports that some supervisors allow our brothers and sisters to pray in their office. We also heard that people were praying in the park during their outdoor activities. However, we do face some challenges in practicing our religion.”

Despite having a resource for growing produce commonly found in their home countries, Muslim refugees struggle to find halal meat, or meat acceptable for consumption in Islam. According to the Logan Islamic Center, Muslims have to either purchase expensive, imported meat at Sam’s Club, slaughter animals themselves or travel to Salt Lake City to purchase the meat from halal butchers.

Although many refugees in Cache County struggle to find food that conforms to their religious beliefs and culture, the Logan Islamic Center believes community members can still help them feel welcome. The center encourages non-Muslims to invite their Muslim neighbors to dinner to get to know them better — as long as they provide a halal meal.

Another frequently asked question is, “How do the people of Logan treat you?”

“Alhamdulillah, the people of Logan treat us kindly.”

 

University of Utah launches Doctors Without Borders student chapter

Story and image by ANNA STUMP

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, is an international humanitarian organization whose mission is to expand accessibility of medical care for those affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care. These efforts include providing doctors, nurses, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers and administrators to over 70 war-torn regions and developing countries across the globe.

Doctors Without Borders emphasizes “independence and impartiality.” The organization provides support to those in need regardless of political, religious and economic factors. Working as a private entity allows MSF to follow its own moral code and operate in any way it sees fit. Because MSF is a non-governmental organization, all of the services and operations are driven by the selfless work of volunteers.

Two of these volunteers are Julia Case and Kelsie Lee. The freshman roommates at the University of Utah are working toward bringing a student chapter to life on campus. Both women were exposed to the organization’s work at an exhibition that left them hungry to help in any way possible.

They attended MSF’s exhibition “Forced from Home,” which took place at the Salt Lake City Public Library in late September 2017. The interactive experience was designed to expose the realities of the global refugee crisis to those who attended. While walking through the exhibit, participants gained a closer look at some of the disturbing challenges faced by the 65 million asylum seekers displaced from their homes due to war and persecution.

FORCED FROM HOME

A tour guide leads participants through the exhibition and shares the hardships of traveling through the Mediterranean Sea.

During the tour, participants experienced what it would be like to gather essential belongings with dire urgency. The group had a 20-second time limit to determine which five items they would take with them on their arduous journey into the unknown. Constrained to only five items, participants were forced to decide which necessities were more crucial. For example, debating between a blanket and water or food and money. This activity gave participants a taste of what a refugee experiences while scrambling for necessities during a time of emergency.

Motivated to act

The exhibition emotionally impacted Case and Lee to the point of seeking ways they could lend their hands to MSF, despite neither of them having any medical knowledge.

“When our guide finished taking us through the exhibit, Julia and I were really eager to do something,” Lee said in an email interview. From here it gets a little blurry, but all I remember was spontaneously writing down that we wanted to start an MSF chapter at the U, and next thing I know we’re here, with the chapter expected here on campus at the beginning of next semester.” The student chapter should begin in the Spring of 2018.

MSF currently has student chapters on campuses across the country that work closely with the organization to unite students who are passionate about MSF’s mission to provide lifesaving care to those who need it most. MSF collaborates with each chapter, and provides the resources needed to plan memorable events such as fundraisers, map-a-thons, film screenings and Doctors Without Borders field staff presentations on campus.

Future goals

Both Case and Lee are hoping to hold up to four events in Spring 2018 semester. One event in particular is a “Walk 4 Water.” During this event, students will walk to raise awareness of the demand for clean drinking water in countries with limited access and help raise money to provide sterile water and drinking wells to developing countries in need.

For Kelsie Lee, fundraising walks are no foreign activity. She herself has participated in a Walk 4 Water and has helped organize a community-wide walk for charity. At the age of 10, Lee went on her first service trip to Uganda. On this trip, she witnessed the hardships faced by those who walk miles for water, struggle to find food and are exposed to sometimes fatal diseases such as malaria.

“Walking for water specifically is such a cool concept because it really puts into perspective the fact that women, men, and kids all around the world walk miles upon miles upon miles for water every day, and sometimes it’s not even clean water. When people come out and get involved in these walks, they are walking for those people,” Lee said.

The freshmen are also working toward having a field worker from MSF visit campus. The volunteer will speak with students and faculty about the organization’s current projects and share the various ways one can support refugees from home. Case is thankful for the opportunity the student chapter will present to students who want to help but have no idea where to start. “This club offers a unique experience of being part of a global organization, and we as students can help with pressing issues on the other side of the globe right from our own campus,” she said.

Both women are eager to further the reach of the MSF program through their projects at the U.

“Doctors Without Borders has been very open to allowing us to not only plan out our own ideas for fundraisers, but also giving us choices as to where the money goes. It could go anywhere from helping the refugee crisis, to medical needs, to water. The options are endless, which is why I’m so proud to get to be a part of something so awesome, that really just wants to help in any way possible,” Lee said.

 

Teaching nutrition to refugees in the Salt Lake Valley

Story and photos by ZACH CARLSON

Laureen Carlson is an employee for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program through Utah State University’s College of Agriculture. Carlson’s goal is to help individuals and families, especially those who are lower-income, eat healthy and affordable. Carlson said EFNEP is available in every state and most territories. Carlson has been employed by EFNEP since 2013.

For the past four years Carlson has gotten to know many refugees. Most of the refugees she has worked with are Nepalese, but she has also worked with some families from Sudan and other African countries.

When asked what nutrition was like in refugee camps, Carlson said, “They would get packages that they were so appreciative for. But for example, their protein was lacking.” She also added that they would get meat packed in salt. Salt-packed meat isn’t as healthy but does last longer. “Their diet consisted mainly of rice with small amounts of vegetables,” Carlson said.

Once refugees get to Utah they can get the ingredients that they really need to be healthy and provide for their family from a nutrition standpoint. Carlson said one of the biggest problems she faces is getting refugee families to eat complete proteins. Because most families face dietary restrictions due to their religion or customs, they only will eat goat or yak — especially with the Nepalese. These also happen to be two of the more expensive meats to purchase, so many families go without the proper proteins that they need.

Carlson’s goal is for families to eat healthy, not necessarily eating like Americans. “I always try to be their facilitator using their own bread, yogurt, whatever food and spices they regularly eat,” Carlson said.

Often, she tries to combine common foods here with food or spices that refugees know and eat. Carlson said many families make their own yogurt. She will use this yogurt with fruits to make healthy smoothies. One of her other go-to foods is pizza.

She uses bread that the family makes in place of regular pizza dough. “With almost everything we add spices we wouldn’t traditionally use in American pizza. I use theirs,” she said. “They have these tin containers that have all these different spices. Some of them have even brought those when they came because they are very careful with their spices. I would have them use what spices they wanted on their pizza.”

She would then add cheese that meets their dietary standards. This is to add more dairy to their diet. “I don’t think I went into a refugee home that was getting enough dairy,” Carlson said. She added that some children do get enough dairy, because many refugee mothers nurse longer than average here. Most of the refugee families Carlson teaches breastfeed the children until they are about 3, with one family even nursing a child until he was 5.

Carlson only speaks English, so sometimes there is a language barrier in their communication. When she can, Carlson works with a Nepalese translator, Chandra Sapkota. Sapkota often asks for Carlson because he considers her to work well with the families.

Google Translate is an incredibly helpful tool for her to communicate with refugees who aren’t fluent in English when she doesn’t have Sapkota’s help. She recalls one instance where she was teaching a mother, who spoke little English, how to make tuna casserole for her daughter. By using Google Translate, Carlson could communicate by typing in what she wanted to say in English, then it was translated to the mom’s native language. Because she can’t read, Carlson would have Google Translate “speak” the translated message to her.

“You couldn’t tell her to go buy tuna fish because she wouldn’t know. I left her all the cans, everything, so that way she could go match it in the store,” she said. “So, not only did we make it together but you can’t give her a recipe. We ended up having to make it two different times so that she could go through all the steps. In hindsight, I should have had her do voice recordings on her phone,” Carlson said. This is a new technique she has begun using, where she will have refugees record the steps in recipes on their phone in their own language. This helps them re-create the meals cooked together on their own, because they can grasp the cooking concepts better.

A health and hygiene issue that Carlson faces involves proper dental care. “I never saw a grandparent or great-grandparent that had a full set of teeth. There were multiple children that their teeth had rotted and had to be pulled. That was something we would try to bring up and encourage. We really would talk about brushing teeth and things like that,” she said.

Carlson said it is uncommon for a refugee to eat out a lot and get fast food often, but she has taught some refugees who partake in American food. She taught an African refugee who was extremely excited to be here and eat American food. But then he noticed that he was gaining a lot of weight. Carlson said once he realized how much weight he was gaining he immediately stopped eating fast food and went back to the food of his culture. He began working out to lose weight and is back to where he was before he dove into American food.

Carlson said most of the families she teaches make food from their homeland. Most, if not all of them, cook their own food, typically curry, sometimes three times a day. One indulgence that she has had a problem with is soda pop. They particularly love Fanta Orange.

“There’s something about Fanta Orange,” she says. Many of the refugee families thought that Fanta had juice in it and that they were being healthy. They loved that they were drinking juice and that it tasted so good. Except it wasn’t juice. Even when she went back to visit them later after her teaching with them concluded, some families still consumed Fanta Orange very frequently.

Life is hard for everyone, refugees included. For many refugees, their trials and hardships don’t end once they get to a new country. They instead face a new set of challenges that take the place others. A big challenge that many of them face is eating properly. Through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, Laureen Carlson helps refugees get the nutrients they need without spending unreasonable amounts of money.

 

 

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