Catholic Community Services helps refugees in Utah


Approximately 1,000 Asian refugees take solace in Utah every year, according to the State of Utah Refugee Office. Most of these refugees come from Third World Countries, and have lived in refugee camps for the majority of their lives.

The majority of these people were driven from their homes because they did not support the ruling class that was currently in power. Some refugees are from the formal ruling class and ended up living in camps because their group was thrown from power, said Linda Oda, the director of Asian Affairs in Utah.

According to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, all refugees go through a several year process before being allowed to come live in the U.S. This process involves the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Department of State’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration.

It usually takes about three to four generations for a refugee family to become in tune with the American way, Oda said. This transition involves learning English, taking life skills classes, learning American culture and establishing a life in the U.S.

Since 1945, the Catholic Community Services of Utah, has been helping refugee families throughout the first year of their lives in Utah.

“Utah is considered a welcoming state because we have organizations that truly advocate refugees,” Oda said.

When a refugee is relocated to Utah, their case is assigned to CCS or the International Rescue Committee. CCS and IRC are the only two agencies in the state of Utah that are allowed to handle refugee resettlements, said Rebecca Van Maren, the former assistant volunteer coordinator for CCS who also worked with Bhutanese refugees.

CCS’s work begins before the refugee or their family arrives in Utah. CCS finds out information about the family to arrange housing for the family. This information involves knowing the number of people within the family, and if they have any children, knowing the ages and gender of the children. CCS makes sure that the house is ready for the family to move in upon arrival, including fully furnishing the entire house, Van Maren said.

Van Maren said when refugees arrive, CCS sends a case manager to greet them at the airport. From the airport, the case manager then helps the refugee and their family get settled into their new housing. The refugee’s case manager’s job is to help the refugee and their family adapt to American life, and are available for the first year that the refugee is living in the U.S.

“Their case manager is primarily the person who is explaining the services that CCS provides,” Van Maren said.

CCS’s goal is to help the refugees and their families reach a state of self-sufficiency in Utah. This goal is achieved through taking classes, creating a stable life within the community and with the help of their case manager. A case manager’s help can range from signing the refugee up for classes, to explaining how to shop at a grocery store.

One of the biggest difficulties that refugees face is not being able to speak or understand English. CCS can find education classes that teach people who are 90 years old, down to small children the English language, Oda said.

“Without English these people will never get anywhere,” said Maung Maung, an Asian Advisory Council member in Salt Lake City.

CCS offers life skills classes that refugees can take. They also can coordinate volunteers and interns to mentor and visit with the families. These mentors can go to the refugee’s home to teach them basic life skills, as well.

CCS has job developers, who will work with the refugee’s case manager, to find employment for the refugee. These job developers can also help refugees write resumes in English, because a lot of CCS employees speak multiple languages, such as Vietnamese and Mandarin Chinese.

They also offer a refugee foster care program for children. This program provides guardians until the child’s family can be found or until the child reaches 18 years of age.

CCS occasionally works in conjunction with other agencies in Salt Lake to provide opportunities for people from other countries, Van Maren said. Over the summer, CCS provided filing work for Koreans who were here for a three-month language learning internship, she said.

They also offer an array of assistance programs, which include help with immigration status, substance abuse treatment facilities and many facilities to help provide basic services and goods to low-income and homeless individuals all across Utah.

The bridge between authority and leadership


Linda Oda, director of  Asian Affairs, is a petite Japanese-American woman who feels strongly about authority. As a sign of respect she has a sense to bow every time she meets someone older than she. (Oda did not want to disclose her age, but said she is “29 and holding.”) Bowing has been instilled within her as part of her culture. Custom also dictates that one’s elders should be respected; the phrase “children should be seen and not heard,” is a sign of this.

In addition to her role in the Utah State Office of Ethnic Affairs, she served as a moderator for the “Day of Remembrance,” which was held on Ogden’s 25th Street, also known as Japantown, Feb. 16-18, 2007.

She was raised on Ogden’s 25th Street. Oda’s first job was at the age of 3. Her family lived above the grocery store they owned and operated; her job in the store was to watch for “dorobo,” or shoplifters. She recalled a man asking her if she thought he was going to steal. As she described this confrontation, she put her hands on her hips just as she did when she was a child, and looked up. In a very stern voice she said, “yes.”

When Oda was about 10, her job in the small store was to trim the lettuce and pull off outer leaves so the greens displayed well. One day, a man walked into the store, pressed a knife to her stomach and said, “I could kill you.” Oda did not flinch. She took the knife she had been using on the heads of lettuce, placed it against the man’s stomach, and said, “I could kill you, too.”

She was raised to fight for her life; every day was a battle for her and her family. In fact, her father was murdered on 25th Street for less than $100.

Despite her difficult childhood, Oda went on to become a principal at Taylor Elementary School in Ogden. There, she worked to break the cycle of bullying by attempting to instill respect within her students.

Chase Dunn, 21, is majoring in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Utah. He is well-versed in his studies of culture and religions ranging from Islam to Catholicism. “Bowing is a sign of cultural respect,” he said in a text message. “Bow back. When it comes to authority I tend to think everyone should be met with skepticism. Sure they are older, but they are humans and humans make mistakes and have their own interests [in mind].”

Dunn, who is white, is currently working in Washington, D.C., as an intern for Frances D. Cook, the former ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman. Dunn also has completed study-abroad classes in Cairo and Beirut over the past few years.

”Power and authority should be challenged and unless they can justify themselves, then they should be dismantled,” Dunn wrote. “Remember authority figures and institutions are humans and human built and therefore can be changed.”

For Oda, authority is a compicated issue. She said that one’s “authority, stature and expertise can be diminished” simply because one is “an ethnic minority.” So, people feel as if they have to prove themselves. Oda said she is assertive, not aggressive. “I win and you win, both of us win. To me, that’s an Asian way.”

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