Finding refuge for refugees

By Jake Glissmeyer 

I recently sat down with Madeline Clark from the Utah Refugee Center (URC) and asked her about this crisis and what can be done to help among other things. But before we can get into Clark’s commentary about the refugee crisis, let’s paint a picture.

Putting yourself in their shoes

Imagine for a moment that you do not know the luxury of peace and safety; that you run from place to place, that you don’t have anywhere to call home because the road is your home. Imagine always living in fear: fear of being persecuted because of your religion, fear of being persecuted because of your race and ethnicity, or just because you are the minority.

Maybe you and your family live in a tent, along with hundreds or thousands of neighbors who also live in tents a “tent city” if you will; waiting, longing and hoping for the day in hopes that some person in a far away land will be a savior, rescuing you from the awful lifestyle that now occupies your life.

You are a refugee: someone forced from their home that has endured dire circumstances that most people only see on the bad side of a news story. Now more than ever, we face a global refugee crisis.

Ever since attacks on Syria have become more prevalent and ISIS has made its presence known, millions of Middle Easterners have had to flee for their lives. On top of that, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in their recent semi-annual general conference, encouraged all and especially women of the church to reach out and serve refugees in their communities.

According to less than one half of a percent of all refugees receive that chance to start their lives anew. To put that into perspective if the population of Utah (roughly 3 million) became refugees, less than 15,000 would be given this life saving opportunity to start anew. But there is hope. There is hope in Utah and work is being done to help these poor unfortunate souls.

Madeline Clark, The Utah Refugee Center and an app to help

Clark got started in her anthropology classes at the U. She was initially shocked to hear that Utah alone has 60,000 refugees. Wanting to help out the refugees she reached out to Deb Coffey the Executive Director of URC who lead Clark to work with local Congolese leaders. It was then she realized that she wanted to help refugees out for the long term and do this for a living.

One of the challenges refugees face is adjusting to new foods. Clark discussed Congolese diets are much healthier than American diets; mainly consisting of vegetables and fish and a focus around more “pure” ingredients. She went on about how imported and packaged foods are very expensive in Africa and hold a higher economic status. “How do we integrate these wonderful people into our community and make them feel like this is their new home without getting rid of certain parts of their culture? We really want to preserve that…”

While they face difficulties and hardships, the refugees are valuable assets to Utah communities. “They want to give back and not just take, take, take” Clark noted on the refugees willingness to work.

A main focus of our interview was the new app developed called ‘Serve Refugees.’ Often throughout our conversation I would ask Madeline about a particular aspect of the refugees and she would refer to the app. The app gives a basic rundown on the status of refugees and what they deal and what it’s like to adjust to life here in Utah/America. ‘Learn. Serve. Give’ is the motto of the app.

The Learn component of the app includes many facets: articles on lifting one another’s burdens, updates on a Christmas Donation Drive, even a TED talk on how to help refugees thrive, not just survive. Next is the Serve component. Some of these options include but are not limited to making kits (bedding, hygiene, or undergarment to name a few) becoming a mentor to refugees and even teaching English as a second language. Finally, the “Give” aspect refers to when refugees come over with so little and are ill prepared for the new life that lies ahead. They are in dire need of things we consider basic amenities or items we just take for granted. For example, a list of items refugees need include diapers, coats/jackets or even car seats.

The app has had a large impact on the community. Employers are hiring refugees; dentists offer a day to refugees for free checkups; I personally witnessed a roomful of donations that were collected the same day, and that wasn’t even all of the donations. By posting, sharing photos and messages, awareness is raised and people can witness the gravity of this refugee situation. People want to help, people have a desire to help and with the Serve Refugees app, just a few swipes and click of your phone or computer can make all the difference.