UVU students volunteer to work with refugees in Utah

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Mariesa Bergin, Reporter @riesajb


UVU students have an opportunity to participate in a service event where they will interact with and serve refugees in Utah.

Every year, more than 500 refugees come to Salt Lake City seeking a life free from persecution and violence. They are dependent upon volunteer efforts to help them acclimate to living in a new city.

On Monday, Sept.16, the independent branch of the UVU Student Association (UVUSA) is inviting all students to participate in teaching these refugees how to use and store cleaning products.

Volunteers will meet outside the Grande Ballroom in the Student Center at 5 p.m. After a complimentary meal, students will learn how to effectively carry out the project.

After training, volunteers will carpool to the Hser Ner Moo Refugee Community in Salt Lake City to spend the evening as teachers in the homes of refugees.

“We are hoping for around 100 students to join us,” Elizabeth Jarema, the UVUSA executive vice president, said.

Jarema, who played a key role in organizing the project, emphasizes a need for students who speak the following languages: Karen, Somali, Burmese, Nepali, and French.  These students will act as translators for refugees and volunteers.

Jarema’s first experience working with refugees was during her freshman semester at UVU.

“They were very poor,” Jarema said. “The father had no shirt, and the children were standing there with no shoes on their feet.”

Jarema was concerned for the family’s well-being and took inventory in their kitchen to make sure they had enough food. She found orange juice, milk, and chicken in the cupboards while nothing was in their refrigerator.

She realized that refugees spend much of their lives in huts while living in refugee camps.  Having a stock of food, let alone a refrigerator, is completely foreign to them.

Likewise, they are unfamiliar with common cleaning chemicals found in the United States.  Using chemicals to sanitize homes, which resemble nothing they’ve ever seen, is something they have to learn to use.

There is a need for refugees to understand safety, proper use, and storage of these products.

The two refugee resettlement agencies in Utah are the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services. Neither of these organizations have the time or resources to teach refugees these types of skills without the help of volunteers.

Because of this need, The Utah Commission of Service and Volunteerism granted UVU $1,500 when UVUSA approached them for funding of this refugee service project.

Joshua Thacker, a junior majoring in Integrated Studies at UVU, stressed the importance of students making the time to participate in activities like this one.

Thacker is currently serving as an ambassador for UVU, and said that his love for his school has grown as he has had the opportunity to represent it through service.

Students who are unable to attend the event, can still help the refugee community by participating in UVUSA’s craft and school supplies drive. Bins to donate supplies are located in the Woodbury Business building, room 144, the Liberal Arts building, room 207 and in the Sorensen Student Center, room 105.