UPR Feature Story
Wed September 12, 2012
Backpacks of School Supplies Help Logan's Refugees Go Back to School Prepared
The giggles and shrills of thrill could not be contained as the 3 friends gathered under a tree trying to ward off the heat of the day. Wearing head coverings bedazzled by the bling of rhinestones in patterns of flowers and traditional designs.
Girl: "We're from Burma and our religion is Muslim."
The young girls are excited about the day. Their families are preparing for a party.
Girl: "We have rice to eat and some cow. We will cook it and eat it and you can come at 7:00."
At the party they and as many as 63 other children living in Logan will show of their new backpacks containing school supplies and purchased through donations gathered as part of an Eagle Scout project by Logan High School freshman, Landon Jensen.
Jensen: "I think it's great that we are able to help them. Our neighbors have been really generous and given a lot of stuff. We received $1,500 from them."
Jensen and the other members of his troop weren't even sure what a refugee was, where Burma was located on a map, or realize that many of these refugees are their classmates.
Troop: "I didn't know where it was."
Troop: "I still don't!"
Troop: "I didn't know there were refugees living in Logan. I kind of know what a refugee is. It's someone who's been displaced and needs to leave so they can be safe."
Jensen: "I was hoping maybe I could help some of the kids that I might see at school...Hopefully they will get good grades and grow up to help other people too."
For a year now, Nelda Ault has been working with the Utah Department of Workforce Services to help schedule doctors appointments, provide public transportation training, and help find furnishings for apartments throughout Cache County for refugees presenting 3 ethnic groups: the Burmese, the Karen, and the Chin.
"I work with about 40 households. Most of them are families, not all of them are. Some are just households of single men who are working and sending money back to Thailand. But most of them are families. I've got close to 200 people, half of them are under 18. So they're very young. It's a young group we're working with."
All of the families escaped from refugee camps set up to harbor victims of ethnic cleansing.
"We have a lot of people here today who have families still in the camps or living in Burma, which is a very dangerous place to live as an ethnic or religious minority. The United States decides every year how many refugees to accept and how many from what location."
Refugees from Burma have been living in Logan for the past 4 years. Some are new to the area, living here for less than a year. But all are employed and seeking opportunities for education.
"What I see in this backpack is more tools to get it figured out. the kids are really bright and now that they have the things to work with. I'm excited most about the calculators. You can borrow calculators from the school, but it's not the same and I think it's empowering to have your own."
Twice a week volunteers work to help parents learn to speak English and assimilate into a new community and culture.
"One of the women who was here, her daughters go to Wilson and Mt. Logan, she was a teacher in a refugee camp, one of 3 teachers that taught 400 students. They ran 45 minutes of kindergarten, had the kids go out the door, had the 1st graders come in for 45 minutes -- that's the kind of education you can get in a refugee camp. So when a family comes here to the United States where their 16 year old is suddenly in 10th grade, having had that kind of background, it's a big struggle. A lot of the families are making it though."
Donations of clothing, furniture, and school supplies to assist Cache Valley's refugee community are always welcome.
Information about the state's refugee programs is at refugee.utah.gov