There are more than 65 million refugees in the world today and Utah cares for 65,000 of them. These are people who are trying to get to safety, live a better life, and escape the war and danger that their home countries have burdened them with. Our great nation has done a great service to them by providing a place for them to go. It’s a long and lengthy process, but it is life-changing for them. The problem is that we hear about them all the time, but we don’t hear from them often. Two refugees, Martha and Dominic Raimondo, shared their story with me at a conference hosted by the Granite School District.
Martha shared her story first. She stood at the front of the conference room, wore a large smile and a beautiful black dress with yellow and orange printed designs, which was common clothing from her home country of Sudan. She clasped her hands together and looked at us. She had come to America in 1990. She had one brother and four sisters who were still alive. She didn’t go to school in South Sudan and receive any education. When she was ten years old, she was bit by a King Cobra and was sick for one whole month, plus nine months more periodically.
“We talk in South Sudan, different language. When I came to United States… it was funny. I did not know what I was doing. Where we go for milk?” In South Sudan, she said, “We see a cow, we go to cow, we get milk.” You cannot do it like that in the United States.
She said that when she was in South Sudan, when her village was being attacked, she lost her brother, Dominic. “We thought about it, prayed about it.” For years, she thought he had been killed, only to find him when she came to America many years later.
Dominic Raimondo smiled and spoke to us in fluent english. “Here I am for this opportunity, this privilege,” Dominic began. He thanked us for coming to see them speak. He sang a short song with us, singing, “I will never forget my home. My brothers are there, my sisters are there. I will never forget my home.”
“Life in my village was good. Big family of twelve, last born. I took care of cows and played. My village was attacked at four in the morning when I was seven years old.” He was separated from his family and he didn’t know who was still alive, so he walked with some other families from his village that decided to take him along on their journey to safety. He walked 600 miles to Kenya. There, Kenyans imprisoned him and his group. They eventually took all of them to Kakuma, a refugee camp.
Life in the refugee camp was different. He said that he was “there for several years.” All of us were “stressed and traumatized.” There was “no school and no help if we got sick. We didn’t know what was happening in my country of South Sudan. We ended up staying there for ten years.”
90% of the people in the camp were youth. They were slowly being given the opportunity to go to the United States and start a new life. The process was long and very difficult. Each of them had to try really hard to pass all of the tests to make sure they were ready to go to America. Names were posted at the border so they could go to the United States. “It was very exciting for me,” Dominic said.
When he came to America, he reported that it was very different from home. He could “look around and count all the cars. In refugee camp, there was not enough food. There is a lot of food here.”
For three weeks or so, volunteers helped him adjust. There were many challenges. He didn’t understand English. “I was so frustrated when I was in the store and talked to people… I could not understand them.” Another challenge was getting a job. He reported that he always feared “rejection for mentioning issues. I did not understand that I could not park my car where it said ‘no parking.’ I got tickets that I threw away. I got in trouble for it.”
There is a brick wall between all of us and refugees that is keeping us from understanding them. But, all we need to do is lend an ear to listen and then offer our assistance. Refugees are newborns in our world. It’s all new and different.
Martha said that after years of thinking her brother was dead, she found him in America. They found each other here. Dominic found his family, Martha found her brother, and all refugees that also came found safety in America. But, there’s still so much left to do. What can we do to help them? What do they need?
“Love. If you love refugees as much as you love yourself, you will be doing a great service for them.” Everyone needs love and someone to care about them. Again, they’re newborns. They cannot grow and learn if no one takes the time and has the patience to teach them and lead them.
“Offer them your knowledge. We have power through knowledge.” Teach them anything. Anything at all! If you know how to paint, teach them to paint. Woodwork? Teach them. “Teach them so they can be good workers, good business men and women.” Knowledge is power for them.
“Volunteer your time… go to doctor appointments with them, so that they feel comfortable.” Dominic smiled very wide. “Utah is doing well in helping refugees… With all the challenges and issues” that refugees have, “we are able to make some success” because of your help.
We, as Americans, can do something to help them. We have to do something. Dominic asks us to love refugees and lend them our time and knowledge. Those are easy! But, what can Westlake High school start doing? Service projects! You can find a bunch of available service projects in your area at JustServe and Create the Good!
Westlake Seminary has done diaper drives; service days where they made backpacks, blankets, and sleeping mats; and continue to do more every year! But, that’s just the seminary. What can Westlake do, as a whole? Do you have old clothes, shoes, or devices? Donate! Visit refugees with a paper and a pen and teach them the alphabet! Buy or make meals and give them to refugees! The list can go on forever, because they need so much and we can give so much.
Make a plan today. Get your things together. Go out and give. Refugees need you!
There is a reason it is so important to listen to other’s stories. We can’t say we understand them otherwise. If we don’t listen, we may even not know how to help them. Listen to Martha’s and Dominic’s stories and give to support them and others like them. Dominic is a founder of an organization called “The Dominic Raimondo Foundation.” They go out and help refugees. They make a difference. Help them and donate a dollar or two to “The Dominic Raimondo Foundation” and start to becoming a hero to the refugees.