Twenty-year-old Edward is a refugee from Sudan.
After spending time in a Kenyan refugee camp filled with too much dust and too little food, Edward finds Salt Lake City's weather, people and low crime a welcome relief."This place is quiet, that's why I like it," Edward says with a shy smile. Edward and about 40 other refugees gathered Friday evening at Poplar Grove Park for a picnic sponsored by the International Rescue Committee. The refugees may hail from countries around the world, but their status as some of Salt Lake City's newest residents binds them.
D. Edward Knowles, volunteer coordinator for IRC, knows the smiling people playing volleyball and munching goodies are the human faces in the wars most Utahns only know through the media. Two of the largest groups of refugees at the picnic are from Bosnia and Sudan.
The some 180 refugee families in Utah are in the United States for political, not economic reasons, Knowles said. Many are in the United States "to save their own hides."
An international organization founded by Albert Einstein, IRC's newest office was opened in Salt Lake City last October. IRC screens people from the world's refugee camps and then pays for their airfare and first month's rent in the United States. But Knowles says the ultimate goal is to get the refugees as self-sufficient as quickly as possible. Volunteers help the families with job and language skills. When the wars end in their homelands, the refugees can choose to return or stay in the United States.
A familiar face at the picnic is Mary Hansen who works with Literacy Volunteers of America, Wasatch Center. Hansen coordinates volunteers to teach refugee children in kindergarten through third grade. There are also programs for their parents. Even grandparents have a shot at learning English through the center's "Elders of the World" program.
A literacy volunteer for more than 19 years, Hansen said the world is a very small place, and cultural diversity enriches it.
"When you see how small it is, you don't want to hurt people or do anything offensive," she said. "When they come over and make a life, our lives are enriched."
Elvir, a refugee from Bosnia living in Salt Lake City, said the city reminds him of his hometown of Sarajevo. He and his wife had only been in Salt Lake City seven days when it was selected to host the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Elvir said he was happy to celebrate the announcement with his new neighbors, but his eyes got watery as he thinks about when, and if, he will ever get to go home. Like many refugees, Elvir just doesn't know.