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Real Salt Lake player and fellow refugee joins graduation celebration for refugee foster children

SALT LAKE CITY — Real Salt Lake defender Phanuel Kavita joined in festivities Friday at Jordan Park to honor six recent high school graduates who are part of Catholic Community Services' refugee foster care program.

Kavita is also a refugee, resettling in Utah in 2000 when he was 8 years old.

The difference is he came with family, and children in the refugee foster care program come to the United States unaccompanied.

“It’s not the easiest, especially for these kids. They came here alone, and I can’t imagine how tough that is for them,” Kavita said.

“I came with family, which is a blessing. Coming from Congo, not a lot of people came with their families,” he said.

When he learned that Friday’s party was for refugee kids graduating from high school, Kavita, born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said he jumped at the chance.

“I said, ‘Oh, there’s Congolese and African kids,' especially because they’re refugees and I came here as a refugee,” he said.

The party was an opportunity to meet refugee youths from all over the world, "and I get to speak my language," he said.

Kavita attended Highland High School and played his way onto Real Salt Lake through its development academy.

Program manager Julianna Potter said six of the 85 youths in the foster care program graduated from area high schools this year. Most will continue their education at Salt Lake Community College, although one graduate received an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“It’s also a really good chance for all the kids in the program to come together, spend time together and spend time with kids from the same culture they’re from and kids from other cultures and just have a good time,” she said.

One of the graduates was born in a refugee camp and had only three years of schooling when he was resettled in the United States as a 16-year-old.

“He has been in the U.S. for about 2 ½ years and he’s graduating. It’s a real testament to his dedication, his foster parents and his community for supporting him and helping him to get there. It’s pretty impressive,” Potter said.

Youths in the program's legal custody entered the United States without their parents or adults to care for them. The program serves minors who are refugees, asylees, Cuban/Haitian entrants, special immigrant juveniles and victims of human trafficking.

Minors can remain in the program until they are reunited with their families or until age 21.

Yasin Rezaei, one of the inaugural graduates of Utah International Charter School, is considering joining the Army to use his language skills.

Rezaei is from Pakistan but had to leave because it was no longer safe for him to remain there. He fled to Indonesia and attempted three times to travel by boat Australia.

On the third attempt he was put in jail but later allowed to enter a shelter for juveniles, he said. At 17, he was resettled in the United States. Two years later, he is a high school graduate.

"I think it was great. It was basically a happy moment,” he said of his commencement.

Patrick Aime, a recent graduate of Jordan High School, was in a refugee camp in Rawanda. He plans to enter SLCC this fall, although he is unsure what he wants to study.

Graduation was “pretty fun,” he said, adding that it was exciting to spend time with Kavita.

Natalie Salter, a high school friend who helped Aime with his studies, said she is inspired by his courage.

“He’s one of the strongest people I know because he’s been through so much,” she said.