Refugee Integration into Society through Education
RISE is the most recent past project of the Junior League of Salt Lake City, which began Fall 2007 and ended in Spring 2010. The Junior League of Salt Lake City worked in collaboration with Catholic Community Services in creating and implementing this refugee assistance program. The RISE committee worked with refugees from the countries of Somalia, Burma, Burundi and Bhutan. Our classes met weekly and continued in sessions from four to six weeks long.
Catholic Community Services, or CCS, is one of several agencies in Utah assigned by the federal government to shepherd refugees into life in the United States. The Junior League of Salt Lake City’s role was to assist CCS by teaching the refugee women life skills. This includes everything from learning the American monetary system to fire safety to nutrition. We focused on topics that are second nature to Americans, but foreign to these women who are in need of everyday skills to live successfully in this country. In some cases, when we started a new class of refugee women, some of them had arrived in the U.S. just days earlier.
The aim of the RISE program is to not turn the refugees into Americans; rather we want to celebrate the diversity they bring to our community. We do the best we can to assist these ladies in adjusting to their new life and even provide weekly giveaways of household items, food and clothes. We always try to maintain a dialogue with the ladies in our classes (via our interpreters) about the way they are used to doing things, and ways that we can try to make things easier for them here.
Each class is different, but the topics are the same: health and wellness, hygiene/cleanliness, budgets/finance, fire safety, kitchen safety, caring for babies and children. We hold graduation celebrations for the at the completion of the classes. The certificates we provide at graduation were at first a ceremonial gesture, but have actually proven to be a useful tool for these women as they seek jobs.
The RISE program has now been passed on to CCS so they can maintain it as a primary source of training for refugees for years to come. Interns from the University of Utah have been using the curriculum developed by the RISE committee over the summer to teach additional classes.