Refugee program provides opportunities to serve

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Hannah Johnson
Y-Serve program directors help plan and organize events. Y-Serve’s Refugee program provides opportunities to volunteer. (Hannah Johnson)

Y-Serve is making it possible for students to serve refugees locally and internationally through a program called Refugee.

Refugee has teamed up with other organizations in Provo and Salt Lake City to provide students with opportunities to serve.

Hannah Johnson is a program director who is studying history at BYU. She said the executive director last semester, Candice LeSueur, has always been passionate about refugees and how to reach out to them.

Refugee often teams up with Refugee Action Network, a nonprofit organization located in Provo, to help organize efforts for refugee aid. Johnson said Refugee also works with other BYU clubs because its goal is to serve refugees locally.

“Many refugees will be arriving over the next few months in Provo, so this program is now in place to assist in any way we can,” Johnson said.

In November, Johnson said the program hosted a big project of knitting hats for refugees living at a camp in Greece.

“Over 200 students attended and together we experienced the joy of service and were able to serve refugees internationally,” Johnson said.

Johnson said this program has a powerful effect on both refugees and student volunteers.

“The refugees we are sending the hats to frequently feel like the world has forgotten about them,” Johnson said. “Sending homemade hats will send a clear signal — we love you and we want to help.”

While waiting for refugees to arrive in Utah Valley, the program has done other small projects like organizing donated materials for refugees and loading a truck with supplies for refugees in Salt Lake City.

Johnson said her experience as a history major has shown her a recurring theme throughout history of refugees’ struggles being ignored.

“I feel an urgent need to do anything I can to help because refugees in lots of ways are completely helpless,” Johnson said. “There are millions of refugees around the world. We cannot sit back and ignore their struggle.”

Hannah Johnson
More than 200 students knitted hats for refugees at a recent Refugee activity. (Hannah Johnson)

Program director Alastair Scheuermann said they will start a mentoring program this semester when students are able to commit to regular volunteering hours.

“We’re arranging mentors to help refugee families in Provo to get them help with any adjustment they have to Utah Valley,” Scheuermann said. “We’re in the process of arranging mentoring via Skype for refugees in Salt Lake City.”

Scheuermann said he is personally inspired by the Asian Association of Utah in Salt Lake City.

“Despite what you would think from their name, they help refugees from all over the world who have been relocated to Salt Lake,” Scheuermann said. “They hold daily English classes and help refugees to find a new home here in Utah.”

Scheuermann said almost everyone knows what it’s like to be away from home in a place without a familiar sense of comfort and security.

“Refugees are people like you and I who have been robbed of a home,” Scheuermann said. “When we reach out to them, we help them regain that sense of security and, as a result, grow more grateful of our own homes.”

Scheuermann said this program acts as a bridge for student service and the needs of refugees in our community and across the world.

“After students get into the habit of service, they understand how connected we are to all people in the world,” Scheuermann said.

Refugee program director Dallin Broberg said many students have the desire to reach out to refugees, but are not sure how to go about it.

“Finding the perfect service opportunity can be challenging,” Broberg said. “Refugee is a Y-Serve program that was started to provide service opportunities to directly benefit refugees.”

Broberg said there are millions of refugees in the world today who were forced to flee from their homes.

“It is our responsibility, those who have been given so much, to reach out to our brothers and sisters,” Broberg said. “We have much to offer including our talents, our means and our time.”

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