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The City Journals

A culturally responsive community holds Refugee Cultural Night

Sep 17, 2018 03:33PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Members of the audience join the dancers in Ethiopian dancing. (Nikki Crown/City Journals)

By Nikki Crown | [email protected]

On their website, Granite School District states it is a culturally responsive community with culturally responsive classrooms. That statement is beautifully supported in their Refugee Cultural Nights, a collaboration between Granite School District, Utah Refugee Connection, and the Salt Lake Mayor's Office.

The Refugee Cultural Night held on Sept. 5 focused on the cultures of Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The presentation was highlighted with humorous videos and anecdotes making the evening not only educational, but entertaining. The night was spent learning that Ethiopia has 87 ethnic groups, 100 languages, their own number system and their own calendar. In Ethiopia, it’s actually 2011.

At the end of the presentation the participants were treated to traditional Ethiopian dancing. Though the dancing was simple, the dancers radiated joy in each step. As they danced they encouraged members of the audience to join them.

Among those who joined the dancers were Maria Hopkin and her two girls, 7-year-old Afifa and 10-year-old Delia, who both said their favorite part of the evening was the dancing.

Hopkin and her family live in Eagle Mountain and attended the Cultural Night as part of their home schooling social studies. Hopkin appreciated how educational the evening was and said, “I thought it was really cool to see the refugee camps and learn how long term they are.”

One of the event’s presenters, Rahwa Gebresilase, came from Eritrea, a country in Africa that borders Ethiopia to the north. Rahwa spent about six years in Shibelba, a refugee camp, before finally coming to America. About the refugee camp, she said, “It was too hot, I mean the only good thing was that you know a lot of people, they’re family and cousins. But it was actually a bit easier than America was at first because it was so hard to learn the language and culture here. Life in the camp was life in Eritrea. It was kind of the same, but it was just hard, because we had nothing.”

Another presenter was Yordanos Beyene, or Jojo as she likes to be called. She is originally from Ethiopia, her family came to the United States when she was about 14 on her dad’s work visa. Jojo mentioned how hard of a cultural adjustment it was. “Language, culture, pretty much I think everything was hard,” she said.

In spite of the difficulties adjusting, Jojo went on to get a degree in sociology and human resources and then a master’s in educational leadership and policy. She currently works at the University of Utah as a college advisor for the College of Health. She got involved with the refugee program because she said, “It makes me happy to be around people that have the same experience as me. I like to get the Ethiopian community together.”

To that end she runs a Saturday program where she says her main roles involve “helping refugee high school students with their applications to go to college, financial aid, pretty much everything and anything they want or need.”  They meet at the refugee center at Salt Lake Community College’s Meadowbrook campus. She also wrote a grant from the mayor’s office and received enough money to put on an Ethiopian New Year — Enkutatash. The event was held Sept. 9 at the International Peace Gardens.

Jojo attributes her success to the mentor assigned to their family when they first came to Logan, Utah. “I’m where I’m supposed to be because of her,” she said.

Amy Harmer, the outreach coordinator at Utah Refugee Connection, encouraged participants to be that difference in someone else’s life. “Resilience is all around the world, but opportunities are not. We can help them,” she said.

The evening ended with traditional Ethiopain food and encouragement to learn about your neighbors, be a friend, a mentor or a volunteer.

The next Refugee Cultural Night will be held at the Granite Education Center (2500 S. State St.) on Nov. 7 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.