By: Rachel Lewis
United Way of Salt Lake Young Leader
When I first arrived at the UWSL Young Leader’s service project at the Hser Ner Moo Welcome Center, I met a little girl named Malai. She was quick to spin a full circle while telling me that her name means “love” in her native Nepali. One of her first concerns was if her hair was longer than UWSL’s staff member Megan Jones. We got out the measuring tape for the service project and confirmed that she had the longer hair. She was pretty pleased she had won. After talking to her and her friends, I realized hair length was a very different concern than those she and the other girls in the complex had while in their native countries of Nepal, Sudan and Somalia. Several of the girls recounted hearing sounds of fighting and stories of being frightened in their former homes abroad. I realized how lucky I am to have no such memories.
At the service project I gained something more than learning how to build a vegetable box. I learned about the difficulties of being a refugee in a country that is very different than your own. Even though these little girls have quickly adapted to their new homes, they face language barriers, miss their home countries and are frightened of forgetting their native language. These are big concerns for a third grader to handle.
It’s experiences like the one I had at Hser Ner Moo that make me grateful for the opportunity to be involved in United Way’s Young Leader group. I appreciate learning more about the community and finding ways that I can help. I also get the added benefit of meeting great people in the valley. I’ve been a member of the Young Leaders for 5 years, and plan to be a member as long as they’ll let me! Thanks to all those at United Way and with the Young Leaders who helped coordinate the service project and widen my understanding of the needs in our community.