Community Centers Helping Refugees!

by Agnes Chiao

Senior Director, Neighborhood Initiatives and Innovation

In our partnerships, we have been talking a lot about assessing how we are doing, that is, the impact we are having. While most of our conversations are centered on figuring out baseline data, data collection systems, and ways for us to collectively share data in order to assess impact on individuals and communities, occasionally, there is nothing more powerful than seeing the impact in action. The Hser Ner Moo Welcome Center in South Salt Lake shares this inspiring story of impact.

The Burmese Muslim population generally comes to the United States without any academic background. When in Burma or Thailand, instead of learning how to read and write, they often went to “Muslim School” and learned religion. When working with this population we have to start from the ground up, and the older the person, the slower progress is to be seen. The teenagers generally struggle a lot longer to pick things up than the elementary aged kids do.

A bunch of donuts were donated to the Center, and the kids were told they could have a donut if they read a book with one of the staff or volunteers. Bo Bo, one of our Burmese high school students, came in to read and get his donut. He has been in America about a year and a half, and we were expecting a struggler. To our surprise, he read effortlessly through the first book and a more difficult book was chosen for him. Again, he read without much difficulty. He was asked, “Bo Bo, where did you learn to read, school?” “Yes,” he replied, “and Center!”

At times we wonder if the efforts made at the Center really make a significant impact, but doubt was cleared hearing it straight from Bo Bo’s mouth. This is why we’re here!!

For another snapshot on life as a refugee teen in Utah: http://www.uw.org/news-events/news/fitting-in-and-catching-up.html

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