Catholic student operation aids refugees resettled in Utah

Published: Thursday, Feb. 28 2013 3:45 p.m. MST

Student ambassadors from nine Catholic schools gather at St. Vincent de Paul Elementary to deliver their "Operation Tool Kit" tools their classmates have collected to help refugees in need through the Catholic Community Services of Utah Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

HOLLADAY — As Carol Barman has helped refugee families settle into their new lives through a Catholic Community Services of Utah ministry, she became aware of an unmet need — hand tools.

"When I'd visit a family and get ready to leave, they'd say, 'Miss Carol, next time can you bring a wrench?' 'Miss Carol, can you bring a hammer so I can hang up a picture?'"

Barman, advancement director for St. Vincent de Paul Elementary School, brought the need to the attention of Catholic schools in the Salt Lake Valley. Nine schools joined forces to collect and assemble 140 tool kits to be given as gifts to refugee families resettled in Utah by CCS.

Students from five schools presented their respective contributions to "Operation Tool Kit" to representatives of CCS during a brief ceremony Thursday.

Lewis Rasmussen, student body president of St. Vincent de Paul School, said each grade in the K-8 school was assigned to collect a certain tool. "At the end of the week, the student body officers collected the tools and assembled the boxes," he said.

"Operation Tool Kit," conducted during Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 27-Feb. 2, helped address a need, brought nine Catholic schools together for a common goal and was educational, Rasmussen said.

"I thought it was real cool coming together as a community," he said.

The tool boxes will enable refugees, most of whom have few possessions when they enter the United States, to conduct simple household repairs or just hang up a cherished picture.

"That's kind of essential. If you're given a house, you have to fix things up," Rasmussen said.

Ubah Abdi, a Somalian refugee, represented the 500 refugees resettled by CCS each year.

Abdi, who with her four children lived in a refugee settlement in Egypt for three years before being resettled in Utah in April 2012, said CCS volunteers have helped her learn English, how to make doctor's appointments, to use household appliances, manage money, even basic laws, such as crossing the street at a crosswalk.

"Where I come from, we don't have laws like that," she said.

The gift of a tool box, she said, was yet another of the many kindnesses that have been extended to her and her children, a 6-year-old, an 11-year-old and 14-year-old twins. "I like it very much," she said.

Abdi said she has great hopes for her and her children since settling in Utah. "I feel like there's a baby born in myself. I have a lot of dreams," she said.

Her apartment in the Salt Lake Valley is safe and warm, literally a world away from the drought and violence that forced her family to flee Somalia.

Abdi said her children have adjusted well to their new schools. "My children are very clever in English and mathematics," she said.

Some 25,000 refugees have resettled in Utah since the end of the Vietnam War. All but about 200 live in Salt Lake County. CCS and International Rescue Committee's Salt Lake office each settle about 500 refugees each year.

Barman, volunteer coordinator for St. Thomas More Church, said the Catholic Community Services volunteer program "Welcoming the Stranger" is rewarding, particularly as the families integrate and become self-sufficient.

"Our very first Burmese family, they're all working now, all four of them," she said.

That's the goal for all refugees, but Barman said the transition from living in very primitive circumstances in some refugee camps — where people live in tents and food and supplies are dropped by helicopter — to living in an apartment in Salt Lake County, requires the assistance of resettlement agencies and volunteers.

Unlike food, clothing or even hygiene kits given refugees, the tool kits are "not consumable," said Raul Yumul, who directs CCS's refugee resettlement program.

"This will be with them all throughout their lives in this country," said Yumul, himself a refugee from the Philippines.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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