Embracing refugees: 'How can I not give back?'

Published: Saturday, Nov. 9 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

“All of us work together — church groups, community groups, government groups — and lives are blessed as a result,” he said. “If we ask each (Catholic) parish to take care of a family, the whole parish volunteers to help that family, teaching them how to live in an apartment, how to use mass transit, how to get jobs — everything they need to know to survive in a place that is very different from the places they left.

“We take them to (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Day Saints's) humanitarian center, where they learn certain skills and get training. We get them into housing subsidized by the state. Doctors and dentists from different faith groups volunteer their services. It is a united effort from so many people, with the goal to have each family independent and completely on their own within two years.”

Batar draws heavily from his own refugee experience in working with refugees new to this country, and he encourages staff members and volunteers with similar experiences to do likewise.

“When I talk to people, I tell them, forget about looking behind you — you can’t do anything about that,” he said. “I tell them to go forward. The great thing about America is, if you work hard you can do anything. I tell them they need to take advantage of that — for themselves and for their children. Don’t waste the hardship you went through. Take advantage of the sacrifice.”

Which sounds a lot like the advice he gives to his children.

“I tell them every day to remember that journey we took to get here,” he said, his eyes growing misty again. “I tell them that I took that journey for them. I tell them, ‘Don’t waste it.’ ”

And yes, there is a tear in his eye when he says that.

Email: jwalker@deseretnews.com

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