Duce's Wild: Serving refugees surges patriotism

Published: Tuesday, July 8 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

While delivering supplies, basketball teammates Breann Duce and Jordan Bauder quickly became attached to little siblings from a Burmese refugee family now living in South Salt Lake.

Stacie Duce

Personal patriotism has surged on particular days of my life.

The day I saw the original Constitution under glass in Washington, D.C.; the day I stood in reverence at Pearl Harbor Memorial; the day I welcomed my brother home from a dangerous tour in Iraq along with several hundred other soldiers in a Colorado gymnasium.

And just recently, another experience joined my list of searing patriotic moments. Accompanied by a dear mentor from my days at Alta High School, my twin daughters and several members of their high school basketball team met, hugged and served refugees who have recently arrived in the United States.

Two brothers around the ages of 9 and 10 emerged from their South Salt Lake City apartment. Their faces were similar and smiling brightly — except one had distinct scarring around his eye that had healed well. They arrived on U.S. soil the night before as refugees from Somalia. They were clean, enthusiastic and grateful.

My daughters and their friends gave the boys a new soccer ball and some gently used cleats. We gave the mother a 25-pound bag of rice and watched as a boy about their same age from another apartment delivered a pot of steaming, savory-smelling chicken. It was impressive to see residents welcoming the new arrivals as well.

Children of all ages swarmed my daughters as they searched through the bin of donated soccer cleats trying to find the right sizes. It was simultaneously heartbreaking and exciting as the girls slipped cleats onto bare feet but more often than not had to repeat “too small” or “all gone” or “I’m so sorry.”

The rudimentary apartment complex is adjoined by a soccer field where organized games for children of all ages are played. They form teams according to age and nationality, creating a mini World Cup right in their own backyard.

Most of the refugees from this particular apartment complex are from Somalia, Uganda and Burma and are assisted by Catholic Community Services of Utah.

A one-time LDS Church meetinghouse in the area has become a bustling refugee center where many gather every afternoon for English lessons, health screenings and assistance with finding a job. I was told the immigrants received vouchers for food and clothing as well as home visits for the first six months. Soon after they are required to pay back the costs of their airfare to the sponsoring agency and try to be self-sufficient.

For some, the apartment complex we visited is purely transitional housing and families quickly move forward in their new life and new citizenship. For others, the run-down buildings that are full of donated furniture become a safe haven for them to heal from scars that aren’t visible from the outside.

The girls and I sat on the couches of one such family from Somalia. We spoke with a young mother who arrived in the United States with her three brothers. They witnessed as militants shot their father and older brother in the head. They haven’t seen their mother in five years, but just received news that she had been seen with their grandmother at a refugee camp on the Somalian border. The oldest brother attends classes full time at Salt Lake Community College and also works full time at Wal-Mart to support the family. She cared for her younger brothers as well as her two toddlers, who are products of rape from soldiers before she left Somalia.

Hanging above a big-screen television that was playing a violent African action movie was a postcard of the Virgin Mary and two 8-by-10 photos of her 1-year-old as he recovered from an accident where a pot of scalding coffee fell on him. Patches across his head were in contrast to his dark skin as he healed from the burns.

"We're glad you're here," we told the young mother.

She then sheepishly tapped at the simple braids on her head and said, in timid English, “I wish I was white."

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