An article featuring the plight of George Ngunza, which ran in the Deseret News on Sunday, struck a chord with readers who want to come to the family's aid. Ngunza is a Mormon refugee from the Congo who now lives with his wife and 11 children in an apartment in Salt Lake City.
“We have extra space in our home, and we feel strongly about wanting to open it to a refugee family who is homeless or struggling to make ends meet,” wrote one reader. And dozens of others sought ways to help.
As the article states:
This is Ngunza’s reality: He lives in a tiny, roach-infested apartment with his wife and 11 children. His job slicing meat at a local deli pays just above minimum wage, which barely covers his monthly rent and leaves him precious little to feed and clothe his family.
Instead of dreams, these days Ngunza only has fears — that he won’t be able to provide for his family’s basic needs and still keep a roof over their head.
“Just like in the camp,” he says, “I feel trapped all over again.”
Ngunza is not alone. Aiden Batar of Catholic Community Services of Utah, a local refugee resettlement agency, says most new refugees in the state spend about 80 percent of their income on rent and utilities.
In response to the article, the Deseret News received an outpouring of responses from our readers asking how they can help the Ngunza family and other refugees. Among the responses were the following:
“We have a ranch in central Utah. I would like to see if George Ngunza would be interested in farm work and if his wife would be interested in housekeeping work at the lodge.”
“I don't have a lot, but I have two growing boys who would love to share their toys. I perform building maintenance, so if there is something that I could possibly fix in the homes, I would be glad to help.”
If you’re interested in helping George Ngunza and other refugee families, here are eight ways to do it:
1. Participate in a volunteer project, by yourself or with a group
Local resettlement agencies, including the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services, are always in need of individuals and groups for volunteer projects, such as clothing and food drives or packaging welcome kits for newly arriving refugees.
Looking for something out of the ordinary? Herd goats for a day to help with the International Rescue Committee’s East African Refugee Goat Project. Are you a knitting expert? Volunteer as a knitting instructor for the Utah Health and Human Rights Women's Knitting Circle.
2. Become a refugee driver, mentor or foster parent
Long-term volunteers can have a powerful impact on a refugee’s transition to life in the United States. Local organizations are looking for volunteers willing to work closely with refugee families as mentors — helping refugees learn English and develop skills like driving a car, paying rent or opening a bank account.
Utah Health and Human Rights, an organization that specifically helps refugee torture survivors, welcomes volunteers as well, especially those willing to drive clients to medical appointments and therapy sessions.
“We can’t afford a van, and many of our clients are disabled and can’t use public transportation,” said Cherie Mockli, a psychotherapist at Utah Health and Human Rights. “Having volunteers to drive them to our offices is so meaningful, you can’t even put a price on it.”
Refugee children who come to Utah as orphans are also in need of those willing to become foster parents.
For long-term volunteer opportunities, contact the International Rescue Committee of Utah, Catholic Community Services of Utah, Utah Health and Human Rights and the Refugee & Immigrant Center at the Asian Association of Utah.
3. Open your home to refugees
Have a spare room or a vacant rental property? Open Homes, an Airbnb project, allows volunteer hosts to open their homes to refugees without charge.
4. Employ refugees
"When refugees come into our community and they're educated, their education is not being recognized by employers," Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski told the Deseret News. "It's a barrier to opportunities for refugees."
5. Support refugee-owned businesses
“Many refugees have started their own businesses and are contributing to our economy,” says Batar with Catholic Community Services of Utah.
One example is the Spice Kitchen, a food business incubator run by the International Rescue Committee of Utah.
Add unique flavors to your work meeting or event by ordering catering from one of several Spice Kitchen entrepreneurs, or make Spice-To-Go a part of your family’s weekly routine. Every Thursday night, pick up a boxed-meal cooked fresh by a featured Spice Kitchen entrepreneur.
6. Help a refugee finish college
One Refugee, a Utah nonprofit founded in 2013, has helped more than 300 refugee students pursue a degree from a local college.
Through the initiative, refugees are provided money for their education, enrollment counseling, tutors and opportunities for social networking. The goal of the program is to guide students to marketable employment where they can be productive professional, community and family contributors.
In addition to donations, the organization is looking for volunteers for its online mentor program, which allows professionals to guide students without having to meet in person, and local tutors who can meet with students in the Salt Lake City area.
7. Donate to refugee service organizations
Refugee services organizations are always in need of private donations to support their programs. Not just money is needed — clothing, food, household supplies, diapers, hygiene kits and furniture for refugees are also in high demand.
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8. Help the Ngunza family directly
Those interested in helping George Ngunza and his family directly can contact Suzanne Stott at [email protected]. Stott works with the Ngunza family as a member of the Relief Society presidency of the Salt Lake City Swahili Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.