SALT LAKE CITY — If you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like to live in a refugee camp — and, more importantly, have a desire to help refugees — you'll have a chance to step into that experience Thursday at the Hale Center Theatre.
The nonprofit organization AMAR, which helps refugees in Iraq, is hosting a fundraising gala at the Hale Center Theatre. This won't be a standard gala, although attendees will still find good food and beautifully set tables. The event will feature an outdoor mock refugee tent city to help guests understand the living conditions in Middle Eastern camps.
For gala organizers, authenticity is important. They purchased three tents from the same company that creates the tents for the refugee camps in Iraq. To enhance the experience, two refugee families who previously lived in refugee camps will be present to answer questions.
“(The refugee families) are helping us to outfit the tents so it looks like what they lived in and what they would’ve had,” said the gala committee chairwoman Kathy Free. “They will be in the tents, so anyone who wants to ask questions, they’re asking people who know what to say because they lived there. This was their lives.”
Both Middle Eastern families now reside in Utah. Conveniently, some family members are licensed caterers in Utah, and they’ll provide a Middle Eastern buffet for guests.
“It’s going to have the sights and sounds of the people, and then we’ll have information about how AMAR is helping these people,” Free said. “They’re going to hear, see, feel, taste and smell a tent city — all the senses.”
Guests will also enjoy a performance in the Jewel Box Stage by the “Newsies” cast, and Chris Osmond, son of Donny Osmond, will also perform with his wife Alta. Throughout the event, guests will be able to access video of AMAR's projects and refugee camps with their cell phones through augmented reality services.
Thanks to sponsors, 100 percent of ticket sales will benefit AMAR’s projects, which range from health care to women’s empowerment. According to AMAR’s website, its mission is to “rebuild lives in Iraq using permanent, local solutions that ensure all people have access to essential services and economic opportunity.”
AMAR was founded 25 years ago in response to the persecution of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq, according to AMAR's website. The acronym originally stood for Assisting Marsh Arabs and Refugees. As the organization expanded to help other Iraqis, it kept its name, which happens to mean "the builder" in some Arabic dialects, consistent with AMAR's goal to "rebuild lives."
Although AMAR started in London, it’s found a presence in Utah. The organization partners with LDS Charities and has an office in Salt Lake City, one of only two offices in the U.S.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently met with Baroness Emma Nicholson, the founder of AMAR. According to LDS Church News, religious leaders and scholars have joined with AMAR and LDS Charities to engage in conferences about humanitarian work.Comment on this story
According to Free, AMAR focuses its efforts on those who are internally displaced in Iraq; in other words, they’re refugees in their own country unable to return to their homes.
“These are our brothers and sisters across the globe, and they want to stay home,” Free said. “We’re hoping to give them that opportunity in a sustainable, local way.”
If you go …
What: 4th Annual AMAR Utah Gala
When: Thursday, July 26, 5 p.m.
Where: Hale Center Theatre, 9900 South Monroe St., Sandy
How much: $40-$250