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Increasing Opportunities for Refugees

On February 21 during free period, First Year Seminar, the Education Department, International Program, the Franciscan Center, the Women’s Center and the Damietta Cross Cultural Center hosted a Cultural Awareness Presentation. This was the fifth year the presentation was presented to students and faculty. Nan Han and Shana Pughe Dean both were from The Center in Utica which is a resource to refugees. Dean, the translation and training manager spoke of how important it is to be aware of refugees and their background. Han, an interpreter and student, shared her background as a refugee from Myanmar. 

Han was just six years old when her father told her family they had to pack up everything they could and leave everything they have ever known. When they were students, Han’s parents would go on strike to protest their government. Years later, the government began to look for her family because they were angry at them for what they had done. Before the government could harm them, her family crossed the border to Thailand and they all stayed in a refugee camp. The conditions at this camp were unspeakable. Han hopes that no one has to ever endure what her and her family had to when they were there. After her and her family spent four years there, they were all accepted into The Center program Utica. Living in a different country her whole life, Han did not know any English. The only words she knew coming into America were yes and no. Her peers would laugh and make fun of her broken English. To help understand American culture and English, Han relied on the show Friends. The show brought her comfort and an understanding of how to joke around. 

After high school, Han went to The Center in Utica to apply part time as an interpreter. The Pre-Med major, goes to appointments and to the hospital to help those who speak Burmese understand what the doctors are saying. She uses her language to help those who were in her shoes just a few years ago when she could not speak English. 

Along with interpretation services, The Center of Utica provides a traffic safety program. Since people drive differently everywhere, they thought adding this program would be beneficial. Prior to this service being provided, The Center saw how the people who went through The Center would have difficulty on the road. This program has helped refugees tremendously as they have learned the proper rules of the road. 

During the presentation, Dean emphasized inclusiveness in the community. This does not apply just in Utica, but everywhere. She informed the audience how it was not the refugees’ choice to leave their home country, they were forced out. They left everything they knew to seek safety. It is crucial to welcome refugees to a safe country with open arms and an open heart. They are already coming from a hostile environment whether that be in their home country or at the refugee camp. Dean pointed out how The Centers rage line is “many cultures, one community.” This should be a tagline everyone lives by as it creates a more inclusive community. The city of Utica has thrived because of refugees and migrants. With 40 plus languages being spoken, the city is an incredibly diverse place to live. Dean noted how we need new groups and communities in order to grow and sustain refugees in a positive way. If you would like to learn more about The Center, go to