Spice Kitchen Incubator helps refugees start food businesses

Story and photos by RYAN CARRILLO

Spice Kitchen Incubator gives certain Utah residents a unique opportunity: a chance to plan and develop a food-based business.

The kitchen incubator primarily assists international refugees who have relocated to Salt Lake City, but also provides services to immigrants and lower-income individuals. The program is part of the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City, or IRC SLC, which helps in international crises and relocates refugees in 22 different cities throughout the U.S.

Spice Kitchen Incubator provides everything from ovens to large prep space for the chefs

Spice Kitchen Incubator provides everything from ovens to large prep space for the chefs.

Refugees are individuals forced to leave their native country due to political unrest, war or safety concerns. When they are relocated to the United States, they have to adapt to a completely new culture and way of living.

Spice Kitchen Incubator helps them adjust to some of these changes.

Entrepreneurs, or participants, in Spice Kitchen Incubator aspire to start their own business. These individuals will mostly likely run their own catering business, food truck or farmers market booth by the end of the program.

The program is designed to help each entrepreneur achieve these goals and be successful in the American business market.

“Every entrepreneur’s goals are different but our overall goal is to build self-sufficient businesses,” said Genevieve Healey, the program coordinator for Spice Kitchen Incubator. “Those are the things we are helping them with, [things] like accounting, marketing and connecting them to resources. At a certain point they are comfortable doing that all on their own and they know how to use those resources.”

Spice Kitchen Incubator is divided into two different levels: pre-incubation and incubation. Pre-incubation is designed to help entrepreneurs develop a business plan and teach them how to run a successful business. Incubation is focused on real experience and exposure, putting each participant in control of their business.

Entrepreneurs begin in pre-incubation. They participate in this level for six months before advancing to incubation, depending on their individual needs and progress. During this phase of the program, they are building the foundation for running a business.

Each Saturday, the kitchen incubator hosts workshops for those individuals, covering everything from profit-and-loss and advertising to marketing positioning and food costing. Additionally, each entrepreneur will participate in a focus group. The focus group plays an essential role in the development of the aspiring business owner’s business plan.

“Volunteers from the food industry and the community come and try the entrepreneur’s food and those are entrepreneurs in pre-incubation so they are just developing their menu and what they are going to sell,” Healey said.

Feedback from volunteers is essential. It helps the chefs make adjustments to the business plan. It also can help them develop a mentorship with people in the community.

Kamal is one of 10 entrepreneurs in the pre-incubation stage. As a Bhutanese refugee, he was resettled in the U.S. almost five years ago. He has participated in the Spice Kitchen Incubator for almost a year.

Kamal’s focus group met on March 11, 2015. The chef spent several hours preparing food to present to the group. He said he has enjoyed participating in the program and was excited to share his culture and food with the volunteers and staff. He said he is very appreciative for the help of his wife and daughter, as well as a local volunteer, while preparing for his focus group.

Kamal prepares for his focus group with the help of his wife, daughter and a community volunteer.

Kamal prepares for his focus group with the help of his wife, daughter and a community volunteer.

After pre-incubation, entrepreneurs advance to incubation. This portion of the program typically lasts for 4 to 4 1/2 years. In all, entrepreneurs are able to be in the program for five years. There are currently three entrepreneurs enrolled in the incubation portion of the program. Since the Spice Kitchen Incubator was only opened in 2013, no one has graduated from the program yet.

During incubation, the aspiring business owners begin running an operational business. They start by applying for their business license. Once received, the entrepreneurs begin catering events and participating in local farmers markets.

During the winter, the chefs sell pre-packaged food at the market that they prepare at the Spice Kitchen Incubator’s facilities. The winter market is held every other Saturday at the Rio Grande Depot (300 S. 300 West) from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. It runs through April 2015.

During the summer farmers market, entrepreneurs rotate between packaged and prepared foods. Prepared foods are cooked on-site rather than at the Spice Kitchen Incubator facilities. Healey said the kitchen hopes to expand its services at this year’s summer market to include one booth dedicated solely to packaged foods and another just for prepared foods. This would give the entrepreneurs more exposure and increase their ability to build a client base. The summer market runs from June 13 to Oct. 24, 2015, and is held each week at Pioneer Park on 300 W. 400 South.

Healey said the farmers market demonstrated how beneficial the incubator’s programs can be for both the business owners as well as the community as a whole.

“The farmers market was a really awesome experience, especially the summer farmers market because it is where we can do prepared foods,” she said. “We’ve said that there is a need for this in the community but it was really cool to have that hands-on [experience], like ‘oh yeah, people really want this.’”

Community members can get involved with the incubator through several different ways. The Spice Kitchen Incubator is always looking for individuals to serve on focus group panels, which requires a commitment of a couple hours each session, as well as help with any other topics related to running a business. Donations can also be made on the incubator’s website.

Maria Gigourtaki, who works as the volunteer and communications coordinator for the kitchen, said volunteers can have some amazing experiences with the program. “[The entrepreneurs] are all so passionate,” she said. “I mean, food is something that gets people together and it’s awesome. You can get to see and meet people, new cultures, new flavors, history, languages, everything. It’s amazing!”

Finding the needle to success

Story and photos by EMILY RODRIGUEZ-VARGAS

A 3-year-old boy sits barefoot on the pavement at 2248 S. 440 East in South Salt Lake City, with a weary look on his face. Watching other children laugh and play at the Hser Ner Moo community center for refugees, he remains on the sidewalk alone.

Unfortunately, not all Asian individuals have been lucky enough to have had the kind of upbringing and opportunities to succeed. Some of them have never had the chance to learn and grow.

This necklace made out of coconut was brought over from Thailand.

More than 2,000 immigrants arrive in Salt Lake City each year, according to reports by the International Rescue Committee. The majority of these immigrants come from Burma and other Asian countries. Many of them were allowed asylum into the U.S. due to political persecution. Many children have never lived outside of refugee camps, or have been exposed to the freedoms they find in Utah.

Roger Tsai, an immigration attorney at Parsons, Behle & Latimer and former president of the Utah Asian Chamber of Commerce, said that although many refugees from Japan, Korea and China generally tend to have more education under their belt, many other people in Asian countries still struggle to access basic schooling.

In the Hser Ner Moo Community Center for refugees, students of all ages are learning English in school while acclimating to American culture. In the afterschool program, they come together to do homework, play games, and use the English vocabulary they picked up in school. With the help of volunteers, the center coordinates activities, outings and trainings for the children to enjoy.

Lewe La Sa shows off a traditional scarf.

Lewe La Sa, 17, who is Burmese, arrived in the U.S. only 18 months ago from a refugee camp in Thailand. She came to the center to get help with her homework, as she was trying to get through a full class load during her last year at Cottonwood High School. Sa showed motivation to learn for her classes and improve her English skills as she transitions from the life she knew growing up in the camp, where she was an excellent student. She speaks Karen, some Thai and now English. She said her mother never had the opportunity to go to school.

Sa dreams of attending the University of Utah and becoming a nurse. If that doesn’t work out, she said, she wants to be a social worker and help refugees from her country.

“Many people come here that speak Karen, but it’s very difficult for them to understand English at first,” she said. “I also want to be an interpreter, they really need one.”

Sa and her younger sister, Paw Ku Sher, currently teach a refresher course of Karen to refugee children between the ages of 4 and 14 every Saturday.

Special occasions in Burma require specific dresses.

“If they have lived here for a long time, they don’t remember their family’s native language very well,” she said. Her next step toward achieving her academic goals is succeeding at the upcoming college entrance exams.

Kaity Dixon, an IRC volunteer coordinator, said in an orientation to volunteers in Salt Lake City that it’s a true struggle to learn to read and write in a foreign language when you haven’t learned to do so in your own native tongue.

“In an instant, reading directions and completing necessary paperwork for daily life becomes a barrier to progress in a new country,” she said.

Without organizations like the IRC and other offices, as well as on-site tutoring for refugee children and services for whole families, personal, financial or educational achievements for these individuals might be too far out of reach.

A Japanese saying captured this complex situation of giving direction right at its point: “When one has no needle, thread is of little use.” The programs offered now could expand or improve in the near future by greater participation and community involvement for maintaining these vital services.

Maybe there is hope for the young boy on the sidewalk after all.

Refugees celebrate First Thanksgiving in America


  • Virtually attend the First Thanksgiving celebration.

Each of us probably has many unique memories of Thanksgiving, but they probably all centered on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and family. We remember the pilgrims who broke bread with their native hosts in this new land. And eventually we go around the table and take turns naming things for which we are grateful. Family, friends, freedom, the list goes on, and these are just the Fs.

But who remembers their first Thanksgiving? All the memories seem to blend together over the years, the result of too much stuffing and tryptophan-induced comas. Most of us likely can’t recall the first time we tasted cranberry sauce, or watched with trepidation as dad carved the bird; cautiously keeping his fingers clear of the blade.

For the thousands of refugees who come to this country every year, these experiences are as foreign to them as their many languages and traditions are to us.

That’s why this year the International Rescue Committee and American Express decided to hold a First Thanksgiving celebration for new refugees.

The First Thanksgiving is a new national celebration organized by the IRC’s corporate headquarters in New York. Salt Lake was one of three cities to host a dinner, along with Boston and Phoenix. American Express offered to house the Salt Lake event Thursday, Nov. 18, at its Taylorsville office.

Smiling volunteers and employees from the IRC greeted refugees arriving at their first Thanksgiving dinner. Once checked in they were ushered through the spacious lobby of American Express’ office past an 8-foot-tall Statue of Liberty. Just beyond the statue lay a long red carpet rolled out for the guests of honor.

Servers greeted guests along the red carpet and offered them drinks and appetizers as the refugee families meandered closer to the office lunchroom that had been transformed into a banquet hall for the evening.

All the while the journey down the hallway was accompanied by a Middle Eastern melody. At the end of the carpet, two men, Iraqi refugees, sang while one of them kept time on a small, Yamaha keyboard. An older Iraqi woman stopped to listen and sing along to the music as everyone else arriving followed suit.

The long hallway continued to fill with people as those arriving paused to admire the black and white photographs propped on easels along the carpet. Pictures of women and children, mothers and their newborn babies, stood single file on either side of the red carpet like members of a reception line.

This exhibit of photos was the premier of The Newest Americans series by Salt Lake-based photographer Stanna Frampton.

Frampton is a longtime friend of Patrick Poulin, the IRC’s Salt Lake resettlement director. For years she had asked Poulin if there was some way she could help him in his work. They came up with the idea of photographing the newest Americans, children born to refugee mothers. She began taking the photographs a year ago. Frampton said it was difficult at first because many of the mothers didn’t fully understand why someone wanted to take their picture.

Frampton recalls a Somali woman in particular who was so nervous to be in the studio it was all the photographer could do to get her to smile. Every time the woman would begin to laugh she would cover her face. Yet the resulting photograph is one of the most memorable of the series. The slender young woman in a long dark gown shields her smiling face from the camera as her young child lies lazily against her shoulder.

Every photograph has an interesting story, Frampton said. She asked each of the mothers a series of questions about their new life in America during the shoot. When she asked them how they felt knowing their babies were born American citizens they were unanimously overjoyed.

Frampton has found her own joy in getting to know these new mothers. “I have learned so much,” she said. “I’m still learning.”

Joy spilled over from the refugees, government officials, and refugee service providers as they all continued to spill into the banquet hall. More than 20 finely dressed tables filled the large room that usually accommodated American Expresses employees on their breaks.

The music died down as the nearly 200 guests began taking their seats.

George Biddle, executive vice-president of the IRC, emceed the evening. Biddle took a moment to thank all the participants and especially those who helped plan the event. He then introduced Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis. DePaulis, who was recently appointed director of community and culture by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., appeared behalf of the governor who was celebrating his wedding anniversary.

Corroon and DePaulis presented proclamations, one from the county and one from the state, declaring Nov. 14, through Nov. 20, Refugee Appreciation and Celebration Week.

Next, Janet Harris, vice president of development for the IRC, addressed the crowd. Harris related a story about taking a taxi from the airport to her hotel in Salt Lake. Her cab driver happened to be a Somali refugee who was resettled by the IRC a few years ago.

She asked the driver how he liked his new life here. He told her he was happy because he has three things here he did not have at home: freedom, opportunity and safety.

Harris revealed why the IRC decided to hold it’s largest event in conjunction with Thanksgiving. “All cultures have some form of harvest holiday,” she said. “So there is common ground there.”

She then reminded everyone about the pilgrim’s very first Thanksgiving; a dinner held by a group of people who had been forced to leave their homes in search of freedom, opportunity and safety.

With the speeches done it was time for the entertainment.

A group of women and young girls from Burundi and Rwanda performed rollicking native dances in traditional costumes.

They were followed by a quartet of young Burundian men in green and white robes, each with a tall drum. The men set up their instruments on stage and began a 20-minute marathon of intense drumming and call-and-response shouts. By the time they were done they were drenched with sweat and the audience was as excited from their robust meal and lively entertainment.

As the evening wound down the attendees discussed their new memories. Their reveries were filled with hope of future events and newborn traditions. This Thanksgiving dinner was a bit different from the traditional memories of the holiday so many have, but the new memories it provided for it’s guests, both the refugee families and the others there, will surely be no less poignant and no less meaningful.

The smiling faces leaving the American Express building that evening may have seemed foreign and each was unquestionably different, but as Patrick Poulin pointed out earlier that evening, whether you say markozy, banyaba, or ji shu tin baday, it still just means thanks.

Iraqi refugees in SLC find differences and similarities


  • View a slideshow of the families and the Humanitarian Center (best viewed in full-screen mode)

In the spring of 2003, the U.S. government sent in troops to invade Iraq because it was believed the country held weapons of mass destruction. The invasion also aimed to put an end to Suddam Hussein’s support for terrorism and to free the Iraqi people.

Since then, the United States is still there fighting for the freedom of the Iraqi people. However, U.S. troops have been able to capture Iraq’s leader and also see him executed.

Many Iraqi people have fled from their country to avoid persecution, discrimination and even death. Some of the Iraqis who have fled their native country have come to Utah.

Mazen Hamoudi, 32, an Iraqi native, is a doctor in Salt Lake City. Hamoudi said when American troops first arrived in Iraq there were differing feelings toward the soldiers.

“When the American soldiers came during the first few months, most not all, most of the Iraqi people say hello,” Hamoudi said. “But, after three months people started to hate the American soldiers. Americans angered Iraqis because of their behavior.”

Hamoudi did not flee his country as a refugee; he came by choice. He can speak fluent English, which he was taught beginning in the fifth grade. Hamoudi received his medical degree from Baghdad University and decided to come to the United States to avoid the dangers of living in Iraq and also to seek more money.

In late December 2006 Hussein was hung at Camp Justice, an Iraqi army base in a neighborhood of Baghdad. And again, mixed emotions existed among the Iraqi people, Hamoudi said.

“It is difficult to express my emotion,” he said. “He killed people, so he had to be killed, but not by this behavior. I was not happy at the time.”

Hamoudi said he now finds it was the right thing to do, but will always feel that Hussein contributed many positives to his native country.

“I consider him the perpetrator of the Iraqi people,” he said.

Omar Shakir, 40, a patient of Hamoudi’s, feels the same about Hussein, but still is mourning over his execution. Shakir cried after the execution of the Iraqi leader.

Speaking in Arabic, Shakir said he was still very sad.

“Omar thinks as leader and Arabic leader,” said Hamoudi, who translated the conversation.

Before Hussein’s execution U.S. soldiers marched into Firdos Square in Baghdad and pulled down a tall concrete statue of the Iraqi.

This was also a devastating moment, Shakir said.

“From his [Shakir’s] perspective the falling down of the statue all of Iraq was falling down,” Hamoudi said. “I was happy because I did not see the falling of the country. When he fell down I considered Saddam falling down.”

Shakir said he feels the invasion of Iraq by the United States was not a smart move. But, now he fears if U.S. soldiers pull out, there will be a civil war. Shakir feels this would only create larger problems for his country.

Unlike Hamoudi, Shakir was forced from Iraq. He literally was chased out of his country with bullets being fired at him because of his religious beliefs.

Shakir has lived in Utah for four months. He has only recently begun earning a salary for income at the Deseret Industries through the LDS church.

Shakir said language is the biggest barrier for employment at this point. He finds life in the United States frustrating because in his country he was considered a rich man, and in Utah he is not. Shakir was a businessman in Iraq where he owned his own supermarket.

When Shakir arrived from Jordan he was able to bring his wife, Huda Shakir, 33, their son and daughter and his brother, Mahmoud, 32. They are all living in a Salt Lake City apartment on 309 E.  4500 South in the Cottonwood Creek Apartment Community.

Faris Ali, 45, is also a refugee from Iraq who has lived in Utah for four weeks. He lives in the east side of Salt Lake City in an apartment.

Ali has taken a different path to the United States than Shakir. He also holds dissimilar beliefs about Iraq, however, he does find some things in common.

Ali sided with the United States during the 2003 invasion, which is why he left Iraq to come to Utah.

“I was the first Iraqi to go for the United States when America raised for our help,” Ali said in a telephone interview. “I made a pledge to help this country through the good times and the bad times.”

In contrast to Shakir, Ali was not saddened by Hussein’s execution.

“I felt great on that day,” Ali said. “He killed lots of people. He was dangerous to all of the war. He was the biggest terrorist in the war.”

Like Hamoudi, Ali attended Baghdad University. He received a degree in mechanical engineering. He is seeking a job here that will allow him to use his skills. One problem he faces in finding a job with those skills is no social security in the United States.

Right now he is working temporarily as an interpreter at the International Rescue Committee in downtown Salt Lake City. The IRC is an organization helping refugees find housing, employment and medical care.

Ali never plans on returning to Iraq, He considers Utah his home now, he said.

“I forget about my birth country. This is my new one,” Ali said. “I don’t miss anything about my country.”

However, he is still waiting for the arrival of his family within the next year or two.

Shakir and Ali agree that people are very kind and nice in Utah. Neither one said they feel discriminated against because of where they come from.

“They are so friendly, so nice,” Ali said. “Everyone says hi. They are not like this in the Mideast.”

Shakir said in Arabic that the people are very understanding to his origin. One of his initial thoughts entering the United States was Americans would see his culture and religion from the wrong perspective, however, this was not the case.

Still, Shakir hopes to be able to return to Iraq one day.

“He considers his home and country everything,” Hamoudi said.

However, Shakir said there is a lot that needs to be changed before he can go back. If the security changed in Iraq he would go home tomorrow, but he can’t. He would be killed.

With the war still ongoing and Iraqis as well as Americans being killed every day both Shakir and Ali feel blessed to be where they are today. They have families, are able to practice their cultures and are doing everything they can to succeed in a new place.

Salt Lake County faces refugee-housing crisis


At the end of 2007, Salt Lake County Community Resources and Development commissioned a report on the housing situation for refugees within the county. The report, published in December 2007 by Wikstrom Economic and Planning Consultants Inc., revealed a dire situation.

According to the report, Salt Lake is what is known as a “highly-impacted community.” When compared to other counties of relatively similar size, Salt Lake has resettled a disproportionately large share of refugees.

The report gives a number of reasons for this discrepancy. Refugees tend to be very successful here due to Salt Lake’s constantly expanding job market. Simply put, more jobs means the county needs more people to fill them.

Perhaps the main reason is the family-friendly atmosphere of the city. Many refugees who come to the U.S. have large families, of which Salt Lake is traditionally more accepting. Almost one-fourth of the families resettled in Salt Lake in 2007 had 5 or more people in them; with some having as many as 11.

Resettling large families in Salt Lake also leads to large numbers of secondary resettlements. This is when a person, or group of people, decides to relocate to a city to be closer to family after having already been resettled in another part of the country.

But with a steadily growing job market and a near-constant stream of new residents the vacancy rates in apartments in Salt Lake is low. And when vacancy rates are low, rent tends to go up. This is especially true of larger units that are needed to house the larger families being drawn here.

According to the Wikstrom report, an annual income of more than $24,000 per year is required to afford an average priced, one-bedroom apartment in Salt Lake. The average refugee works a minimum wage job and earns about half that amount. This means multiple earners are needed in the home just to afford the cheapest possible option.

Adaptation to apartment life is another housing problem facing refugees. Many who come to the U.S. are coming from refugee camps in Africa or Asia, and often have never lived anywhere else. These camps are not always equipped with the modern conveniences of a Salt Lake apartment.

“Sometimes you have to teach people how to use a light switch,” said Patrick Poulin, resettlement director for the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake. He and his caseworkers assist refugees assimilating to their new surroundings.

“Imagine having to teach someone that, then have to teach them about a lease, or paying utilities,” he said.

This concern resonates with other refugee care organizations. At a recent refugee service provider network meeting, held by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, housing problems ranging from cooking in apartments with open flames to a bedbug infestation were discussed.

Situations like these make landlords wary of allowing other refugees to rent their units in the future.

Fortunately, local government has not turned a blind eye to the situation. Early in 2008, the Department of Workforce Services opened the Refugee Services Office. It was created with the intent of coordinating the many agencies and nonprofit organizations that work to help refugees in and around Salt Lake.

Gerald Brown, the director of the Refugee Services Office, feels the number of refugees coming to Salt Lake is not going to slow down any time soon. “People will not stop coming here as long as they can get here what they can’t get there,” Brown said.

Salt Lake City has also begun to explore other solutions for the housing crisis. In January 2008, just after the Wikstrom report was released, the Community Resources and Development division of the Utah Department of Human Services assembled a committee to find a solution. The committee, comprised of refugee service caregivers and local business owners, came up with an idea to build temporary housing specifically designed for recently resettled refugees.

The facility, which is being referred to as “welcome housing,” would not only be a place for refugees to live for the first year or two in America, but would also provide onsite casework assistance with a goal of eventual acculturation. This staff would include people to help teach refugees the basics of apartment living in a safe atmosphere where they can develop these skills before having to find permanent housing on their own.

The projected 50-unit project is still far from fruition, said Dan Lofgren, president and CEO of Cowboy Partners, a real estate development and property management company based in Holladay. Lofgren is also a member of the state housing committee.

Until somebody steps up with funding for the project, he said it would never be anything more than an idea. But even money won’t permanently fix the problem.

“There aren’t resources available to build our way out of this,” he said.

The Wikstrom report came to a similar conclusion. According to the report, there needs to be better training to teach refugees good renter practices. Availability of housing is not a panacea for the rest of a refugee’s life as a U.S. resident.

LDS Humanitarian Center and Inner City Project helps refugees



  • See a slideshow about an English class provided by the LDS Humanitarian Center and hear from a service missionary (best viewed in full-screen mode)

Amy Wylie, 49, and her husband have been volunteering with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Inner City Project for nine years. They started volunteering with the project as service missionaries in a ward in Salt Lake; now they serve as assistant directors of refugee services for the project.

This is their church calling. They turned in their missionary application papers to serve a 30-month service mission, the longest term a service missionary can serve without resubmitting another application.

The LDS church has several programs designed to help refugees adjust to life in Utah. One of them, the Inner City Project, helps prevent people from getting lost in the transfer between agencies giving care to refugees.

For example, at the International Rescue Committee most refugees only have six months before their case is transferred to another agency. However, the Inner City missionaries are always available to help and give service.

“Service missionaries play a bigger role longer term,” Wylie said.

Service missionaries are not the same as the church’s full-time missionaries who spend every day proselytizing. These missionaries are there to help people in the area, whether they are members of the church or not.

About 500 service missionaries currently serve in Salt Lake City. They are not specifically assigned to work with refugees, but it is part of their overall assignment in the ward, or area in which they work.

“When you are assigned to a ward you become a part of that ward and you take what ever the bishop asks you to do,” Wylie said. When missionaries are assigned to work in an area with a large refugee population it is likely the bishop will send them to assist them.

“We serve as a resource to help train. If they have questions and don’t know where to go they will call us and we will help them figure out a plan of action,” Wylie said.

They also help refugee children enroll in school and make sure they are getting the attention in class they need.

“We met one of the lost boys of Sudan in our first mission assignment,” Wylie said. Wilson was 7 years old when he was separated from his family during an attack on his village. He ended up in a refugee camp and hasn’t seen or heard from his family since.

Wilson met the Wylie family during church. He would sit with the family every week because he felt comfortable with them.

One Sunday he handed Wylie a note.

“It said ‘Could I have a picture of your family to remember them by?’ and I realized that he had no picture of a family, he didn’t belong to a family,” Wylie said.

The Wylies went to Temple Square where they took a family picture with Wilson in front of the temple.

Now Wylie shares her copy of the picture with people every chance she gets. She feels that people think it takes too much effort to make a difference in people’s lives.

“Look how simple it was. He now calls me mum and my children his brother and sisters,” Wylie said.

The Inner City Project also plays a role in finding refugees jobs. Missionaries help them find work at the LDS Church Humanitarian Center and at the Deseret Industries.

“It is set up to train them and help them learn skills and move them out to the work force,” Wylie said.

The LDS church established the Humanitarian Center in 1991 in Salt Lake City. It is located on the corner of 1700 South and Bennett Road. According to its mission statement, the center’s mission is three fold: “To prepare emergency relief supplies for shipment worldwide, to train those desiring to develop employable skills and become self-reliant and to offer service opportunities.”

The Humanitarian Center provides various skill training for refugees. They learn computer skills, they attend job etiquette classes to learn appropriate behavior in the work place, and they learn English. A teacher from the Granite School District teaches ESL classes, said Bart Hill, the center’s development manager.

During 2006, 175 refugees were employed at the Humanitarian Center. They are involved in sorting and bailing clothing. Items are sent to areas around the world where they are distributed to the needy.

They also put together packages the Humanitarian Center distributes, including hygiene kits filled with combs and toothbrushes, newborn kits filled with diapers and bottles, and school kits filled with rulers and pencils.

To obtain a job at the center refugees only need an endorsement from the bishop of the area they live in, as well as documentation proving they can legally work in the United States.

They manage the language barrier with help from interpreters who work with local relocation agencies. Some refugees have even learned English well enough to translate for those who need it.

Refugees working for the Humanitarian Center earn wages ranging from $6.55 to $9 per hour. They can earn more in the clothing sorting and bailing departments if they prepare shipments quickly for transport.

A refugee’s job performance is evaluated on a quarterly basis to make sure their work skills are progressing. Once refugees have worked for a year at the Humanitarian Center they are better qualified to work other jobs, Hill said.

“The great thing here is assisting them as they move toward self-reliance,” Hill said.

Luna Sasa, 28, works as a sorter in the medical supplies department at the Humanitarian Center. She helps gets the emergency medical supplies ready to be shipped.

Sasa was born in Sudan. She fled eight years ago with her mother, sister and her then 3-year-old daughter because of war.

She kept getting laid off because she lacked certain skills other jobs required. She was looking for a job she could hold down. Then she heard about the skills training program at the Humanitarian Center from the bishop in her area.

“I went to the bishop and he gave me the paper, and I started working here,” Sasa said.

Since Sasa has started working at the Humanitarian Center she has learned how to use a computer, how to type and how to use programs like Excel and PowerPoint.

Eventually Sasa wants to study at LDS Business College to become a medical assistant.

“Refugees need a lot of friends,” Wylie said. “They need people that just welcome them and take them into their neighborhoods and communities and school systems.”

Wylie and her family invite these friends over to her house in Salt Lake to celebrate holidays together.

“They are still a big part of our family. One night we had about 11 languages in our home,” Wylie said.

Whenever she hears that one of the refugees she stays in touch with has had a child, Wylie rushes over in her van that she has filled with boxes of supplies she gives to refugees. She gives the new parents a box overflowing with baby clothes and blankets.

“They aren’t assignments to us,” said Wylie, “we consider them our brothers and sisters.”

Salt Lake City is fighting human trafficking


Human trafficking usually starts with despair and a desire for something better and often ends in tragedy. Human trafficking is the act of illegally transporting victims for slavery from one country to another. It has become increasingly common around the world.

Human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry that relies on hopelessness and unawareness as a means of luring individuals and families to be tricked and sold into slavery. Deborah Bulkeley, a reporter with the Deseret News who has written several articles on human trafficking in Utah, said the majority of victims are women who are usually forced into prostitution.

“These women work just as any other prostitute would but do not receive any compensation for what they do, but rather get abused and suffer for their work,” Bulkeley said.

It is estimated that more than 12 million people are victims of human trafficking; 80 percent are female and 50 percent are under the age of 18, according to the End Human Trafficking Web site. Between 600,000 and 800,000 victims are trafficked across international borders every year and the numbers continue to increase.

Utah’s legislature is now stepping up to the challenge of combating human trafficking locally as well as nationally.

In 2006, The U.S. Department of Justice announced that Salt Lake City would receive $450,000 in grants to supplement a new human trafficking task force. The main priority is the proper training of law enforcement.

“One of the big needs is training of basically everyone from law enforcement to first responders to anyone who could be in a position to identify a case of human trafficking,” said Melodie Rydalch, public information officer for the Utah office of the U.S. Attorney. “We are convinced there are cases out there. We just need to look closer and ask more questions.”

Efforts to identify and prosecute human traffickers are being stepped up. The 79 national convictions involving human trafficking in fiscal year 2006 were more than double the convictions the previous year. Utah had two of those convictions.

With the success comes the knowledge that more needs to be done.

A few different organizations focus on the victims of human trafficking. The International Rescue Committee, headquartered in New York City, has a refugee resettlement office in Salt Lake City

Victims of human trafficking usually arrive at the IRC after they have been found, rescued and stabalized. “Most of our work is to stabilize the refugee until the persecution has stopped and then get them resettled into the country,” said Patrick Poulin, resettlement director for the IRC in Salt Lake.

“It’s important to establish protocols for helping victims once they’re rescued,” Rydalch said.

A second organization is the Utah Health and Human Rights Project. The agency “promotes the health, dignity, and self-sufficiency of refugees, asylees, and immigrants who have endured severe human rights abuses, including torture, war-related trauma, and human trafficking,” according to the UHHP Web site.

Catholic Community Services of Utah is another support group for refugees. CCS “provides comprehensive resettlement services to refugees from various regions of the world,” according to its Web site.

All agencies need volunteers and donations. IRC Salt Lake City, for example, is seeking warm winter clothing, comforters, gift cards to local grocery stores and other items. The office also holds orientation sessions for individuals interested in volunteering.

 “Money is a powerful tool,” Poulin said. “With money we can actually support these victims and give them food and shelter.”