Lansing charity hosts week to honor refugees
The women, members of the Lansing Somali Bantu Organization, dressed in bright patterns with covered heads and, grin at any camera that points their way. Children run around the ankles of their mothers laughing, daring to venture only a few feet away before their mothers scoop them back into their arms again.
These people know what it’s like to feel fear, to lose safety, to have their homes torn away from them.
They are refugees.
June 20 is the United Nations-mandated World Refugee Day. In recognition of this holiday, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, or STVCC, is hosting a World Refugee Awareness Week beginning June 16 and running through June 22.
Tamra Johnson, community relations and marketing director for STVCC, said this is the first year that an entire week has been dedicated to the holiday in Lansing. In past years, STVCC hosted a one-day music festival instead of the week long festivities of this year.
“This year, we decided to do something a little different,” Johnson said. “(The music festival) didn’t highlight refugees as much as we wanted to.”
Beth Mugavero, community outreach coordinator for refugee services for STVCC, said they reached out to various organizations across Lansing to integrate refugees into what they were already doing in order to instill a sense of advocacy rather than just celebrations.
The result was a citywide collaboration among STVCC and many of Lansing’s organizations.
The Lansing Somali Bantu Organization, or LSBO, had a stand at the Allen Street Farmers Market, 1619 E. Kalamazoo St., as a means of contributing to the World Refugee Awareness Week. They sold jewelry and clothes and performed traditional plays. This was just one of the many events that took place throughout the week.
“What we want to do is educate people about the contribution that refugees are making to the city of Lansing,” Johnson said.
Mugavero said STVCC, which has been offering refugee services for 40 years, sees around 500 to 700 refugees a year, fleeing from all corners of the world.
“We’ve created a peaceful community for ourselves,” Mugavero said. “In us creating this community that welcomes people … we created a place where people who have been running their whole lives (can rest).”
Abdalla Mukoma, president of LSBO, personally saw many struggles being a native from Somalia, where he said there was little to no opportunity for education.
“People were getting killed without reason,” Mukoma said. “You were going to work for free. When they take you, they ask you to do something. If you don’t do (it), they (would) start beating you.”
The week’s festivities will also include the installation of a Community Peace Pole after a press conference with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero on June 20.
“(The Peace Pole is) something really tangible that (refugees) can look at every day to remind them that they are safe and peaceful,” Mugavero said. “They have a home here. It’s a nice thing for us to see to remind us why we do this. It’s not a small thing.”