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South Salt Lake Journal

Cultural night opening doors to understanding others

Dec 10, 2018 04:53PM ● By Samira George

Martha Doul and Utahans sit and listen to recounting of stories of life back in South Sudan. Doul was one of the speakers on the night. (Samira George/City Journals)

By Samira George | [email protected] 

“When shall I see my home again? When shall I see my beautiful home again? I will never forget my home,” sang Dominic Raimondo to a room full of students and their parents from the Granite School District. 

“Many of my friends died on the way, many of my friends got attacked by animals,” Raimondo said. When Raimondo was seven years old, rebels in South Sudan attacked his village during the night. The early rays of dawn signaled a new day, but on this day, displaced from his home and separated from family, Dominic wasn't Dominic. He was now one of the 40,000 “Lost Boys of Sudan.”

On Nov. 7, some 100 Utahns gathered at the Granite Education Center to attend Granite School District’s South Sudanese Refugee Cultural Night, featuring two Sudanese speakers, Raimondo and Martha Doul. Students from across the Salt Lake Valley listened, interacted, and shared food with people from a culture in stark contrast from their own. Raimondo described what it was like to walk barefoot 600 miles from South Sudan to Kenya to live in a refugee camp. Students stared wide-eyed at Doul's scared hand held high as she talked about surviving a king cobra bite.

Raimondo believes that if he doesn't speak at cultural events about his experiences and the challenges of what it is like navigating in a new country, he wouldn't be helping future generations to be open-minded. He said it’s important to educate kids about cultural barriers; what might seem transparent to Americans, such as understanding that parking tickets must be paid, can be huge stressors in a refugee’s life.

According to the Utah Department of Health, 50,000 Sudanese refugees live in Utah. There’s a long-held tradition of welcoming refugees into Salt Lake City. 

Fatima Dirire, director of Somali Youth Center, believes cultural nights help in keeping that door open. 

“I think it’s really important,” she said. “Not only do students and parents get to understand the various refugee backgrounds and different cultures and rich contributions refugees are making in our state, but it also opens up youth to be peers and what they can do for students who don’t speak English in their classrooms. How can they be a friend, how can they support refugees and to show them how to do simple things like opening a locker.”