World Refugee Day was celebrated a day early on Saturday with an event for all local refugees put together by the Refugee and Immigration Services of Catholic Charities.
The sound of chatter and children’s laughter encompassed the MU Health Care Pavilion. Hanging in the back were hand-painted banners for World Refugee Day and Juneteenth made by local refugees.
World Refugee Day is an international day created by the United Nations to bring attention to refugees each year. For people with refugee status, it is a time to reflect on and celebrate their new lives safe from fear and remember those they know who remain in their origin countries.
“It’s happy, you know,” 17-year-old Iraqi refugee Hussein Al Hraishawi said. “When you see people like you see all around me, their smile on their face, it makes you smile more.”
Judith Mutamba was a Rhodesian refugee in 1977, but now she works as the Director of Food and Nutrition Services of the Catholic Charities.
“Even though I had a busy schedule,” Mutamba said, “I make time to come because I can understand and empathize with the refugees and really understand what they are going through.”
The event was moved to the MU Health Care Pavilion to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines and to avoid large groups of people in enclosed spaces. Past years’ events were held in Broadway Christian Church.
Many different booths, from arts and crafts to a food truck, were set up under the pavilion.
Other booths featured local institutions, such as the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, which educated people about the Opportunity Gardens program, helping households to grow food in their own gardens.
The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture was also giving away free Thai hot pepper, sweet basil and tomato plants.
Daniel Boone Regional Library, Columbia Public Schools and MU ParentLink also had information booths.
At an on-site vaccination clinic provided by the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, people could receive either the Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.
The Columbia Fire Department and Columbia Police Department were present to interact with the community. Kids were able to see the firetruck and police car up close. Patrol officer Drew Gilstrap even used the siren to entertain kids.
The police attendance was a gesture to have more positive interactions with the local community, Gilstrap said.
Refugee and Immigration Services was told by the Missouri Office of Refugee Administration to prepare to resettle more than 80 people in mid-Missouri by the end of this fiscal year, said Director of Refugee Resettlement Samantha Moog. From October 2020 to the start of June, only two refugees had been resettled.