Celebrating World Refugee Day in Phoenix, AZ

Komezakaranga Burundian Drummers perform outside. Chief drummer calls out to his troupe and they respond while playing the drums.

Komezakaranga Burundian Drummers perform outside. Chief drummer calls out to his troupe and they respond while playing the drums.

Story by Lainey Schmidt, Grand Canyon Chapter, RFL Outreach Specialist

Many Cultures, One Community was the theme of the Phoenix World Refugee Day Celebration on June 21, 2014, emphasizing the diversity of the refugee population, while at the same time, celebrating the unity of the community in Phoenix. 

After getting their faces painted, some children enjoy lunch with their families outside.

After getting their faces painted, some children enjoy lunch with their families outside.

This year, the Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter took on an organizing role for the event.  It was held at Phoenix Civic Space Park, and attracted over 450 attendees, representing a great mix of the refugee community and other Phoenix residents.  With free activities including face-painting, henna, a photobooth, an art exhibit, World Cup viewing, a prize drawing and a lunch buffet of donated food from local ethnic restaurants, the atmosphere was certainly that of a family festival. 

Many organizations worked with the Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter to put on the celebration, including the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program, Catholic Charities, International Rescue Committee, Iraqi American Society for Peace and Friendship, Somali American United Council, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Welcome to America Project, and even more participated in the event as vendors – setting up tables and offering their services to the refugees and attendees.  The highlight of the event, though, was certainly the cultural performances. 

The program started off with a performance by the Komezakaranga AZ Burundian Drummers, who gave multiple powerful shows throughout the day.  Karen dancers and Cambodian Khmer dancers were featured, along with an Indian/Nepalese singer, all contributing to the multi-cultural celebration.  Tara Nepal, a former refugee from Bhutan, and Naim Logic, a former refugee from Bosnia, both graciously shared their stories with the audience, providing a first-hand account of the refugee situation and the community in Phoenix. 

The Restoring Family Links resource table at World Refugee Day offered materials in many languages to help explain the services available to refugees through the American Red Cross.

The Restoring Family Links resource table at World Refugee Day offered materials in many languages to help explain the services available to refugees through the American Red Cross.

Additionally, we were lucky to receive the support of the city, as City of Phoenix Councilman Daniel Valenzuela gave a welcome speech, as did the State Refugee Coordinator at the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program, Charles Shipman, helping to strengthen community ties between refugees, residents of Phoenix, and the City. Lindsay Jenkins, Assistant US Protection Officer with UNHCR DC, also provided a speech in the afternoon highlighting the work of UNHCR in the refugee community.

Overall, the event was a great success.  Not only were we able to educate the community (refugee and non-refugee) about the services we offer through Restoring Family Links, we were also able to provide information of additional services and offerings of other organizations to refugees in Arizona through the information resource fair.  We also were able to provide direct services to refugees that day: giving free five-minute phone calls for refugees to contact family members back home in any country, coordinating transportation to the event for residents in certain apartment complexes, and providing First-Aid and CPR demonstrations. 

In total, we were happy to expand our outreach and inform the attendees about Restoring Family Links services. We are certainly most proud of the day’s attendance: an incredible combination of the refugee population and other Phoenix residents, sharing food, stories, and fun.