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Local group supports, celebrates refugee students
May 9, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY — Dinner is usually a time where friends and family can come together.

"We've had African food and Nepali food," said Hussein, a refugee now living in Utah.

Most of the people attending a dinner Monday night at This is The Place Heritage Park were students.

"Yeah, nursing school has kept me busy and working full time too," said another refugee named Viren.

The shared refugee backgrounds of those attending are what binds them together.

"They come with degrees left behind," said Amy Wylie, with the Refugee Education Initiative. "They have to start over."

Hussein and Viren understand that. They met while working at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

"We were together as housekeepers and started moving forward," Viren said.

They found support with the Refugee Education Initiative.

"We don't have to stress about anything except having to study and work," Viren said.

They are both still working at HCI, but no longer in housekeeping. Now, they are registered nurses.

"I don't think I would have been a nurse by now if it wasn't for the program," Hussein said.

To date, the Refugee Education Initiative has provided support to 300 refugee students in Utah. "Things like books, computers, eyeglasses, dental work, whatever is creating an obstacle for them to be able to finish (school)," Wylie said.

Since January 2014, 95 refugees have gained education certificates, bachelor's degrees, and master's degrees. At Monday's dinner, 40 refugees were being recognized for their success.

"The power of our program is in their stories," Wylie said. "The power of the refugee is their story."

A story that's still being written.

"We're still going thanks to them," Hussein said. "Our main goal is being a nurse practitioner. Yeah, that's the main goal."