CCS helps refugees' dreams come true
Friday, Jun. 11, 2021
Jean Walambo (center), who came to Utah from Congo as a refugee, graduated from Taylorsville High School on June 3.
TAYLORSVILLE – Jean Walambo loves animals and dreams of becoming a veterinarian. By American standards it’s not an unreasonable ambition, but for Jean, 19, it’s like shooting for the stars. He was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and spent several years in a refugee camp in Zambia. As a child, getting an education seemed inconceivable to him, but on June 3 he graduated from Taylorsville High School.
If he had remained in Congo and lived to adulthood, he would have had no future there, he said.
Fifteen years ago, Jean’s grandparents, Asina Walambo and Jean Lambo, decided to leave Congo after Jean’s parents were killed in the conflict there. The family, which included Jean’s younger brother Ben and their uncle Laurent, spent eight years in a refugee camp in Zambia before being approved to come to the United States.
When the family arrived in Utah six years ago, Catholic Community Services helped provide the Walambos with housing, employment, medical care, food and cultural orientation, and nurtured them through the transition for the first couple of years. Today, the family is self-sufficient; Jean hopes to enroll at Utah Valley University this fall.
“It’s an amazing opportunity and we’re not taking anything for granted,” Jean said. “Today, I’m graduating high school; it’s like a dream come true. It’s a big accomplishment for me because I never thought I was going to graduate high school, living in the refugee camp.”
CCS officials anticipate they will be able to help many more families like the Walambos in the coming years. In May, the Biden administration increased the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. from 15,000 to 62,500 for this fiscal year. CCS Migration and Refugee Services Director Aden Batar expects that will mean his organization will be able to help resettle about 500 refugees in the coming months.
Most refugees who arrive in Utah have fled war-torn countries like Congo, Afghanistan and Burma, as well as Somalia, Iraq and Syria.
“We’re going to be needing a lot of support from the community to help us with this additional caseload that we are getting,” Batar said.
“We have been patiently waiting the last four years for the numbers to be increased,” he said. “This is the opportunity that we have now with the new administration … It is up to our community now to meet that challenge by providing the refugees the support that they need. We would ask our community to help CCS to continue, and also with this capacity increase we’ve seen we heavily rely on our community support. I hope that our community can step up and help us so we can continue this noble work.”
June is World Refugee Month, which is highlighted by World Refugee Day on June 20. To celebrate World Refugee Month, CCS has released a set of videos as part of a digital campaign highlighting refugee clients, families and unaccompanied refugee minors. Videos are being released weekly on CCS’s social media channels and may all be found at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLxZrL09qbOKyTaBa8yNhTluPIRHWCfFB0.