Ceremony celebrates refugees, their strength and courage

Published 12:10 am Saturday, June 22, 2024

SALISBURY — Salisbury’s first World Refugee Day observance was held June 20, and it was a special day for those gathered at the Bell Tower Park.

“Today is about celebration,” said Quinn Rizzo, community engagement coordinator with the Lutheran Services Carolinas, New Americans Program. “I’m so excited you’re here,” she told the crowd during the opening ceremony.

Rizzo passed the microphone to young Mahsa from Afghanistan, who shared more about this particular day and the reason it is held. She told those gathered that World Refugee Day is celebrated each year on June 20 “honoring those who have been forced to flee.”

She said that this special day celebrates the strength and courage of those who had to leave their home country to escape conflict or persecution.

Mahsa said that “World Refugee Day shines a light on the rights, needs and dreams of refugees, helping to mobilize political will and resources so that refugees can not only survive but thrive.”

Ted Goins, president and CEO of Lutheran Services Carolina, also addressed the crowd, providing a little background on the organization. He said they began in 1960 and serve across both North and South Carolina in many ways and offer a variety of services, with the New Americans Program being one of them.

He said that the Salisbury office is the newest one, and “it’s just blowing the doors off. So, I just want to thank all the staff from the New Americans program that’s here today for their good, hard work.” 

Goins recognized Pastor Leroy Cannon, a member of their board, who was there, City Councilman David Post and said that “it really does take a village to make all this work” as it takes the board, the staff and elected officials.

“But especially, it’s about the people that we serve. It’s all about our vision and our mission and our values,” he said.

A faith-based organization, Goins said their mission is to serve and said their statement is “to walk together empowered by Christ, we walk together with all those we serve.” 

He concluded by telling one of the values of LSC, “because it’s the most appropriate today,” he said, “is around justice and that’s justice for everybody and especially today as we celebrate World Refugee Day” as he considered those who have been persecuted and have had to run from their homes.

Following the welcoming, Rizzo encouraged everyone to have a great celebration and enjoy the music by DJ Dre or to get a sno cone or check out the freebie table provided by Lutheran Services, or to visit one of the food trucks that were on site, which included Mama’s Kitchen, Mean Mug Coffee House and Taqueria Lucero.

South Main Book Company’s bookmobile was also parked on Church Street along with the food trucks, with free books available for people to take.

Tables were set up in the park with flags from 17 countries attached to them. On each table was additional information and statistics about each country that people could read as they strolled through the park.

“All of these flags that you see here are represented by our clients,” Rizzo said.

Countries included Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Liberia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela.

At some of the tables, people in their native dress were offering food samples, which everyone was invited to try. Some tables had other items on display including musical instruments. Nancy B. Cooper, from Liberia, West Africa, was at her table playing the Saasaa, which is a beaded gourd and as it is shaken, the beads move against the outside of the gourd.

Other activities taking place throughout the park included a bounce house, face painting and henna art, and to one side, a group was kicking a soccer ball around and showing off their soccer ball handling talents.

Later in the evening, various dances from the different countries were performed.

As the evening drew to a close, one person shared that the refugees didn’t want it to end and hated to leave.

And providing the opportunity for the clients to have fun was the hope for this event, Rizzo said, plus being “a way to show the community that we’re here.”

In an online search, it was noted that the United Nations established World Refugee Day in 2000 with the first observance taking place on June 20, 2001.

It was just a little more than a year ago that the local refugee resettlement office opened. It is housed in the St. John’s Lutheran Church’s Community Ministry Center.

Not having many clients last year and not ready to tackle the undertaking having just opened, Rizzo said she was tasked with having an event this year and thus organized the special celebration in the park.

When asked if it would become an annual event, she said, “it may,” however, she said it is her “vision, at some point, that we will be seen by the community and then I can focus more on just providing a fun day of relief for our clients and not have to be so much in the public eye and put on a show for the public.”

Community members showed up for the day, and one of those was Karen Puckett who said she attended St. John’s Lutheran, which has a Circle of Welcome, which helps refugees get acclimated.

She said that one of the very first families in the New Americans Program was a Syrian family that she remains involved with.

Puckett said she has also been teaching English to some of the new Americans and helps provide transportation to their new temporary housing.

“I just love it, it’s so fulfilling,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful organization. And the people are just so wonderful. We’re so lucky to have them here.”