For the past few years, over 2,500 refugees have settled in Houston, Texas, each year (see “About World Refugee Day Houston,” worldrefugeedayhouston.org). In response to the “I Was a Stranger” effort, our stake decided to host the Northeast Houston Refugee Festival to help Church members get involved in relief and support efforts for local refugees.
We had both an interactive fair and a symposium at the festival. We invited thirteen community organizations and four churches to attend. Each had its own booth at the fair where volunteers distributed handouts, explained the services their organization offers for refugees, and welcomed potential volunteers. Each ward in the stake also hosted a booth showcasing a different country. There were booths from Mexico, Germany, Philippines, Venezuela, Russia, Samoa, and Cambodia.
At the Cambodian booth, Michael Keo and his wife, Monique, shared traditional Cambodian food and displayed some of Michael’s mother’s formal dresses. Michael was born while his parents were fleeing Cambodia as refugees. He said, “I want to spread awareness about refugees and help people in my community associate the term refugee with something positive. . . . I am so appreciative of my mom and dad and their determination to make a better life for me and my brother. I feel a sense of pride for this country, [a country] that allowed us to come in and literally make our dreams come true.”
Steve Quach, another member of our stake, shared his own refugee experience during the symposium portion of the festival. His family was living in Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. Fearing for their safety, the family fled Vietnam on a boat in the middle of the night. Steve was just five years old at the time. Steve’s family spent almost all the money they had on their passage.
Not too long into their journey, the boat’s engine died. The boat drifted for three days until they encountered pirates, who stole anything of value they had. After drifting for four more days, the family finally arrived on dry land and stayed in a refugee camp. Eventually, they were able to come to America. For many festival attendees, hearing this story from an actual refugee made the refugee crisis all the more real.
Many people expressed their gratitude for this event. They felt that they were able to find ways that they could help refugees. One member of the stake said, in tears, “Thank you for organizing this event. It helped me realize the opportunities that my family and I could take advantage of.”