A dunk tank and inflatable playground were just some of the attractions at Saturday’s World Refugee Day carnival, where people of all different colors and creeds from across the community gathered simply to celebrate the chance to be together.
One such visitor was 2017 Miss Kansas competitor and 2016 Miss Garden City Fiesta Queen Sydney Rodriguez, who wore her Fiesta Queen sash and a sparkling tiara as she continued to represent her Miss Kansas platform of refugee awareness.
“Not many things like this happen around Garden City, so I definitely wanted to come out and see who in the community would be out here and what was going on,” she said. “There are so many great booths, and there are people from so many different cultures, and hanging out and getting to meet each other. It’s so much fun. I love it. It’s exciting, and I want more things like this to happen in the community.”
Rodriguez said many people have expressed gratitude for her platform and she hopes to continue to spread the word across Kansas, and “hopefully, maybe one day, across America.”
Amy Longa, site manager of the International Rescue Committee’s Garden City Office which organized the carnival, spoke to those who attended Saturday’s event at the Garden Valley Church to address the importance of opening communities to refugees who have nowhere to go.
“June 20 across the world, people come together to honor and respect resilience and courage of those who are forced to flee from their homes, not by choice but because of persecution, war and violence,” she said. “However, on June 20 across the world, people also want to take the time to recognize communities and people across the globe who open their arms, open their doors and welcome those who have no homes.”
Longa added that the carnival presented an opportunity for members of the local community to “showcase the picture of diversity in Garden City, that we are here as a community, that we stand one as a community.”
Garden Valley Church Pastor Steve Ensz said the IRC serves as a catalyst for integrating refugees with those who have been here.
“They’re doing a great job to assimilate and connect the community with the refugees,” he said. “We really appreciate IRC and the work that they are doing. It’s great work, and it’s been a great tool to get people involved from our community, from our church.”
Astrid Bailey of Cimarron said she came out to support the refugee community coming to Kansas.
“They battle a lot of issues coming here, language to be one. Culture is another,” she said. “If I was going to another country where I didn’t know the language or the culture, I would want people to help me.”
Bailey said that while Cimarron doesn’t have a large refugee community that she is aware of, she has worked as a family mentor with the IRC since October. She called it an “eye-opening and amazing” experience.
“One of the things that I thought was most interesting was how Christians and Muslims are best friends, whereas the world only talks about how they’re fighting, and here we see how they can be best friends,” Bailey said.
Many refugees in Garden City come from eastern African countries such as Somalia, and many of them are Muslim.
When asked what she would tell a family considering a mentorship role with the IRC, Bailey said, “I would say it’s a blessing and you should do it. I encourage everyone to come and take advantage of the opportunity with IRC and helping their own community by helping others integrate.”
One refugee in attendance at the carnival was Khaing Pyi from Thailand, whose family originally emigrated from Burma.
“It’s really a great idea,” Pyi said of the carnival. “You get to meet all kinds of people. I didn’t know we were going to have this many. Working here and living here, Garden City is really a diverse place. It’s a really good idea to celebrate the people that made it here.”
Louissaint Vertilus said World Refugee Day is a great opportunity for people to show that “they care for each other as a human being.”
“It’s a way to show the world that we are one, and it’s a way to show that everybody needs to open their country,” Vertilus said. “They need to open their doors. They need to open their arms and their heart to receive people from different countries. They have trouble in their country. People are dying in their country. They deserve life. They have a right to live. They have a right to have a place to stay.”
Vertilus said he offers translation services and cultural advice to newcomers who otherwise might struggle.
“It’s important for everybody no matter where you’re from, no matter what kind of color your skin, no matter what language you speak — I would like everybody to understand that together we can be just one,” he said.
In an interview after her speech, Longa noted that the carnival was held four days after the official World Refugee Day so that members of the local community would be able to attend.
“The mission of the celebration is the same,” she said. “We want to recognize the courage and resilience of refugees who now have become part of our community as Garden City.”
Longa said the carnival represents the first World Refugee Celebration of such a large magnitude and is an event many want to see continue every year.
“I think Garden City, we talk about our diversity so very much, and this event is one of those events that truly does show our diversity and how embracing this community is,” she said.
According to Longa, the IRC is given 90 days to ensure that refugees are resettled and self-sufficient. Those interested in helping can donate household items to the IRC, as well as money to subsidize housing costs during the first months of a family’s resettlement.
Contact Mark Minton at [email protected]