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Utah refugee from Sierra Leone pays it forward to new Afghan refugees

Posted at 5:47 PM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 19:47:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is in the process of welcoming 765 Afghan refugees, ready to call the state home.

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Salt Lake County has already received recognition of being the first welcoming county in the country, and since then, community members have been working behind the scenes to make sure those arriving in Utah are set up with housing, community support, and more.

Joseph Genda is one of those community members. Genda was hired as a new American and refugee liaison three months ago by Salt Lake County.

A refugee himself, Joseph is now helping incoming refugees make the transition out of fear and into safety.

“I know how it looks like to be a refugee. I didn’t used to sleep well because I had fear I could be killed at any time,” said Genda.

Genda came to Utah in 2007, a refugee from Sierra Leone where he was born and studied. When war broke out, he fled 70 miles on foot to neighboring Guinea where he lived in a refugee camp, teaching children in the camp for several years until violence meant he and his family would have to relocate to a refugee resettlement camp back in his home country.

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One he returned, Genda studied accounting at the University of Sierra Leone, while his wife, herself a refugee from Liberia, was admitted to Utah under refugee status in 2005.

After arriving in Salt Lake County, Genda got involved with a local afterschool program that his son attended to better learn the language and socialize.

Upon graduating from the University of Utah in 2015, Genda began work with Promise South Salt Lake as a site coordinator over the afterschool program at Meadowbrook Stem Center. Through these programs, he was able to work closely with immigrant and refugee communities to build bridges with community partners, city, and nonprofit leadership.

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He now lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and four children, and is fluent in Mende and Krio. But he knows firsthand that escaping as a refugee and coming to the United States is overwhelming.

“The weather is different, the food is different, I mean people are different,” said Genda.

As a 14-year resident in Utah, Genda recently became a first-time homeowner and wants other refugees to know they are welcome can thrive in the state.

“I’ve been able to do things here I thought might be impossible,” he said.

The International Rescue Community in Utah has received 10 refugees so far and is expecting 40 more this week, while Catholic Community Services is expecting an additional 100 refugees during the same time frame.

Those wanting to help with housing and ongoing resettlement, can contact the following groups directly: