Becky Booker knows from her job as a life and safety educator for the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View (SBM) Fire Department that some immigrants and refugees do not think about their house burning down, child car safety seats or what they would do if a tornado was spotted in the area because these things were not common in the countries from which they came.
Police and fire departments commonly host open houses to talk about how to keep yourself and your home safe, but Booker organized the SBM department’s first multicultural safety fair March 9 to target an audience that may not have been aware of these free educational opportunities.
The multipurpose room at SBM’s Fire Station No. 3 in Blaine was filled with vendors talking about electricity, how to use a fire extinguisher, planning an escape route during a home fire, where to hide if a tornado warning sounds, swimming lessons, the role of the county attorney, 911 and so on. There were 38 vendors at the show.
Although this inaugural multicultural fair was not well attended, Booker said it was a great opportunity for the different participants to visit.
According to Booker, an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher from the Anoka County Human Services Center visited with a person from Good Shepherd Catholic Church and discussed how to make immigrants and refugees who go to the church aware of the ESL services offered through the county.
Sgt. John Bandemer of the St. Paul Police Department’s human trafficking enforcement unit was able to connect with more local public safety officials and the American Red Cross, Booker said.
Booker said the whole point of this multicultural safety fair was to build relationships and create a level of trust between the different agencies and the different ethnic communities.
Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo said some people he talked to have no idea what the county attorney’s office does, so his main goal was to talk about the day-to-day work his office does and how they can help people.
“If we show people that we’re here to stay and we’re committed to them, that trust will be built and they will start to come,” Booker said.
In the meantime, Booker invited friends she already knows, including Fabia Absie from Somalia, Trong Nyguen from Vietnam, Peter Vondenka from the Czech Republic and Albert Nyembwe from Congo to attend the event and share information with their own neighbors and friends.
These four were part of a panelist group that told their stories to local law enforcement and firefighters last September so there could be a better understanding that everyone has a different safety perspective depending on where they come from.
Absie learned that she should not place a dresser in front of her bedroom window because it cuts off an escape route. She also has the bad habit of storing cooking oils close to her stove. She plans to share everything she learns with others who have moved from Somalia.
Jimmy Nyembwe and Eric Mulela of Coon Rapids both grew up in Congo. Nyembwe has lived in the United States for 18 years and Mulela just moved here. Both grew up in small villages where there was not really any fire safety education. A lot of homes were built with bricks, so if there was a fire, it was usually contained to the inside of the home and caused by kids playing with matches or someone lighting a kerosene lamp.
Valeriy Tkach has lived in Blaine for the past 10 years, but grew up in the Ukraine. He speaks and understands some English, but did need the assistance of Maya Vozhdayeva for a more extensive interview.
Tkach, who has eight children with six of them currently in the home, said he taught safety tips to his kids. The village they were in did not have any safety fairs, but the larger cities probably did, he said.
There were four interpreters invited to SBM’s multicultural safety fair who could speak Arabic, Hmong, Russian and Spanish.
Rania Hassanein was the Arabic interpreter. She immigrated from Egypt to the United States six years ago. She believes that the best way to publicize an event like this is to print flyers about safety events like this in Arabic and spread news about the event through word of mouth. They are not going to know about the event from reading an English language newspaper or watching the news.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]