It was a crisp October Saturday morning at Centennial Village, 1475 A St., where students from the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) and staff from Centennial Village Museum gathered with refugees and immigrants to learn about Greeley’s history for the third annual Roots Project. The Roots Project is a collaboration among the Global Refugee Center, the UNC’s Department of Anthropology and the City of Greeley Museums to teach the refugee and immigrant population living in Greeley about Greeley’s history.
The refugees and immigrants came from a range of countries including Mexico, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Burma, Somalia, Kenya and Rwanda. The Roots Project, headed by UNC Professor of Anthropology Dr. Michael Kimball, started three years ago to help refugees and immigrants living in Greeley build “roots” in Greeley by learning about its history and finding similarities to their own history.
First, UNC students volunteered at the Global Refugee Center (GRC) in the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to get to know the refugees and immigrants. The experience ended with a trip to Centennial Village Museum where they could learn more about Northern Colorado’s history and make connections with their home country’s history.
At Centennial Village, the refugees and immigrants were most interested in the blacksmith, the Spanish Colony House and the campsite. Refugees and immigrants from Burma and East Africa explained they could relate the importance of blacksmithing to their home countries. Likewise, the campsite, resembling how the first settlers lived in Northern Colorado, reminded some of how the very poor lived in camps in their home countries.
One Ethiopian gentleman said that the houses and technology displayed in Centennial Village was not old but new. For instance, the iron stove would be considered new technology because it contained the fire and directed the smoke away from your face, which is different from his home country where many people cook over open fires with smoke rising in their face.
Participants were given homemade tortillas at the Spanish Colony House and the people from Kenya said it reminded them of flat bread called chapati they ate back home.
The Roots Project also gives traditional students at UNC the opportunity to connect with the refugees and immigrants living in Greeley
Most of the UNC students said they did not know that a refugee population lived in Greeley and they were glad the Dr. Kimball’s class helped them meet these people. Many of them hope to continue volunteering at the GRC.
The GRC depends on local volunteer support in the ESL and citizenship courses offered to refugee and immigrant populations. It also provides assistance for applying for jobs, finding housing and filling out government assistance applications. The GRC’s website, grccolorado.org, gives more information about other services they provide and has a Journey to Hope blog containing moving stories of the refugees building “roots” in their new home.
Written by Rebakah March, UNC Applied Heritage Management Student