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Out of Africa into the Snow
Monday, November 21, 2022


The cold white stuff on the ground of the Sun Valley Community School campus took their breath away. After all, many had never seen snow before.

But the thrill of a snowball fight, it seems, is universal regardless of whether one has grown up in snow country or not. And some 30 youth refugees from African countries quickly got into the swing of it pelting their Sun Valley Community School counterparts with snow.

“Their eyes opened wide as soon as they began to see it on the way up here,” said Ernso Pierre.

Eighty Wood River Valley students and adults hosted 30 refugee youth and 20 refugee adults from Twin Falls last week for a day of fun and games and getting to know one another.

They played basketball and indoor soccer in the gym of the Sun Valley Community School and shared a lunch of fried chicken, green beans, chocolate chip cookies and rice. They created Thanksgiving turkey art projects, friendship bracelets sporting the names of their country of origin and made chocolate bombs at the Community Campus. Then they capped their day with a talent show.

“I like fried chicken,” said Salima of Tanzania, pointing to a plate loaded with foods that were a novelty to those who had recently made their way to Idaho.

Some of the youth had been in Twin Falls for a few years; others, a few weeks, coming from countries like Congo, Tanzania, Uganda and East Africa.

Most, like 12-yearold Zina Wilondan of East Africa, were able to speak English even though, Zina admitted, she misses speaking her own language.

Alvaro Untiveros, a junior at Sun Valley Community School, watched the interactions with interest. He came to the Sun Valley Community School as a student from Peru, following in the footsteps of his brother who is now studying engineering at college.

“I spend my time reading with books,” said Untiveros, who is looking forward to seeing his family in Peru during Christmas break. “I love Hemingway—‘A Farewell to Arms’ and learning about the fish world from my teacher Mr. (Phil) Huss. You guys have very good people, and I feel kindness. People from Africa need amnesty, respect, too. They’re people.”

The day was organized by Sun Valley Community School teacher Calysta Phillips who oversees the Community Table/Mesa Comunitaria, an organization of high school teenagers who build bridges between people in the valley by providing meals, resources and joyful activities for underserved children. She enlisted the help of Drennan Wesley, 11th grade U.S. history teacher at Sun Valley Community School, and Ernso Pierre, who came from Haiti nearly five years ago and now works for the Twin Falls-based Reach New Heights, which helps refugees learn the English language and learn what resources are available.

They had never met one another in person but had learned about each other through church. Both are members of the Church of Latter-day Saints---Wesley in Hailey and Pierre in Twin Falls. Wesley had taught his class about the Holocaust and First Nations and wondered how he might give his students the opportunity to talk with people who are different from them. He wanted them to talk, laugh and play games with one another.

“We want to see them having fun together, to build memories,” he said. “A huge success would be for them to exchange Instagram addresses.”

“We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to introduce youth to a world beyond Twin Falls and give them a chance to get to meet others their own ages,” added Pierre. “Things like this we should do all the time. I hope we can return.”

Amelie Ries an 11-yer-old sixth grader, said she enjoyed helping out.

“I like meeting new friends,” she said. “I haven’t met anyone from Africa before, and now I have friends from Africa.”

Jake Jacoby a seventh grader, echoed her sentiments: “They’ve been really fun and they’re really, really nice.”


1,217 refugees resettled in Idaho during fiscal year 2022, according to the Idaho Office for Refugees.

1,075 individuals are projected to arrive between Oct. 1, 2022 and Sept. 30, 2023.

The majority of refugee arrivals in Idaho during the past year came from Afghanistan as part of Operation Allies Welcome.

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