The last two years have been full of changes for 25-year-old Maryam Akbari. Born in Afghanistan, she and a few of her family members were able to leave the country through a journey of many stops and challenges — such as tents, quarantines, camps and hotels in Germany and Virginia.
“Time does pass,” Akbari said about the experience.
When they arrived in Utah, her family started working at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City.
“Jesus Christ helped us at the centers,” said Akbari, who is not a member of the Church.
Associates can learn English while receiving job training. Referrals come through bishops or the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Akbari had studied economics and had been teaching math in her home country. She had also begun learning some English. At the Humanitarian Center, she helped with translating for others, and attending the English classes strengthened her language skills while the job training gave her new work experience.
“When we came here, I thought maybe I wouldn’t have an opportunity to start my college or do something that I wanted to do. But fortunately when we came here, they helped us a lot,” she said.
Four hours of the day, the associates are paid to learn English. The other four hours, they work in the production area, either sorting clothing, performing custodial jobs, or working in the kitchen. Akbari said she worked in the kitchen: cooking, washing and cleaning.
But she felt a desire to do more and to improve herself. The job coaches helped her search for a job, create a resume and prepare for an interview. She got employment as a middle school teacher’s aid in Salt Lake City and worked there for the last year.
“I kept thinking about how I wanted to start my college. I wanted to get a degree from the United States,” Akbari said. She brought up the subject with the missionaries at the Humanitarian Center.
“They said ‘Yeah of course, you can do that. If you want, you can start college,’” she said.
They helped her apply for financial aid, and now Akbari is studying computer science at Salt Lake Community College.
“They were so kind to me, especially the two people that helped me with applying, they were amazing. Elder and Sister Ridges were so helpful for me,” she said.
About the Humanitarian Center
According to ChurchofJesusChrist.org, the Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City was established in 1991.
The Humanitarian Center provides a location to sort and assemble charitable supplies such as clothing, quilts, hygiene and school kits, and emergency medical modules to be sent throughout the world.
The center serves as a training ground to help people — many of whom are refugees and immigrants — develop employable skills and learn self-reliance. Trainees are assigned job coaches who teach work and life skills. The job coaches then help the trainees find further employment opportunities.
Funds for humanitarian projects come from donations from Church members and others, with donations funding projects that go to those most in need. The center provides service opportunities for those wishing to donate clothing or quilts or prepare kits and supplies.