Monday, February 24, 2014

Mongolian New Year event celebrates culture, welcomes visitors

SOUTH JORDAN — A diverse group of people gathered for a Mongolian Lunar New Year celebration in Daybreak on Saturday to welcome 16 Mongolians who will be staying in Utah for the next year.

The newly arrived Mongolians, Daybreak community members, Mongolians already living in Utah, Utahns with an affinity for the country, representatives from Kennecott Utah Copper and Rio Tinto and the Inter-mountain Relocation Council attended the event, which featured music, dancing and traditional Mongolian food.

Odgerel Badamjav said food is crucial to the New Year celebration.

"All Mongolians spend the evening with their families eating as much as possible," he said. "It's a lavish feast."

Thomas Whitaker, president of the Inter-mountain Relocation Council, said he founded the nonprofit organization in 2010 with a focus on helping companies with employees coming to Utah acclimate to the state. This is the second group of Mongolians Whitaker has worked with, and all of this group will live in Daybreak, he said.

Each month, the organization puts together an event for the Utah transplants.

"It's value is that, first, we're making our guests to the state feel welcome, and second, it's a piece of culture you don't get every day in Utah," Whitaker said.

This group came through Rio Tinto's Copper Group graduate program, which brings them from a Rio Tinto mine in Mongolia to Kennecott as part of a 12-month development program.

"Their opportunities here will help them be leaders in Mongolia," Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett said.

Blandine Donnez, who oversees human resources for the copper group, said there are events planned that are unique to Utah, such as a Salt Lake Bees game. Community support, though, is important.

"There's only so much we can do as a company," Donnez said. "The community is important for the culture."

Keila Mower, a Daybreak resident, said she had Mongolian friends growing up and wanted to be part of making this new group feel welcome. Mower said she suggested the New Year event and wanted to invite Mongolians already living in Utah.

"You need people that speak your language to help you feel welcome," she said. "I wanted to make sure they had a really positive experience."

Burd Jadamba, who lives in Midvale and has been in Utah for about 18 months, heard about the event on Facebook and decided to attend with her husband and two daughters.

"I'm a stay-home mom, so anything to get out," Jadamba joked. "I also heard there were new Mongolians. I thought maybe we'd come and help them out, help them get used to a new place."

South Jordan Mayor Dave Alford welcomed those who had just arrived. He suggested they spend time in Utah's mountains and visit Temple Square and the state's many national parks.

"We're privileged to have visitors from far away," Alford said. "We hope your stay is comfortable, and we hope you feel welcome."

Michael Watson, who served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mongolia, attended the event in a traditional Mongolian deel. Watson said he wanted to attend for the opportunity to catch up with the people, who were the highlight of his mission.

"They're very open-hearted," he said. "It's easy to like them."


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