Our first visit today was with a lovely family of 4 from Burma. Dad, mom and their two little girls, ages 2 and 4, came to make their home in Phoenix this past April. Through an interpreter, the dad shared some of his family’s story. When he was 16, which would have been 11 years ago, his family of origin and their neighbors were forced off their farms. He remembers how they had to walk for two weeks, being careful not to step on any landmines. The Karen National Union walked with them when they could, offering protection. He met his wife and married in the camp in Thailand. Life in the camp was difficult. The Burmese had no rights. Under threat of deportation, no one was allowed to leave the camp without permission from the Thailandese government workers. He said they no longer have any family members living in the camp or in the US. He likes the fact that he has rights in this country and that he doesn’t have to worry about being arrested for no reason. He is employed as a custodian.
Another story of hardship was relayed by our next visit: a family of one. This woman literally fled her home in Somalia under gunfire. Her husband was shot and killed; she was shot in her right leg which had to be amputated. Because of her injuries, she was “shipped” to a refugee camp in South Africa, where she’s lived the last 9 years. Her mother, sister, brother and son all ran to Kenya where they remain in a refugee camp. She would like for her 15-year-old son to come here but can’t get him out of Kenya because she can’t produce a birth certificate for him. She said the soldiers torched her village and that nothing remains. “Somalia is gone. Somalia is gone…” She has no family here but says she can sometimes talk to her family by phone. The hardest obstacle for her in the U.S. is not speaking the language, although she is taking English classes at her complex.
Eritrea, an African country between Ethiopia and Sudan on the Read Sea was home to the two young men, ages 23 and 29, who we visited last. Only one of the two men was home to talk with us. It was explained that Eritrea is a country with no freedom, no education and no jobs. Due to its strategic position on the Red Sea, the country has been fought over for centuries. He said he had been forced to serve in the military for 3 years before he left. He and his friend left Eritrea for Gibuti where they applied for refugee status to come to the U.S. One year and 6 months later, on June1, 2010, they arrived here in Phoenix. Both are taking English classes. He proudly showed us his book and DVDs on English for New Americans that he had gotten at the library. Both are very motivated although neither has found a job yet. If there was a medal for cleanliness, these guys would easily win. Their appreciation for what they now have is obvious.