February 22, 2010By Barbara Aggerholm, Record staff
KITCHENER — Lal Thang is worried about his Chin community, a tight-knit group of about 200 people who live in Waterloo Region.
They are thankful they are free, their children are healthy and happy, and they are living in a country where they are safe from religious persecution, which they suffered in Myanmar, formerly Burma, he said.
That’s what the Chin people are celebrating, Thang said Saturday during festivities for the 62nd Chin National Day, held at King Edward Public School in Kitchener.
“We are safe here ... and we are able to remember and keep alive our story,” he said.
But now, they must also be concerned about jobs and making their way in their new country, he said.
As children played in the hall, and adults made speeches and danced, Thang, a volunteer pastor and a member of the Chin community, described the challenges his people face in Canada today.
“We have been struggling,” he said. “Here, it is peaceful and joyful and the people are very good. But on the other side, there is a problem with no jobs and people are struggling financially.”
Members of the Chin community living in Waterloo Region came as refugees, said Thang, who escaped Myanmar in 2005, and came to Canada as a refugee in 2008. His wife and sister followed him to Canada.
Chin people, 90 per cent of whom are Christian, have been suppressed and discriminated against by successive military rulers in Burma, or Myanmar, Thang said. “We are under Burma so still we have many kinds of oppression and they never treat us like Burmese,” he said.
There are about 1,000 Chins in Canada and many more thousands in Malaysia and India, he said.
Chin National Day recognizes Chins as a distinct people in the world, he added.
Thang, 32, who studied theology in India, has been a pastor for his people in Myanmar, and now in Kitchener where he is volunteer pastor for Chin Baptist Church, which rents a hall in another Baptist church. His dream is to be a pastor in the community’s own church building one day.
Members of the Chin community, now permanent residents of Canada, look out for each other, he said. “We all the time have worship services together since we are Christian.
“The importance is we know every man and woman so we can help if help is necessary,” he said. “Our Chin community is looking after everybody who is struggling financially. We try to help as much as possible.”
However, they also need help from the broader Waterloo Region community, he said. Many don’t speak English and can’t get jobs, though some are experienced carpenters, auto mechanics and seamstresses. He estimated about 20 per cent have jobs.
Ontario Works helps, but it’s not a lot of money, Thang said. “Sometimes we almost can’t pay our rent and we almost don’t have food.”
He’s hoping that people in Waterloo Region might know of jobs they can do.
“We need employers who understand we can work,” Thang said.