Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Refugee family begins to adjust

Dim San Lian talks about what is different in America compared to Burma.

After seven years of waiting, Pau Thawn Kim and his family were granted access into the United States.

Kim’s family, Burmese refugees who were settled in a refugee camp in Malaysia, have lived in Battle Creek a month. With the help of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, the family of five is living in an apartment and seeking employment; but they’re still unaccustomed to American culture.

“I think people don’t realize what it means to be a refugee,” said Kathryn Giroux, a job developer at LSSM. “It takes a lot of courage and a lot of strength to come here with absolutely nothing except one suitcase, maybe. They’re just trying to start over, rebuild their lives in a foreign country that’s not their native language. It’s pretty difficult.”

Every week the agency aids new refugee families in their transition to life in Battle Creek. Most refugees in Battle Creek are Burmese who traveled through Malaysia because they were in fear of being prosecuted for their Christian beliefs. Other refugees have fled their home countries because of war or fears they’ll be prosecuted over their political ideology.

Upon arrival into the United States, refugee families are greeted by LSSM with an interpreter and a culturally appropriate hot meal. They are taken to their new home and spend the next month registering for Social Security, childcare, school, work and whatever else they may need.

“Within the next day the translator comes back to make sure that they are situated in their home,” Giroux said. “Then it’s within the first five days they have their cultural orientation and that goes from general safety to calling 911 in case of emergency, what to do in case of a fire, things like that.”

Giroux said the orientation only lasts about an hour or two and families are given information on English as a Second Language classes and employment.

A stipend of $925 is given to the families for each family member to be paid out over three months. They are provided public assistance to sustain them until they are able to find employment. When the families arrive their homes are already structured with a few furniture pieces and a new mattress.