Monday, September 10, 2012


I'm stuck in a crazy dichotomy right now. I go to to work at an expensive restaurant where people are picky and will send their food back to the kitchen if it's not perfect. It's a place where the staff are seen as lower class citizens and not worthy of eye contact or basic manners. It's kind of funny, because just an hour before I clock into work, I'm in what feels like a different world.

Hundreds of refugees find themselves in America every day. They come from war torn countries, places where they are no longer welcome, and no longer safe. They've spent years in a refugee camp, and await the day when they will be resettled to America, Europe, or Australia. Late Wednesday night, a Karenni family from Burma arrived at their final destination, Denver, Colorado. They were picked up from the airport, and driven to the home of another Karenni family who had been in America for three years. This pushed the count to 12 people living in a one bedroom apartment. When I met them on Friday afternoon, they were still jet lagged, shy, and obviously frightened of white people. The mother had come alone with her three young daughters. I was simply told that "she did not have a husband". Maybe he was killed by the Burma army, maybe he had never been around, or maybe he was simply missing. Whatever the reason, the woman was much too introverted to tell me more about it. 

They had a case worker, a man who spoke Burmese, the only Burmese speaking social worker the organization has. He is in charge of over 300 cases, and more are being added to his plate everyday. As I sat on the floor of the bare room, the family seemed oblivious to any information regarding the future of the woman and her children. They didn't know what was going on, when the case worker would return, or even where their next meal would come from. Their cupboards are bare. They have half a ziplock bag full of rice and four eggs in the fridge. I sat on the floor and asked what they needed. They said blankets and clothes to prepare for the coming snow. 

I was told the story of a Shan family who arrived on Monday evening. A man, his wife, and their young son. They arrived in Denver at 11:00 pm and their case worker dropped them off at their apartment in the rough part of town. Right off Colfax, a street infamous for it's gangs, prostitution, drugs, and frequent deaths. The family spoke no English. Their case worker gave them a check for $100 and the directions to the bank via the bus. As the family sat in their apartment, they heard the yelling and fighting of gangs right outside their window. The mother cried. This was not the America they expected. 

I wonder what would happen if every American were to take a refugee family under their wing. Think about the difference it would make to them. Instead of being foreigners, alone and without guidance, they would have someone who cared for them, checked up on them, and helped them to navigate American society. It is so difficult for me to go from this life in the refugee community to the expensive shopping mall and restaurant where people are so apathetic. I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them. I want to take them to my neighborhood and force them to walk through the cramped apartment buildings, to see the need, the mass numbers of foreigners who live in their city. Maybe there will come a time when I can show them this side of Denver. Tonight I shared with my boss about where I had been just a few hours before. I saw the passion in his eyes, the anger at how little the refugees have. He was stirred to make a difference. He had been enlightened to the cause of 10,000 people who had come to America for shelter. 

This isn't easy. But, no one said it would be. This isn't easy, but if we all walk together, maybe it won't be as heavy as it needs to be. 
Little Linda, a Chin girl I love to play with 

 Two boys from Burma

Jose and his little brother 

 Nau Naw being silly

 giving rides

dinner at my house

beautiful Denver

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


This brought tears to my eyes. Before leaving for Thailand, I would visit 3 Karenni families that were settled in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and Des Moines (Iowa). They were doing ok but I heard stories of others who were in similar situations that you just wrote of. Anger rises in me to know that organizations in America will facilitate the families coming and put them in dangerous situations, without money, food, etc. There needs to be an advocate in America for the refugees. Typically once they are "helped" by the case worker which is only 3 months usually, they are left on their own. Thank God they help each other as you wrote in your update.

Thank you for being there for your new friends in Denver. You are and will make a difference. :)