Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Boys from Burma

Burma is half a world away, so few Americans understand that its military regime has been systematically persecuting ethnic minorities for many years. Members of two tribes, the Karen and the Chin, have been harassed and driven out to refugee camps in Thailand. From there, some come to the United States as political refugees, having been assisted by the American Baptist Church. This church has had a long relationship with these tribes.

Rochester, New York, has become home to many of these Burmese refugees. The Lake Avenue Baptist Church, where I keep the books, has a major mission to help them assimilate into American culture. A high percentage of the refugees are young, since the young have the stamina to flee their homeland and the courage to start anew.

Today two of these young men, "Eric" and Salai, have been helping me erase a few major items from my "honey-do" list. Eric is 19, Salai, 27. They are good looking, happy, and hard workers. This morning they did yard work, and this afternoon they've been removing wallpaper. I made them a nice lunch, and later they'll get some nice cash for their efforts. In the morning I'll make a long drive into city and pick them up for another day of work.

Eric has been in the U.S. for one year and his English is already quite good. Salai is picking up the language pretty well, too. They require little instruction. I give them a general idea of what I want done and they figure out all the pieces on their own. So far, their tasks have been completed with a few extra nice touches that they thought would make the job even better. I'm happy.

This is not the first time I've been up close and personal with refugees from Asia. The first time was when the Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Hmong thronged to the U.S. following the Viet Nam war. I was astounded at how quickly, and with such sacrifice, they established themselves and became major contributors to our economy and culture.

Don't tell me there are no opportunities in America. All it takes to achieve "success" is the will to do what is obvious to succeed. Some people get it; many don't ever figure that out or don't want to admit that they understand but are unwilling to pay the price. Eric and Salai get it. I'd like to see what their lives are like ten years from now.

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