In my initial journal entry, I spoke in general terms,describing the labyrinthine journey my life has taken -- which is not uncommon for women, I think. Suffice it to say that my youthful goals and aspirations were cut short by life's twists and turns. Much of the next 25 years was filled with joy and fulfillment, particularly as mother to a beautiful daughter, but I never really found my best expression. Circumstances took me by chance into a corporate management career that paid me well and allowed me to raise my daughter and send her through college. I was really good at it, and many opportunities came my way.
However, my heart was never in the corporate world. From the time I was in college, I wanted to spend my days in ways that would allow me to wrap my arms around -- people: children and families, doing what was necessary to help empower individuals and communities to learn, heal, thrive.
Now, although I am in the latter stages of my life, I have -- and am taking -- the opportunity to find the personal expression I missed so much. And it all started with an website invitation to tutor/mentor the children of refugee and immigrant families. One of the best things I've ever done in my life is answer that invitation!
When I was introduced two years ago to the Burmese refugee family I have come to love, I knew next to nothing about Burma. Although I knew a military junta rules the country and changed the name to Myanmar, I did not know that the military has carried on a 47 year war against the many ethnic peoples of the country -- the longest running refugee crisis in the world. I did not know that this systematic genocide includes destroying villages, crops, lives and livelihoods; conscripting young boys into the army, slave labor, and the epidemic tool of terror against women: rape. Then they lay land mines. . .
"My" family's experience was typical. When the parent's villages were attacked and burned, they became two of the thousands of IDPs coalescing, then dispersing as the army moves through the region. Eventually, the family fled across the Burmese border into Thailand, forming another loose "camp" of refugees. After seven years of this abysmal living, the Burmese army crossed the border, as they are want to do, and attacked the camp inside Thailand. This time the family, now with three boys aged 2 and 3, fled to one of the nine "official" refugee camps along the border, joining 50,000 others.
The family lived in Mae La for 12 -- twelve! -- years, welcoming both a daughter and another son during that time. Two years ago, they were welcomed in Portland where there is a growing and vibrant Burmese refugee community. More about this community later, but in the meantime, the terror in Burma continues; as refugees find their way to other welcoming countries, they are replaced in the camps with the hundreds, even thousands, of refugees that continue to cross the border in the wake of recent attacks.
Notwithstanding the difficulties this family has faced, I am always met with smiles. Please share the smiles of "my" children in the attached photo. (I TRIED to upload the photo, but got an error message. Sigh.)