Thursday, July 23, 2009

Refugees and domestic violence

Below I've included an excerpt and a link to an interesting article although it is over a year old.

Although I have never met Serjanej, I agree with his perspective's and views as reported in the article. I recommend people read the entire article as well as Una Hardester's comments that follow. (For those interested, there is another Una Hardester in Ireland who is a somewhat controversial human rights activist. I doubt very much if there is any connection between that Una Hardester and this one.) For those interested, this Una Hardester was, I believe, an intern from the University at Albany. I do tire of criticizing USCRI-Albany and would prefer to see it become a thriving, healthy organization. However, I mentioned previously that one problem with the organization is that many vital positions are filled by interns who leave after a brief period at the center. This Una Hardester was such an intern. Although in her comments on the article she is quick to point out that Artan Serjanej is no longer a volunteer with the center in Albany, to the best of my knowledge she is not either. She was a full-time volunteer there, when I began teaching English in the summer and was not present when I became an employee in October. Make of that what you will.

I confess I do not know if this program continues. And, for those interested, although Hardester is quick to criticize Sara Foss has a good reputation as a reporter. I wish Hardester had spent some time clarifying facts instead of just accusing the reporter and Serjanej of mis-statements without offering the true facts.

Check out the article and I'll post my personal comments afterwards.

Classes aid men new to the U.S.
Immigrants learn about laws
Sunday, July 6, 2008
By Sara Foss (Contact)
Gazette Reporter

Text Size: A | A | A

CAPITAL REGION — Artan Serjanej understands how difficult it can be for new immigrants to navigate the thicket of unfamiliar laws they encounter when they move to America.

Now 43, Serjanej fled the Eastern European country of Albania as a young man, arriving in the United States in 1990. He earned his GED, attended law school and is now an immigration attorney at Tulley Rinckey PLLC in Albany.

Serjanej is leading a series of workshops to help male immigrants understand laws regarding domestic violence, child abuse and animal abuse. He has already held two workshops, one for male Congolese refugees living in the Capital Region and another for Arabic-speaking Iraqi male refugees, and more are scheduled for later this summer.

The workshops are part of a new program sponsored by the Albany field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which educates immigrants about their legal rights and obligations in the United States. Future workshop topics include how to handle encounters with law enforcement and how to recognize and report discrimination in housing and job hiring. Workshops for women will also be offered; by the end of the summer, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants will have offered workshops for Burmese, Congolese, Iraqi and Afghan clients of both sexes.

The new program, called Legal Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, began two months ago. The workshops have been organized with help from local community groups, such as the Capital Region chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Equinox Inc. Last month, Melanie Trimble, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and Serjanej conducted basic civil liberties training with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants staff.



Domestic violence is a problem among refugees.

Previously, I criticized the concept of trite multi-culturalism. In America we have a belief that people should be treated equally. This is an important principle in our society and although it is easy to criticize the way our actual practices do not always match our ideals, it is also important to acknowledge that we also spend a great deal of time, energy, political effort, media attention and money to try and bring those practices in line with our ideals. For instance, I mentioned previously that I am taking education classes. I am currently immersed in "Introduction to Human Exceptionality," a class that is essentially introduction to special education. In our society, we put our money where our mouth is and spend thousands of dollars on such activities as giving the differentially-abled the opportunity to engage in leisure activities. For instance, we spend, time, money and energy to send the autistic, the blind and the people who lack limbs, skiing essentially for the simple reason that "if everyone else can do it, and the differentially-abled wish to do it, then we should enable and work for them to be able to do it." And, of course, we as a society work towards this goal.

Now, honestly, the more time I spend around refugees the more cynical I become about such activities as assisting the differentially-abled to engage in expensive sports. Quite frankly, the money we spend on assisting such persons with sports could save thousands of lives and make a much more significant difference in the lives of people in the third world, people such as refugees. But the very fact that we do it is wonderful as it does show our commitment to equality and equal opportunity for all people.

In many countries, equality for all people is not even an ideal. I was thinking the other day about why I prefer to spend time around Burmese instead of some of the other ethnic groups that I met at the center. I think part of it is that the Burmese are Asian, which fits in with my academic background, but like most Asians they also have an outlook on life that is distinctly different from many other ethnic groups including Americans. I spent an afternoon recently with a refugee from Africa. I enjoy this person and respect him. And he is interested and working hard to get ahead in American now that he is here. And I would help him do so in some small way. On the other hand, he spent a great deal of time complaining about the very real injustices and atrocities that he was subjected to that led him to being forced to leave his homeland and come here.

The Burmese, by contrast, from what I've seen, don't spend nearly as much time talking about how unfair life is for them. Oh, of course, they do sometimes, but not nearly as much as an American would. Instead, I think, they simply accept the fact that life is unfair and instead focus on what to do about it to achieve the goals they have.

(FYI, just for the record, some people do not understand what a refugee is. A refugee is someone whose life was turned so upside down that they were forced to leave their homeland and go somewhere else, anywhere else, no matter how miserable that place might be. I have seen people meet refugees and ask them, "So how long are you guys here for? When are you going home?" The answer, bluntly, is never, unless things change in a big way in the place they came from. If they go home, there is nothing there. That's why they are here.)

Anyway, many cultures do not have this intense American emphasis on equality and human rights. (In fact, both the Russian and Chinese governments have criticized the US for trying to impose its view of human rights on others. Clearly, this is a complex issue and, although the underlying facts are not black or white, drives right at the heart of why I criticize people who offer trite praise for the concept of multi-culturalism.)

This lack of equality shows up in their family structures. i.e. under Confucianist philosophy, husband and wives were not supposed to be equals and were not supposed to share decision making. Instead the husband was supposed to act like a benevolent, caring dictator who made decisions for his wife but did so in a way that was in her best interests and showed genuine concern for her well-being. Of course, in practice, as anyone who has spent time around Chinese women knows, they do have a way of gaining power and ensuring their needs are met but its usually done behind closed doors and in private. The system itself, however, never was intended to be equal, nor in theory is it seen as desirable that it should be.

Many of the cultures that refugees come from do not see wives in particular as individuals with human rights of their own, but instead as one part of a collective family unit. Different cultures draw the boundaries differently between different people.

(As an aside, for whatever reason, I have had more than my share of instances of walking into violent or near-violent screaming or shoving and pulling matches between (usually American) couples, often, for instance, while working as an EMT or security guard, and when confronted the man occasionally immediately turns to me and says, "But she's my wife." This, of course, makes no sense. I'm sometimes tempted to say to these men, "Well then, would you like me to hold her so you can hit her better?" in order to see if it will bring them back to reality. However, I never have. In some cultures, however, this statement does make perfect sense and does fit the cultural norms.)

And when refugees come to America, this unit and its nominal head, the male father figure, is often put under a great deal of pressure. Often they have been through a wide variety of truly emasculating experiences and are currently undergoing several more, including loss of control due to language problems and a wide variety of economic problems based on inability to find fulfilling employment or even completely understanding how to deal with a power bill. (I recently met one man who was a section leader in a refugee camp in Thailand. This was an elected position that involved running security patrols and arbitrating disputes among one sixteenth of a refugee camp. Clearly he was respected by his peers. In Albany, however, he spent months unemployed due to problems with the language and a lack of perceived transferable skills. This has to be frustrating for him. And, just for the record, to the best of my knowledge he has been dealing with his frustrations and disappointments in a healthy manner, this does not mean everyone does.)

Finally, some people just seek victims and want to take out their tensions on others. Women who don't speak English or understand the system make easy victims sometimes. I wish it was not so. Overworked caseworkers in the social services system or at the refugee center cannot keep tabs on all such people all the time.

For all these reasons, domestic violence is a problem among some refugees and some refugee families. This needs to be acknowledged and

Monday, July 20, 2009

Some social advice to Chinese students in the USA

Chinese students often ask for advice on speaking to Americans.

In my opinion, talking to people you do not know is
a learned skill. Making true friends is much more difficult.

But as for the first subject, talking to people you do not know. . .

1) Find someone who is extraordinarily good at talking to people they
do not know. Follow them and watch them. Try to find the patterns.

I've been lucky. I've known at least two people who were very good at
that and learned a lot by watching them.

2) There are things people like to talk about and things they don't
like to talk about. People like to talk about things they are good
about or enjoy doing. Ask about them. If you find the right subject,
people love to talk about it.

3) Don't worry too much about language but do ask for clarification
when you become confused about what they are saying. If people want to
talk to you, they will work with you to do so, even with an accent.

4) My advice for women is that if men invite you to do something, sometimes, often, they are looking for a date. Sometimes they are just friendly. I have had
problems where I have invited out Asian women on what I thought was a
date and then learned later they were married and hadn't told me or
some other crazy thing (this always shocks my American friends when I
tell them).

Therefore, should a man invite you to go do something, and you want to
see if he's looking for a date or just being friendly, one good way is
to say, "That sounds nice. Can I bring a friend?" If he acts confused,
upset or says "no" or "Well, I was hoping it would just be the two of
us . . ." then he was looking for a date. If he says "yes" without
any confusion then he is able and willing to go out as friends.

Hope this avoids some problems.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

More Burmese water festival pictures.

Here's a pair of group photos taken at the water festival in Rensselaer the other week. You can see happy Karen and other Burmese people hanging out and enjoying themselves during this holiday.


My friend, Michael Turton, runs a great blog about life and particularly politics in Taiwan where lives. (Readers may recall that I've lived four years of my life in Taiwan, although not in one block.) Although American, Michael Turton lives in Taiwan where he raises a family, studies for a Ph.D. and teaches English at a college. Quite frankly, I think his blog, is much better than mine, although, of course, the focus of his blog is entirely different from mine.

In fact, should anyone care, you can actually see a photo of me on his blog here. If you realize that this was my home environment for four years, plus the focus of my academic study for an equal number of years then perhaps it will also begin to make sense as to why I enjoy spending a major chunk of my free time these days hanging around with misplaced Burmese and such, shooting the breeze, eating their food and helping them out with such things as driving lessons, English lessons and trying to make sense of endless hassles involving arcane government documents that are in a language that they cannot understand and based on principles and assumptions that are foreign to them. And, of course, each time I do, I also remember just how confusing things in Taiwan were, little things like taking out the trash in a country that has an entirely different garbage collection system and calling a plumber or a locksmith in a country where the phone book is written using an ideographic writing system with over 5000 unique symbols and they answer the phone in a tonal non-Western language.

But when I compare my blog and Michael's one thing I realize is I need more pictures.

On the other hand, lately I've been writing about refugee issues. And as long-time readers know, I began doing this because of two things. First, I used to work as the furniture director at the local refugee center. An employee of another refugee center asked me for advice on how to run a furniture program. I agreed to offer such advice. About the same time, the local paper ran an article on how the local refugee center was unable to meet its obligations. See here. Interesting comments can be seen here.

When I read this I flipped out because, quite frankly, the local refugee center was the worst run place I have ever worked in my entire life. They were so incompetent they could not even evaluate suggestions on how to fix things. (And, for those interested, I once worked at a legally bankrupt ambulance service where one of our major restocking of supply sources was to steal from the hospital emergency rooms when they weren't looking. Sigh. Brings back fond memories. Particularly the time the nurse caught us stealing and made us put half of what we took back.) I had known this, of course, for a while but had hoped that they'd find a way to turn things around if given time. Instead they announced they were both "maxed out" and accepting new people. This is not a sensible formula for improvement.

So I began writing about exactly what it was like to work in this crazy place and what I learned from it. (And, yes, I know it is often overly ranty. Apologies.)

Which means that I decided that it might be best to leave out photos of refugees served by the center, people who I consider my friends, if I am criticizing the agency that controls their applications for such things as green cards and jobs and public assistance. So, for that reason, there are few photos of actual people on this blog. but I decided a couple of group photos of people I know and their friends, couldn't hurt. (One funny thing about the refugees from Burma, if you ask if you can take their picture their first reaction is to call everyone around them to get in the picture too. Sigh. Asian collectivist cultures in action again.) I wish I could put more but it just doesn't seem like a good idea.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Refugees, Furniture and Toys. Part Three.

Some time ago, I began writing a series of posts about what to do with toys that are offered to a refugee center. Well, this is installment three and it's about time to finish because there was a time this afternoon as I was driving my car that I realized I had forgotten what it was I wanted to say. Fortunately, I not only remembered what it was, but I also decided it was quite good and well worth sharing. Of course, should you choose to continue reading, you will just have to decide the value of the post for yourself.

It's never a bad thing to have a few good toys or stuffed animals, sitting around in the back room or wherever it is that you store your material goods. It's nice and it feels good for all concerned to take a good clean Teddy Bear and put it with all the furniture and kitchen goods and food that you set up when preparing for newly arrived refugees to arrive. So that's what you do with them.

But it doesn't really take very many toys to do this. And they need to be carefully chosen.

Now here's not what to do with them. (And I learned this, naturally, by doing it.)

Okay, picture this scenario. You've got some guy, let's say a refugee from Africa, sitting in the waiting room of the refugee center. You know him from one place or another and you know he's not a bad guy. He's looking despondent as he waits. So what do you naturally do, well you happen to know he has an eight year old son, so you offer him some of those toys that have been cluttering up your back room.

Ehhhhhhh . . . not always the best thing to do. Of course, it sounds good on the surface but let's look at bit deeper.

Let's look at it from this guy's point of view.

We'll personify the guy, and try to step in his shoes, starting with a name. How about Isaac Mbongo? I choose this because it's not a real name, as far as I know, but it sounds African to me and it's not inherently offensive. Five years ago, you were a pharmacist with a little shop somewhere in central Africa. And then one of those ridiculous African wars broke out and the next thing you know your town was over-run by a bunch of fifteen year olds holding machine guns that looked too big for their bodies. And they were scared and because they were scared they were mean. And they liked to rape, kill, shoot dogs and cows just for fun and light buildings on fire. And you lost a few members of your family, including a son who was forced to join their army and you think you'll probably never see him again and, worse, tha boy, your son, is probably going to wind up just as bad as the other guys assuming of course, he doesn't get shot and killed himself.

The little pharmacy shop and the quiet domestic life you prided yourself on are gone, gone forever, snuffed out like the lives of your lost loved ones. You take the surviving members of your family, make it to a refugee camp and after several years of eating badly, even by African standards, you are offered the chance to come to the United States and start a new life. That was four months ago. You've discovered the people in African who told you about life in the United States, exaggerated about how good things would be, probably to fill a quota. (This is a common claim among refugees, I cannot comment on its veracity.) You've found no job and your English is broken and no one cares that you speak four African languages plus fluent French. Your chances of getting a pharmacy job are about zero as you lack the licenses to hold the position you held in Africa in the United States. You even lost your high school diploma, not to mention the college degree and might have to start your education all over again with something called a G.E.D. And to make it worse the GED is offered only in English or sometimes, even worse, Spanish.

Your temporary benefits are running out. Your food stamps could be gone soon. You can't pay the rent, even though your apartment is in a neighborhood where you're scared to go at night. And your neighbors might look like you, but you know they're not like you. They play their music too loud after hours and smoke marijuana on their front steps where your children can see them doing it but there's nothing you can do to stop it. At least not safely.

You're desperate for a job, any job, even sweeping floors but they won't even hire you for that at the last seven places you applied and the bus schedules are not even in a language you know which makes job hunting extra frustrating. Your wife is getting increasingly tense and she seems to be losing respect for you because you can't feed your family. And, perhaps worse, you're starting to agree with her as you, too, start to lose and more and more respect for yourself.

You are completely, totally, absolutely dependent on the good will and competency of a lunkhead caseworker, who has a reputation for not caring about anything, and his boss, a 27 year old photographer who can't keep her appointments straight. And there's no way you can even afford to tell them what you think about them.

And suddenly, guess who shows up, that furniture guy and he says, "Here, I can see you are feeling bad. Have a Teddy Bear!"

Now won't that just make everything, right? Hell no.

These people have real problems.

Be careful about adding insult to injury by offering toys at the wrong time. \

(Actually the story is loosely, very loosely based on a true incident, but the guy just took me aside and said, "Peter, give me something I can really use. I don't need toys." Which was indeed the case.)

So, be careful about the toys. They do serve a need and are nice to have at the right time and place, and you will probably receive offers of a bunch of them, but they need to be accepted, stored and distributed carefully. Like I said, your job is to ensure that the basic needs of the refugees are met. These generally follow Maslow's hierarchy of needs. So make sure their material needs are met. Don't waste your time helping them "find their voice" or handing out too many Teddy Bears.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Refugee stuff: Michael J. Fox is a brain-damaged moron.

Michael J. Fox has no Elvis in him. (Which, as all truly cool people know, was a line from a Mojo Nixon song in the '80s) And, besides, he's stupid.

And, yes, I know he has a disease that is melting his brain, and therefore normally we might even excuse a certain amount of unplanned poorly thought out behaviors, but even if this is the case, then his friends, loved ones and handlers need to develop a way to reign him in so that he not embarrass himself and inflict ignorantly dangerous ideas on others. And Michael J. Fox has inflicted a truly stupid misunderstanding on the world.

Recently, Michael J. Fox aired a show on optimism. In this show he described Bhutan as a "nation extraordinarily devoted to the happiness of its citizens."

For details see here and here.

By contrast, for many people in the world, including people whose families have lived in Nepal since the sixteenth century, Nepal is known for tragedy and sorrow, not happiness.

For details you can start here.

Yes, many, many Nepali-Bhutanese come to the USA as refugees. They do this because the government of Bhutan has adopted a policy of "one nation -one people" and thus is engaging in ethnic cleansing. Therefore they drive out their Nepalese minorities, they then flee to Nepal where they are put in camps and, essentially, warehoused for years, sometimes decades and live on meager handouts and through working illegally.

Actually, just for the record, I have had very little personal contact with Nepali-
Bhutanese. I don't remember any in my English classes when I was a volunteer and when I worked at the refugee center, I never was able to get any to help me with the things I needed to get done. In fact, at least one consciously avoided doing so when the secretary asked him to, sneaking out the backdoor after committing to help. Therefore, my most memorable encounter with Nepali-Bhutanese was when one interrupted what I was doing and rudely demand that I give them material goods that I neither had nor felt any moral obligation to give them should I have had them.

(Which I mention in part because it touches on an important issue for running a refugee center. The refugees should, whenever possible, understand both the services that the center can and cannot give them, as well as where they can go instead to get those services or goods that they need that the center cannot offer. When I worked for the center, this was not the case. In fact, I carried around with me flyers and maps for the city mission which did give out the goods that we did not and, I think, did so quite well and was within a reasonable distance of the center. I tried to get the center to put up a multilingual sign stating where refugees could go, i.e. the city mission, for such things as winter coats but was never able to get that to come to pass although I did manage to set up a better system for getting rid of much of the clothing that we did occasionally receive. Just to clarify we were under no legal obligation to distribute clothing nor did we have the space or organizational ability to do so.)

Nothing is more irritating to be working your tooshie off doing unpaid overtime trying to get things in place so people will get what they need and have some shrill-voiced, prune-skinned, dirty single-mother harpie interrupting you, stopping you in the hallway as your quickly dash to complete an errand, demanding a coat right now and in the same sentence accusing me of preference for, of all groups, the Africans -as by chance I'd given a coat to an African the week before as I'd had a coat that fit her at the time and she'd needed one at the time and it was part of my job to distribute what I had. I shocked a volunteer by yelling back at her. Perhaps I should have been more patient but my job was to get people chairs not to tolerate this sort of nonsense, much less interrupt my work for it. And, it's pretty good rule of cross cultural contact that you should not reward behaviors that you don't wish to see repeated.

I tried to go back and apologize later, explaining as nicely as possible that I handled furniture distribution and not clothing but before I could finish she then demanded that if that was the case I immediately give her a table.

I exploded a second time and went back to sorting the furniture, my blood pressure now through the roof.

When I have the time, and not when I'm trying to sort furniture on unpaid overtime under impossible conditions, I have and will do my best to be more patient with damaged people. Still, it's important to remember, that not only am I from Schenectady and thus have interacted with countless badly damaged people, on occasion exchanging insults and threats with them too, therefore making this nothing special, but I also went to the University at Albany, a University known for hardness and no-nonsense. I did not chase these people out Bhutan, and, besides, I had no coats, and, furthermore, I don't let people talk to me that way unless it's part of my job description (i.e. working for the ambulance or concert security) and I'm paid to deal with it. I'm most certainly not going to reward it. If I did word would get around and it would never stop.

By contrast, I've enjoyed my time with the Nepali-Burmese refugees, even the selfish ones, make of that what you will. (And had a Nepalese friend in graduate school, too.)

Besides, there's a church in the area that has made a mission out of being nice to Nepalese, including the Bhutanese-Nepalese, so they already get special attention from a group of dedicated people (although, from what I've heard, they also get a lot of pressure on them to attend a church and hopefully convert when most are Hindus. Actually, the truth is most people who deal with refugees, be they Christians of whatever flavor or hemp-wearing, granola-eating hippie-poets do their darnedest to push their values on them. Of course, I do it too every time I try to help a refugee become independent and get a job, so who am I to preach? I mean, really, who wants to live with someone unless you share at least some core values with them and we did invite these people to live here. Therefore, of course, we are going to push our core values on them. To do otherwise, would be insane.

Trite multi-culturalism is, indeed, one of my peeves and I think most people who advocate multiculturalism the hardest are doing so under the ethnocentric delusion that people from other cultures actually either do or ultimately will share their values, a delusion that even the mildest foray into history and anthropology should soon correct. I mean, I lived in Asia for four years, and, guess what? I think American values are pretty good. Do you think Genghis Khan and the Mongol horde gave much thought to multiculturalism as they conquered most of Eurasia decimating large numbers of people in the process?

Perhaps some day we'll take all these refugees who've come to our great and dear land and turn them into that greatest of all American things, volunteer firefighters! I can only dream of such a day. In the meantime, I do what I can to help a small portion of them get where they should be and try to give them the knowledge they need to succeed here. But I do it in the hopes that one day they will join their local volunteer fire department, make no mistake.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Suburbanites play refugees and indians.

I'm sorry. I'm feeling silly. (And, no, I am not drunk.) This just showed up in my e-mail box and it brought back memories. Way back in the day, when I was in college, I hung out with an odd bunch of people. (How odd? Well let's just say a couple of these folks went on to become campus cops, and as for me, well, I've since gone on to spend way too much time riding around inside ambulances letting people puke and bleed on me. Just came from hanging out in a low rent neighborhood with a refugee who was hassling me about the ambulance background too. "Why? Why? Isn't that a terrible job?" No, ambulance work is often a surprising amount of fun, I assured them. Where else do they pay you to actually drive around and get in trouble?)

Anyway, so I had these odd friends, this was about twenty years ago and I've since moved on, and we used to hang out and drink a lot and talk about guns and history and whatever strange things popped into our often demented minds. And one theme we occasionally stumbled upon was "re-enactment groups." You know, when you go to the historical sites and national parks and such and there's some guy standing there in a three cornered hat pretending to be a revolutionary war soldier, although unlike the actual sickly 16 year old dressed in rags soldiers who peopled the actual eighteenth century battlefields, this is one who's 45 years old with a clean freshly laundered uniform, modern dental work, no intestinal parasites and, unlike most soldiers of the American colonial era, a good lunch in a nearby refrigerator. Yeah, the re-enactors. Well, we used to play a game occasionally of "see who can imagine the strangest, most tasteless re-enactment group." And since we all had an odd sense of humor and vast knowledge of history and current events, we came up with some pretty interesting ones, too. (I could share some candidates but someone would quote me on them and then my already shaky reputation would be completely ruined. I mean, ruined all at once, quite honestly I'd rather ruin my reputation in dribs and drabs, a little bit at a time.)

Still I think this is pretty good candidate that equals pretty much anything we came up with.


Subject: The UMCOR Hotline for July 14, 2009
From: "UMCOR" <>
Date: Tue, 14 Jul 2009 15:17:20 -0400
X-Message-Number: 1

In Today's Hotline for July 14, 2009


On World Refugee Day, June 20, a group of youth and adults in the Western
New York Annual Conference gathered to learn about what it means to be
uprooted and displaced. Groups from seven churches assembled at Grand
Island, NY to experience a simulated refugee journey.

Individuals were assembled into "families" and traveled more than a mile
from Sudan (St. Martin's Episcopal Church) to Kenya (Trinity UMC) and were
confronted by "bandits," who robbed and kidnapped some of the sojourners.
When they arrived at the refugee camp, modeled after Camp Kakuma in Kenya,
some were harassed by the guards while others quickly learned to avoid
harassment by paying-off the guards.

"Getting a glimpse of what it might be like to be forced to leave your home,
and live in a refugee camp was a humbling experience, and one that I will
never forget, said Joya Colon, an intern for UMCOR.

Support refugee ministry by giving to Hope for Newcomers, UMCOR Advance


Which reminds me of many things. (My brain is noted for making odd connections between things. It's an asset as a writer, but a detriment pretty much everywhere else. ) You will note that the participants in this program traveled a mile to experience what dislocation was like. It did not say how. And that makes me dying to find out.

Which brings me to this odd incident.

I am from, as much as anywhere, Schenectady, New York. Schenectady New York is an odd place noted for many things including an absolutely corrupt police department. (Don't take my word for it. See: Google )

The other day I was sitting in some Burmese refugees' living room drinking tea and the TV news was on. People were sitting on the couch and cute little kids were roaming around in the center of the room.

And on came the Schenectady police having a swearing in ceremony. The report noted that the Schenectady police had just sworn in nine new officers which was just one short of the number who were now under indictement for various crimes. Although this was in the Capital District, the refugees were only barely aware of Schenectady, being as it is down the Mohawk River from Albany and no refugee has any reason to go there.

I began explaining the news and the Schenectady police to them. In particular I noted that the police had been investigated by the FBI on multiple occasions and come under fire for many things one of which was their practice of "transporting" suspected drug dealers instead of arresting them. Which meant that on multiple occasions, the Schenectady police have picked up young men suspected of drug dealing, put them in the car, driven them about twenty miles outside of town and then taken all their money and their shoes, forcing them to walk home barefoot for twenty miles.

"That's it?" cried the Burmese refugees giggling. "They don't lock them up? They just make them walk twenty miles barefoot?"

They seemed to think this was a remarkably light punishment and a rather easy to do compared to being locked up. They then began joking if it might be a good idea to go to Schenectady and make a lot of money as drug dealers if all the local police were going to do was merely to make people walk twenty miles barefoot when caught. (I am not making this up, I promise. However, I do not think they were the least bit serious about becoming drug dealers, but I do indeed think they considered being forced to walk twenty miles barefoot to be a rather light punishment for a potentially serious offense. And, yes, refugees do joke a lot. It's one of the reasons I like spending time around them.)

I soon tried to clarify the actual facts by talking about an actual case involving a Kosovo refugee who is now in prison after selling a small amount of drugs in Schenectady and will most likely be deported back to eastern Europe upon his release. The topic soon shifted and those present abandoned their discussion of the pros and cons of becoming drug dealers in Schenectady.

So moral of the story, yes, it is great that these folks in Western New York are trying to understand what it's like to be a refugee, even if I do joke. On the other hand, being dislocated a mere mile is not going to provide them with the full experience. To properly understand that, and I cannot claim to except second hand, you need to remember that there are people out there who consider being kidnapped, robbed, humiliated and forced to walk twenty miles barefoot by corrupt authority figures to be "no big deal."

I also find myself wondering if those "bandits" they met had the good sense to combine two activities by stealing any of the participants furniture or kitchen goods. Now if they did, they could then redistribute it to people who need it and take care of two things at the same time.

Meanwhile apologies to UMCOR and despite my (probably tasteless) joking, if the exercise worked then it was a valid exercise. People need to start understanding somewhere. If you wish to learn more about this valid organization see:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Op-ed column: Halls of concrete at UAlbany

This piece by me ran in today's Sunday gazette in Schenectady. I've included the first portion of the text, but for the rest please click over to the gazette's main website.

Huzzah! Huzzah! It’s summer time and I’m back in school!

That’s right, I am now a fully enrolled student at the University at Albany. Of course, everyone in the Capital Region knows the university. It’s that big, funny-looking complex on the outskirts of Albany, a concrete fortress surrounded by those four towers. Most local people know it not only as a good educational value offering a wide variety of programs but also as a cold and impersonal place with a sluggish bureaucracy, known more for protests and problems than friendly people or school spirit.

Is the reputation deserved? If so, can this be changed?

(for the rest, click here . . .)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Refugees, furniture and toys. Part Two.

Greetings! A few months ago someone asked me for advice on running the furniture program of a refugee center. I agreed to provide advice and since then have been blogging away. My hope since that time has been to try and post something each week that might help someone who is put in the position I was put in. I've also included information on Burma and Burmese refugees because, with a background in Asian studies, I had a natural interest in their culture. Not only does Burma border China, but a lot of its minority peoples actually live in China as well as Burma with their cultures overlapping the border. I've studied Chinese minorities and their situation.Thus the interest was natural. Truth be told, however, it is important to remember that there are many other kinds of refugees besides Burmese refugees. While at the center I tried to treat all people equally, or at least if favoritism was given then to show it to people who had helped me out, and not by nationality.

As for the postings, some weeks I've succeeded in my goals, other weeks I have not.

This week I return again to the subject of what to do with toys and offered donations of toys in a refugee center.

When I was hired to run the furniture program at the local refugee center, I was literally thrown into the job without a word of explanation or instruction. Although the manager had told me to meet with her at 1:00pm on my first day, when I arrived she announced she was busy and could not meet me. I waited an hour, then found another important person and asked if he thought it would be a good idea for me to start trying to straighten out the back store room where furniture and other material goods were kept. This was in October and he said that no one had bothered to really try to do that since the summer. Apparently during the summer one of the unpaid interns had taken it upon herself to keep the storeroom clean but after she'd left, at the end of her internship, people had let it fall into chaos again.

So I began trying to make sense of the chaotic pile of stuff that was the refugee furniture supplies, the refugee office supplies, boxes of refugee records, the refugee kitchen supplies and the other miscellaneous odds and ends that had been acquired and allowed to accumulate over the past year and a half. I did this for three hours at which point the manager finally found time to meet with me. She then spent five minutes basically telling me that it was good that I had done whatever I had been doing and that I should find ways to get furniture. She also said that if I had any concerns or ideas she'd be glad to discuss them later. (However, like most of her commitments, this was a lie. Most attempts at communication were treated with the same respect as our first meeting.)

Among the things I discovered were piles and bags of toys. As stated in the last post on furniture, although many people like to give toys to the refugee center, a refugee center is legally required to follow guidelines provided by the State Department. These guidelines specify that all refugees be given some material goods, goods such as a small selection of furniture taken from a list, but there is no requirement that the center give out toys.

We had too many it turned out and the problem was made worse when I accepted more before I learned to do my job right.

Therefore, odd as it may seem, I will now discuss how to get rid of excess toys. There are times when one must clean out excessive things from the store room in order to make way for the things that are needed.

Here's some ways to get rid of toys:

1. Toss them in the garbage. (Of course, if you have a large quantity then you need a special trash bin like an industrial size dumpster. Our landlord, in an attempt to get the center to stop abusing his facilities and keep their commitments to him, had, interestingly enough, prohibited the center from using his industrial trash dumpster which lay behind the building. This is another story which I will share another day.) Therefore tossing them out in quantities of more than a bag at a time was not possible. Besides throwing away useful things eats at my sense of Yankee frugality and I hate to do it. There's some things that cannot be disposed of in a normal manner. For instance someone somewhere had once accepted a four foot cubed children's playhouse with a little slide on the side. It was pretty sturdy and made of solid plastic but for whatever reason it just never seemed like something worth giving away at any given time. What I found really kind of funny was when one Burmese Chin woman referred to it as a "duck house," assuming that it was for raising ducks. And before one asks, no she did not have a suitable place or lifestyle to begin raising ducks.

2. Give them away. This took research. Should you have unopened good toys then you may give them to the Toys for Tots program. This is the toy drive that the US Marine Corp Reserve holds each year. However, they will not take any toys that are already opened or used.

Other organizations will take working second hand toys, including the Salvation Army, Goodwill and others. Ask around. Of course, this requires networking. Networking is a good thing (although if your boss is incompetent it might make her nervous when she sees you are discussing who knows what with outside agencies.)

3. Broken toys, I learned, are taken by the Albany Police Athletic League who will do their best to fix them up and find them a good home. Now, interestingly enough, I learned this from, of all people, the local Regional Food Bank. How does the food bank know this? The food bank is an amazing institution that deals with much, much more than food. Among their many agreements and arrangements is a regional agreement with Wal-Mart corporation. When people return something to Wal-Mart and the item looks usable but not able to be reshelved, then Wal-Mart gives the item to the regional food bank who then have volunteers give it a look over. If, for instance, Wal-Mart should give them two sets of identical toys that are missing different parts but can be combined to form one useable toy, then the food bank will give it to the Police Athletic League. The Police Athletic Leaque will then do the mixing and matching. (I was amazed when I learned this! Truth be told I learned it long after I left the center while volunteering one day with the Cornell alumni group at the food bank. I'd been trying to figure out for months what was the best use for broken toys.)

4. If you wish you may hold an event and give them away there. Once in a great while the center would hold special events, like a Halloween party for refugee kids. You can use them there. (Should anyone ask the Halloween party was put together by a dedicated volunteer who did much more than could reasonably be expected from her in many vital areas. Therefore when she wanted to also organize a Halloween party and was willing to put together all the work by herself, no one could possibly say no. In fact, the only criticism I have of her Halloween party is that she did not give away enough toys. In fact, she said she could not find several bags of them. --things like the bag of three inch tall GI Joe action figures with no hats or guns, but clean and washed, or McDonalds happy meal prizes, little plastic cars, etc. We had bags of this kind of stuff and no real idea of what to do with it.)

So that's a bit about what to do with toys that accumulate in the refugee center. There's more that can be said on the subject, and I'll do my best to say it later. Meanwhile feel free to ask questions if you'd like through the comment section.


Peking Man cave (Zhoukoudian) may crumble.

As mentioned, I am a writer. I write. Sometimes more than I should. And it's probably deeply significant that most of the subjects covered on this blog have nothing to do with the subject of the book I am now working on. My MA Thesis was on the subject of the international discussions that went on behind the scenes and enabled the finding of the first Peking Man bones. Peking Man was an early hominid, a variety of homo erectus, whose remains were first discovered near Beijing in the late 1920s. It's an interesting story with many interesting people and events, and therefore I'm using the thesis as the basis for a non-fiction work aimed at a popular audience on the history of the Peking Man digs.

Today this was shared on the East Asia Paleontology Yahoo group.

A couple points jumped out at me. First the article, which comes from Xinhua, the official Chinese press, uses the term "Peking Man" consistently. A few years ago, they were trying to rename "Peking Man" as "Beijing Man" so it's interesting that they don't do so here.

Secondly, they state."Chinese archaeologist Pei Wenzhong found the first complete skull at the site in December 1929, together with a large number of stone tools and evidence of fire use by humans."

Although it's true that Pei found the first complete skull, they neglect to mention that this was not the first evidence of Peking Man nor that he was working as part of a foreign-led team. The part about the tools and evidence of fire is highly controversial at best.

In other words, there is the usual traces of Chinese propaganda mixed into the article.

Oh well, as mentioned in a previous post, I am currently enrolled in an education program. I am finding the occasional side-trips into trite multi-culturalist, anti-White propaganda difficult to swallow. This is terribly ironic, as although I am proud of my ancestry, a quick check at such things as my cell-phone records, my facebook friends, my e-mail account or my personal history will reveal that I spend at least as much time around non-Whites as Whites. So what's the problem? Probably too much exposure to bubble headed liberals and ethnocentric Chinese. That's one of the great things about dealing with the Chinese. They are among the most ethnocentric people on Earth and even when they try to behave in a culturally accomodating manner they still somehow manage to come across as condescending. (For instance, look at almost any Chinese major event and you will see a contingent of minority non-Han people dressed in their "traditional" dress. This traditional costume was chosen for them by Han Chinese propagandists.) Simililarly the American multi-culturalists somehow seem to assume that should they encourage minorities to adhere to non-Western cultural traits, they will somehow naturally drift towards thinking like American liberals, only with different snacks and dances.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Uighur and Xinjiang unrest

Look at this map. It's a map of China, right? More specifically it's a map of China during the warlord/ Republic of China era. See Xinjiang? Yes, Xinjiang. That obscure place where the Uighurs live, the place that's been in the news lately. It's up to the northwest on the map, far from the area where the Chinese political events described on the map, the important events of the era, took place. In fact, from a glance at the map one would suspect that Xinjiang is not part of China at all. And if you did, you'd probably be in agreement with most of the people who lived there during the period of history described on the map.

The world, quite frankly, is a mess. It can get depressing. And, all you can do, in my opinion, is pick a cause here and there and work towards making it better.

But be forewarned, when you do, or even if you don't, then someone will bombard you with other causes and new problems.

For the last week or so I 've been bombarded with news of the Uighurs in Xinjiang and the unrest and discontent they express towards the Chinese government. No surprise there. Culturally the Uighurs, a central Asian Muslim people, have nothing in common with the Han Chinese majority. It is only an accident of history that made their homeland part of China. Furthermore, the Chinese have for decades been engaging in a systematic program to reduce Uighur influence in their homeland and more solidly integrate Xinjiang into China, its economy and its society. As part of this program, they have encouraged Han Chinese emigration to Xinjiang, and thereby consciously set out to make the Uighurs a minority in their own homeland.

It's not a nice thing to do. And it's understandably that the Uighurs react. (Just as they have over the centuries.There was a widespread uprising in this region in the 1880s, although in much of the early half of the twentieth century the area was independent. On, again, off-again, membership in the nation of China, with this being part of the result.)

And why mention it here? Well, it ties in nicely with my posts about Burma from a couple months ago. If one looks at the map of Burma and Southeast Asia one will see that in the eighteenth century Burma and its neighbors had no borders. Instead it had a civilization and the influence of the civilization faded away the farther one got from the center and the farther out into the so-called "wilderness" you traveled. China's the same way. And Xinjiang, until the 1940s or so, was on the far fringe of its influence, an area that was sometimes in and sometimes out of the Chinese nation's sphere of influence. Again, just as in Burma, we have the same pattern of trying to rectify a modern border with a historical lack of a border and violence erupting on the area in the fringes.

Patterns repeat. Conditions vary. People get stuck in the middle. Its the way of the world.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Reason magazine: Immigration reduces crime.

This comes from Reason magazine, a Libertarian news and views. I'm not sure whether or not I agree with it, but considered it worth sharing. It's an interesting point of view and clearly there are many counter claims floating around the web as well.

The El Paso Miracle

How can a comparatively poor, high-immigration town that sits across the border from super-violent Ciudad Juarez be one of the safest big cities in America?

By conventional wisdom, El Paso, Texas should be one of the scariest cities in America. In 2007, the city's poverty rate was a shade over 27 percent, more than twice the national average. Median household income was $35,600, well below the national average of $48,000. El Paso is three-quarters Hispanic, and more than a quarter of its residents are foreign-born. Given that it's nearly impossible for low-skilled immigrants to work in the United States legitimately, it's safe to say that a significant percentage of El Paso's foreign-born population is living here illegally.

El Paso also has some of the laxer gun control policies of any non-Texan big city in the country, mostly due to gun-friendly state law. And famously, El Paso sits just over the Rio Grande from one of the most violent cities in the western hemisphere, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, home to a staggering 2,500 homicides in the last 18 months alone. A city of illegal immigrants with easy access to guns, just across the river from a metropolis ripped apart by brutal drug war violence. Should be a bloodbath, right?

Here's the surprise: There were just 18 murders in El Paso last year, in a city of 736,000 people. To compare, Baltimore, with 637,000 residents, had 234 killings. In fact, since the beginning of 2008, there were nearly as many El Pasoans murdered while visiting Juarez (20) than there were murdered in their home town (23).

El Paso is among the safest big cities in America. For the better part of the last decade, only Honolulu has had a lower violent crime rate (El Paso slipped to third last year, behind New York). Men's Health magazine recently ranked El Paso the second "happiest" city in America, right after Laredo, Texas—another border town, where the Hispanic population is approaching 95 percent.

So how has this city of poor immigrants become such an anomaly? Actually, it may not be an anomaly at all. Many criminologists say El Paso isn't safe despite its high proportion of immigrants, it's safe because of them.

"If you want to find a safe city, first determine the size of the immigrant population," says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. "If the immigrant community represents a large proportion of the population, you're likely in one of the country's safer cities. San Diego, Laredo, El Paso—these cities are teeming with immigrants, and they're some of the safest places in the country."

If you regularly listen to talk radio, or get your crime news from anti-immigration pundits, all of this may come as a surprise. But it's not to many of those who study crime for a living. As the national immigration debate heated up in 2007, dozens of academics who specialize in the issue sent a letter (pdf) to then President George W. Bush and congressional leaders with the following point:

Numerous studies by independent researchers and government commissions over the past 100 years repeatedly and consistently have found that, in fact, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or to be behind bars than are the native-born. This is true for the nation as a whole, as well as for cities with large immigrant populations such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Miami, and cities along the U.S.-Mexico border such as San Diego and El Paso.

One of the signatories was Rubén G. Rumbaut, a sociologist who studies immigration at the University of California, Irvine. Rumbaut recently presented a paper on immigration and crime to a Washington, D.C. conference sponsored by the Police Foundation. Rumbaut writes via email, "The evidence points overwhelmingly to the same conclusion: Rates of crime and conviction for undocumented immigrants are far below those for the native born, and that is especially the case for violent crimes, including murder."

Opponents of illegal immigration usually do little more than cite andecdotes attempting to link illegal immigration to violent crime. When they do try to use statistics, they come up short. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), for example, has perpetuated the popular myth that illegal immigrants murder 12 Americans per day, and kill another 13 by driving drunk. King says his figures come from a Government Accountability Office study he requested, which found that about 27 percent of inmates in the federal prison system are non-citizens. Colorado Media Matters looked into King's claim, and found his methodology lacking. King appears to have conjured his talking point by simply multiplying the annual number of murders and DWI fatalities in America by 27 percent. Of course, the GAO report only looked at federal prisons, not the state prisons and local jails where most convicted murderers and DWI offenders are kept. The Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the number of non-citizens (including legal immigrants) in state, local, and federal prisons and jails at about 6.4 percent (pdf). Of course, even that doesn't mean that non-citizens account for 6.4 percent of murders and DWI fatalities, only 6.4 percent of the overall inmate population.

What's happening with Latinos is true of most immigrant groups throughout U.S. history. "Overall, immigrants have a stake in this country, and they recognize it," Northeastern University's Levin says. "They're really an exceptional sort of American. They come here having left their family and friends back home. They come at some cost to themselves in terms of security and social relationships. They are extremely success-oriented, and adjust very well to the competitive circumstances in the United States." Economists Kristin Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl argue that the very process of migration tends to select for people with a low potential for criminality.

Despite the high profile of polemicists such as Lou Dobbs and Michael Savage, America has been mostly welcoming to this latest immigration wave. You don't see "Latinos Need Not Apply" or "No Mexicans" signs posted on public buildings the way you did with the Italians and the Irish, two groups who actually were disproportionately likely to turn to crime. The implication makes sense: An immigrant group's propensity for criminality may be partly determined by how they're received in their new country.

"Look at Arab-Americans in the Midwest, especially in the Detroit area," Levin says. "The U.S. and Canada have traditionally been very willing to welcome and integrate them. They're a success story, with high average incomes and very little crime. That's not the case in Europe. Countries like France and Germany are openly hostile to Arabs. They marginalize them. And they've seen waves of crime and rioting."

El Paso may be a concentrated affirmation of that theory. In 2007 the Washington Post reported on city leaders' wariness of anti-immigration policies coming out of Washington. The city went to court (and lost) in an effort to prevent construction of the border fence within its boundaries, and local officials have resisted federal efforts to enlist local police for immigration enforcement, arguing that it would make illegals less likely to cooperate with police. "Most people in Washington really don't understand life on the border," El Paso Mayor John Cook told the Post. "They don't understand our philosophy here that the border joins us together, it doesn't separate us."

Other mayors could learn something from Cook. El Paso's embrace of its immigrants might be a big reason why the low-income border town has remained one of the safest places in the country.

Radley Balko is a senior editor of Reason magazine.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Burmese Water Festival, Rensselaer, New York.

The Burmese water festival was held in Rensselaer, New York, on the eastern bank of the Hudson across from Albany. I attended, as did countless other folks, some from as far away as Utica, Staten Island and New Jersey. Perhaps equally significant is that other local Burmese were excited enough to offer me an invitation even if they themselves could not attend.

Here's a few photos of the event. Commentary comes from my friend and former WRPI DJ, the Reverend Timothy Lake, Reverend of Asatru and Leader of the Schenectady Pagan Cluster. He's also a former refugee center furniture van volunteer who put in time slogging heavy tables through mud and rain in order to do his best to see that newly arrived refugees had a place to eat their lunch. (Interestingly, the center seems to have lost his address. This was a couple months before they publicly announced a volunteer shortage, by the way.) I found his comments extremely interesting as he approached the entire matter from a completely different angle than I did.

Essentially the invitations I received were to the effect of "Come to the festival!" "It will be fun!" or even one stating that I had to at least make an appearance for a few minutes or peoples feelings would badly hurt. No one actually offered me any rationale for the event aside from stating that it was extremely important

Tim, who was once described in a quote that ran in the Daily Gazette in Schenectady as "a walking encyclopedia of mythology," decided to do a little bit of research and get to the fundamental meaning of the event. So, what I had been told would be a day to "watch people splash each other and be silly while little girls put on a folk dancing show" was actually something of greater meaning.

"The idea of the pool is to have a water purification of all acts done in the previous year and once done your name is entered into a book of deeds in the heavens. The children got very wet. The adults respectfully dribbled themselves with water over the head."
-Timothy Lake

"This man told the story of the Water Festival in Burmese about how the head of Ganesha was moved from one princess to another every year. It is said that the head will boil the waters if cast in the sea, burn the land if laid on the earth and kill all life if placed in the sky. The sharing of the head of the Brahmin Lord with the rulers of the land binds the families of the Brahmin caste to the Hindu Gods."
--Timothy Lake

Dancing girls

Much time was put in preparing for this event, including children
practicing the dances and adults sewing the costumes.

A (large) transvestite performer.

"One part of the Burmese are ruled by the Caste system which says that transgendered folks are untouchables. There is another part of the people that are not run by the caste system but rather a family/clan system which venerates the multigendered. This is considered to be the manifestation of the ganesha spirit with the princess of the year and provides a blessing of fertility and purity to the community."
--Timothy Lake

[My note: The water festival is of Hindu origin but has since been secularized and is enjoyed by virtually all Burmese including Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims, all of whom were in attendance. I suspect that Tim has overstated the importance of the Hindu caste system in Burmese society today. No matter. This is not a thesis or a dissertation. It's a discussion, an attempt to work towards understanding and his statements make an interesting starting point. The transvestite performer surprised me and I doubt if it meant terribly much to those present, aside from simply being something silly. (Of course, something can both be of tremendous underlying theological significance and still be silly to the majority. For instance, think of the Easter bunny or Halloween Jack-o-lanterns and their underlying deep symbolism and importance in the European pagan traditions, for instance. What I'll also say is that in my experience on the rare occasions when the topic of homosexuality does come up with Burmese refugees of various backgrounds, transgendered people are included in the category of "Gay."]

Resources for working with Burmese refugees -A New Source!

As stated, sometime ago I began volunteering with Burmese refugees as an English teacher and was then hired to run the local center's furniture program. As also stated the local center often seemed to be poorly managed. This perhaps was, in part, because internal communication and cooperation may have been lacking. Meanwhile, some people perhaps seemd to not know how to do their jobs. These people seemed to not know where to ask for help or have the courage to do so, instead preferring, perhaps, to see other employees and refugees suffer. And the national organization sometimes had odd policies that made things unnecessarily difficult. This resulted in an awkward sort of negative synergy where nothing was able to be done on schedule and everyone worked unpaid overtime. Meanwhile the office and the lives of the refugees were often in chaos.

One aspect of this atmosphere was that no one seemed to value or share outside resources. Even experienced employees often knew next to nothing about the cultures of the refugees. (i.e. they often assumed the Karen were Buddhists as they were Asian.) I did not know of anyone, for instance, (aside from me) who had even thought of bringing in a copy of the Lonely Planet Burmese Language Phrasebook.

Nevertheless, should you choose to voluntarily enter the field of housing, caring and helping newly arrived refugees, there are many resources out there that will help if only you have the awareness to look for them. If you use them, and use them wisely, your life will be easier as will the lives of the people who you have chosen voluntarily to offer assistance to.

Here's a long list of some resources that appear good.

This comes from, a website run by an organization called Bridging Refugee Youth and Children's Services. Although I am not familiar with the organization, nor with the resources below, they sure look good and I intend to spend time looking them and their site over. Quite frankly, I expect to learn a lot from it and by following the links. And, as people who know me know, I like to learn new things.

For a complete PDF download with working links click here:

For Resettlement Staff and Other Service Providers

Ager, Simon. Myanmar/Burmese Script.

Burmese phrases.

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (2006). Refugee Admissions Program for
East Asia. Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: Author.

Center for Applied Linguistics (2004). Welcome to the United States: A Guidebook for
Refugees. Available in Karen.
Each resettlement agency receives a certain number of booklets/videos for free;
others can be purchased online at
Center for Applied Linguistics. (2007). Refugees from Burma: Their Backgrounds and
Refugee Experiences.

Cetana Educational Foundation Dictionary.
Available in English/Myanmar/Karen (2005). and Kachin (2006). Shan will be
printed in 2008.

Commonwealth of Australia. (2006). Burmese Community Profile.
This resource is available free in PDF format at:

Cultural Orientation Resource Center (2007). Refugees from Burma in Thailand and
This resource is available free in PDF format at:

Drum Publications. This is a small independent community based organization
dedicated to promoting education and preserving the cultures of the peoples of Burma.
They have many materials in Karen and other languages.

Ethnologue. Languages of Myanmar.
BRYCS – Bridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services
April 2007; Updated October 2008
Burmese Refugees, Page 1.
International Rescue Committee. (2006). Refugee Children and Youth Backgrounders.
This resources is designed for teachers and is available in PDF format at :

Orapin, Banjong; Menefee, Andrea; Sranacharoenpong, Kitti; Chittchang, Uraiporn; Eg-
kantrong, Pasamai; Boonpraderm, Atitada; &Tamachotipong, Sopa. (2003). Dietary
assessment of refugees living in camps: A case study of Mae La Camp, Thailand. Food
and Nutrition Bulletin, 24(4), 360-388.
This resource is available free in PDF format at :

Kemp, Charles. (Retrieved May, 2006). Refugee Health. Immigrant Health Website:
Burmese Health Beliefs & Practices: Kemp.
This resource is available free in HTML format on the Web at:

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2006). UNHCR Quick Fact Sheet:
Burmese Resettlement from Thailand.
This resource is available free in PDF format at :

University of London, School of Oriental and African Affairs. Burmese Language Study
Children & Youth
BRYCS. (2006). BRYCS Parenting Conversations: Klee Thoo, a Burmese Karen
This resource is available at:

Human Rights Education Institute of Burma. (2006). Despite Promises: Child Soldiers
in Burma’s SPDC Armed Forces.
This resource is available free in PDF format at:

Human Rights Watch. (2002). My Gun Was as Tall as Me.
This resource is available free in PDF format at:

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. (2003). Growing Up Under the
Burmese Dictatorship.
This resource is available free in PDF format at:

Myanmar Government (1998). Myanmar Family: Traditional Child-rearing and
Socialization. Myanmar Perspectives: Myanmar: Author.
This resource is available in HTML format on the Web at:
BRYCS – Bridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services
April 2007; Updated October 2008
Burmese Refugees, Page 2.

Refugees International (2004). Stolen Futures: The Stateless Children of Burmese
Asylum Seekers.
This resource is available free in HTML format on the Web at:

State Law and Order Restoration Council (1995). Child Report to the Committee on the
Rights of the Child. State Law and Order Restoration Council: Myanmar: Author. This
includes sections on child rearing practices, parental responsibilities, and more.
This resource is available in HTML format on the Web at:

Lwin, Thein. (2006). Education in Burma: Hope for the Future.
This resource is available free in PDF format at:
Lwin, Thein. (2001). Children’s Opportunity to Learn in the Ethnic Nationality Areas in
These resources in available free in PDF format at:

Teacher Training Center for Burmese Teachers and Migrant Learning Center.
This Web site can provide you with an overview of the quality of education in
refugee camps in Thailand and remote areas of Burma.

UNESCO Bangkok (Retrieved June, 2006). Myanmar. UNESCO Website: Bangkok:
This resource is available in HTML format on the Web at:


Delaney, Stephanie (2006). Protecting Children from Sexual Exploitation & Sexual
Violence in Disaster & Emergency Situations. ECPAT International: Bangkok, Thailand:
This resource is available in PDF format on the Web at:

U.S. Department of State (2005). Trafficking in Persons Report. U.S. Department of
State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons: Washington, DC: Author.
This resource is available in HTML format on the Web at:
BRYCS – Bridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services
April 2007; Updated October 2008
Burmese Refugees, Page 3.
United Nations Children's Fund (2004). A Child-Rights Approach on International
Migration and Child Trafficking: A UNICEF Perspective. Third Coordination Meeting on
International Migration, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs:
New York: Author.
This resource is available in PDF format on the Web at:

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2006). Trafficking in Persons: Global
Patterns. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: Vienna, Austria: Author.
This resource is available in PDF format on the Web at:
University of Rhode Island (Retrieved June, 2006). Fact Book on Global Sexual
Exploitation: Burma/Myanmar. University of Rhode Island Website, Kingston, Rhode
Island: Author.
This resource is available in HTML format on the Web at:
Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children (2006). Abuse without End:
Burmese Refugee Women and Children at Risk of Trafficking. Women’s Commission for
Refugee Women and Children: New York, New York: Author.
This resource is available in PDF format on the Web at:

General Information on the Conflict & Migration to Thailand

Bacon, Ken; Vaghedi, Ghazal (2004). Tham Hin: Resettlement as a Durable Solution for
Burmese Refugees. RI Bulletin.
This resource is available free in PDF format on the Web at:

Bamforth, Vicky; Lanjouw, Steven and Mortimer, Graham (2000). Conflict and
Displacement in Karenni: The Need for Considered Responses. Burma Ethnic Research
Group (BERG), Chang Mai: Thailand: Authors.
This resource is available free in HTML format on the Web at:

Burma Ethnic Research Group; Friedrich Naumann Foundation (1998). Forgotten
Victims of a Hidden War: Internally Displaced Karen in Burma. Burma Ethnic Research
Group: Bangkok, Thailand: Author.
This resource is available in PDF format on the Web at:

Caouette, Therese M.; Pack, Mary E. (2002). Pushing Past the Definitions: Migration
from Burma to Thailand. Refugees International. Washington DC: Authors.
This resource is available free in PDF format on the Web at:
and in HTML format at:
BRYCS – Bridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services
April 2007; Updated October 2008
Burmese Refugees, Page 4.
da Costa, Rosa (2006). Administration of Justice in Refugee Camps: A Study of
Practice. Geneva, Switzerland: Department of International Protection, United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees.
This resource is available free in PDF format on the Web at:

Demusz, Kerry (1998). From Relief to Development: Negotiating the Continuum on the
Thai-Burmese Border. Journal of Refugee Studies Volume 11, Issue 3: Oxford, UK:
This resource is available free in PDF format on the Web at:

Dudley, Sandra (1999). ‘Traditional’ Culture and Refugee Welfare in North-West
Thailand. Refugee Studies Centre with the Norwegian Refugee Council/Global IDP
Project: Oxford, UK: Dudley.
This resource is available free in PDF format on the Web at:

Human Rights Watch. Current reports on the situation in Burma.

Human Rights Watch, Asia Division (1998). Unwanted and Unprotected: Burmese
Refugees in Thailand
This resource is available free in HTML format on the Web at:

International Commission of Jurists (1992). Refugees From Myanmar. International
Commission of Jurists: Geneva, Switzerland: Author.
This resource is available in PDF format on the Web at:

Ibiblio (a collaboration of the Center for the Public Domain and the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill). Online Burma/Myanmar Library.
This is a searchable database of over 11,000 full text documents on Burma.

Lang, Hazel (2001). The Repatriation Predicament of Burmese Refugees in Thailand: A
Preliminary Analysis. Australian National University: Canberra, Australia: Lang.
This resource is available free in PDF format on the Web at:

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB) (2005). A Shady Tree: Hope
for Vulnerable Refugees in Malaysia and Thailand. Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC:
This resource is available free in PDF format on the Web at:
BRYCS – Bridging Refugee Youth & Children’s Services
April 2007; Updated October 2008
Burmese Refugees, Page 5.

U2 and Bono speak out for Aung San Suu Kyi

Politics is a complex game and the world is not a simple place. Therefore, I have made a point of not spending much time discussing Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner, daughter of assassinated Burmese national hero Aung San, and outspoken Burmese dissident. Whatever I say, good, bad or indifferent, will be based on quick impressions and an essentially superficial level of knowledge and I fear that whoever gets control of Burma next will find themselves facing a very difficult task with few resources and reliable institutions available for assistance. Nevertheless, few deny that the current government is quite bad and that Democracy for Burma would be a good thing. Therefore I applaud Bono and U2 for, once again, showing their commitment to social justice by taking this action.

(Someday I'll have to write about the time someone borrowed my I.D. to go see U2 at J.B. Scott's in Albany back before anyone had a clue as to who they were. But, alas, that story will have to wait for a different day.)

U2 asks fans to support Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi

1 day ago (July 4, 2009)

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — As U2 kicks off its world tour, the Irish rockers are turning a spotlight on Myanmar's jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

On its Web site and on stage, U2 is asking fans to wear a Suu Kyi mask in support of the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner.

"Wear it to work or college. Wear it on the bus or the train. Wear it in the pub or at shops. And don't forget. Bring it to a U2 show," the band says on its official Web site.

A mask of Suu Kyi's smiling face can be downloaded and printed from and appears inside the program for the band's "360 degree" tour, which opened earlier this week in Barcelona.

Lead singer Bono paid tribute to Suu Kyi at a packed Barcelona stadium Tuesday night when he introduced U2's 2000 single, "Walk On," which was written for her.

"This next song is dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma," Bono told the crowd, according to a statement received Friday from the Burma Campaign UK. The London-based human rights group helped coordinate a recent campaign that groups celebrities, musicians and dignitaries calling for Suu Kyi's release.

"Let's send her a message of love and support. Let us stand with her ... Put on your masks," Bono said, according to the statement, which said thousands in the audience were wearing or holding the masks.

Suu Kyi's opposition party, the National League for Democracy, won Myanmar's last elections in 1990, but the ruling generals refused to hand over power. She has been under house arrest for nearly 14 of the past 20 years.

In May, Suu Kyi was arrested on charges of violating her house arrest in a case that has been globally criticized as a pretext to keep her behind bars. She faces five years in prison if convicted.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Karen refugee adjustment problems

[Note from 10-26-09: For some reason this article gets a lot of hits. It is not and was never intended to answer every detail of how Karen adjust to life in America or other Western developed nations. It was intended to satisfy a homework assignment in an education class where I had to discuss a cultural difference in an educational context. Should you wish to know more about refugee adjustment please follow the tags below to find similar articles. If you still can't find what you want, feel free to e-mail me and I will consider taking a stab at answering questions.]

I recently enrolled in a program to obtain teacher certification. This, naturally, involves taking education courses. At times, this involves listening to lectures and doing homework from various angles to address issues of multi-culturalism. For someone like myself, this can be interesting or at times it can be hell, for instance when the teachers assign papers that clearly show the authors don't have an f-ing clue about multiculturalism and suffer from that common conceit that if given enough exposure all people everywhere will inevitably behave like good-hearted, suburban liberal do-gooders. Only with different snacks and dances. Oh how little they know and how much they have to learn about life.

This is an excerpt from my recent homework assignment.:

The author says, “Failure to understand the cultural context of any given situation may escalate the behavior.” What does this mean?

In this case, I agree with the authors. But I think it's important to also state that the purpose in understanding the cultural context of a problem situation is to assist in correcting it, not in excusing it.

Let's take an example, again from my experiences with Burmese refugees.

Sometime ago I offered a group of three Burmese refugees, all members of the Karen ethnic group, a hill tribe that lives in Eastern Burma and Western Thailand, a ride to Troy in my car so that we could participate together in an activity. One sat in the front passenger seat next to me and the two others sat in the backseat behind me. Upon arrival, one of them, a 20 year old man who been in the USA for only a few months and during that time had helped me a great deal with the labor required for one of my projects to assist refugees [Note: he helped me a lot with the furniture van at the refugee center. Great guy.], held up a tin of breath mints that had been in my carry bag, showed them to me and asked, in heavily accented English, “Hey Peter, what are these?” I explained that they were breath mints, a type of candy, and offered him and his companions one if they wished to try. What was stranger was the realization that he had been digging through my handbag inspecting my belongings as I drove without my knowledge or permission. This is not acceptable behavior in American society. However it is in traditional Navajo society. [Note: I spent ninth grade among Navajos.] And furthermore I was able to logically deduce that if the person who had been digging through my bag had had a malicious intent, my breath mints would have been secreted into his pockets, taken as loot, rather than displayed to me with innocent questions as to what they were. And I'd always trusted the person in question (except when he's bragging about his many, many girlfriends –I decided long ago that his definition of a “girlfriend” is pretty much any appropriately aged female who enjoys talking to him, and, of these, he has many which is as it should be because he's a great guy and very likable). Therefore I decided what was within my cultural framework a violation of privacy was within his cultural framework merely an act of innocent curiosity and let it slide.

If this act had happened in a school setting, and the person in question does dream of someday attending college in America, then punishment would have served no purpose as the person who committed the societally unacceptable act was not familiar with the behavioral norms of mainstream American society. Instead, a better way to correct the situation would have been to express it in terms of cultural differences. My experience with Karen people is that although they are in many ways a bit unsophisticated, their experiences as minorities in both Thailand and Burma, as well as time in ethnically diverse refugee camps, have taught them very clearly that different cultures follow different norms of behavior. Therefore they respond well to explanations of this type.

To offer a second example, using a different young Karen person, this person had a pair of problems where he would call me and solicit my assistance and advice. I found this very frustrating as the problems followed the same pattern and both calls came at about eight P.M..

“Hey Peter, I have a problem.”

“What is it?”

“Tomorrow at 10:00a.m., I have two appointments scheduled for the same time. What do I do?”

In one case, it was actually three places he was supposed to be at the same time. People who were authority figures in his life had come to him and asked him to be someplace at the same time as a different authority figure. Having no idea how to deal with the situation, he had told them all yes and then tried to straighten out the situation the evening before when none of the authority figures could be reached. Uncertain as to how this could be done he had called me. This was a very frustrating situation for both he and me as there was no easy way to deal with it, but the key response is to first, metaphorically put out fires and reduce the amount of damage that will happen, and then work to prevent it from repeating. After the second time, a few repeated plaintive whinings by me of “didn't I tell you that you have to remember you can't be in two places at the same time?” a more logical, systematic approach to correcting the situation had to be undertaken. Therefore I got ahold of an inexpensive appointment book, gave it to him, and showed him step by step that if he had an appointment he should write it in his appointment book and then if he had a second appointment at the same time he should, immediately or as soon as possible, decide which one was the most important and then call and reschedule or cancel the other one. This, interestingly enough, fits within his cultural framework as Karen kids, even in refugee camps, are raised on pirated Hong Kong movies and this resembles something a successful, highly important Chinese businessman in the Hong Kong films might do. He is, in fact, quite proud of his appointment book and found the lesson quite useful and has mentioned it to me more than once.

Most recently arrived Karen, as well as many other ethnic groups, could easily demonstrate trouble meeting appointments. The key to preventing this is to stress the importance of appointments and also educate on what to do when two people wish you to be in the same place at the same time.