Monday, May 24, 2010

The Census and Burmese refugees

Just a quick note as to another sign of local inefficiency in the refugee center, recently the local office of the US census, noting the increasing Burmese population, began efforts to recruit a few bilingual Burmese/English speakers to assist local Burmese-speakers. The census has also prepared its forms in many languages, ranging from Navajo to Italian, and included Burmese in the mix. See

In fact, because of a personal contact, the census asked me to assist with finding people for the position and I made a call to the Burmese Buddhist Monastery in Rensselaer as well as to a Christian church attended by many refugees, and a few personal contacts. (although most English speak Burmese have full time jobs.)

In response, apparently USCRI-Albany did not notice these efforts, despite the fact that the census asked if they could place the bilingual Burmese-English speakers in their office as it is a place known to many refugees, or either did not consider it worth sharing with their volunteers or perhaps had no means to communicate openly and efficiently with their volunteers.

For whatever reason, its volunteers did not know of these efforts, and were used inefficiently once again. For proof see this recruiting pitch to find more volunteers.

From a USCRI-Albany volunteer recruitment pitch:


Local Volunteer Helps Refugees Become Active Members of Their New Community

Karenni refugee Lee Meh (right) named her daughter Debbie Meh (center) after USCRI Albany volunteer Debbie Taylor (left).

Every week, Debbie Taylor and her husband, Kevin, drive to downtown Albany to volunteer at the home of a newly arrived Karenni refugee family from Burma. But a recent visit did not consist of the usual reading session with the little ones, helping the school-age children with their homework, or teaching the parents about money and the banking system.

Instead, upon entering the family’s second-floor apartment on Grand Street, the Taylors were surprised to find a group of Burmese refugees, each carefully holding official-looking letters.

It did not take the two volunteers for the Albany Field Office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) long to recognize the forms in their hands: the 2010 U.S. Census. All too familiar to most Americans, the quick and easy census forms are anything but for the mostly non-English-speaking Burmese refugees. So the volunteer couple popped a squat on the floor and spent the next hour helping the refugees check the right boxes and correctly fill in blanks.

“We try to encourage all refugees to be involved in the census. They need to be counted,” said Debbie Taylor. “The Karenni group needs to be recognized as well.”

Last year, USCRI Albany helped resettle about 100 refugees from Burma, many of whom are members of the Karenni ethnic group. An additional 100 Burmese refugees will resettle in the area this year.

Read the full story:

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