News / USA

Helping Refugees Ease into US Way of Life

Center promotes understanding to avoid cultural clashes

Phyu Phyu Aye teaches sewing and helps her students adapt to a new culture at the Refugee Resource Center.
Phyu Phyu Aye teaches sewing and helps her students adapt to a new culture at the Refugee Resource Center.

Multimedia

Audio
Erika Celeste

Fort Wayne, Indiana, deals with cultural obstacles every day.

The Midwestern city of 250,000 is not only home to the largest Burmese community in America, the U.S. State Department also uses it extensively as a resettlement site for refugees from around the world.

It's home to Bosians, Darfurians, and Hispanics, among other groups.

Melting pot

Minn Myint Nan Tin, with the Burmese Advocacy Center, or BAC, says keeping this melting pot from boiling over is a delicate balancing act.

Nyein Kyaoo helps his students learn computer skills as well as the differences between Burmese and US society.
Nyein Kyaoo helps his students learn computer skills as well as the differences between Burmese and US society.

"Sometimes people need to take time to adjust to a new place, a new culture, a new system," she says, but adds, "you can't excuse [inappropriate behavior] either. It doesn't matter if you're American or Burmese or Latin or African."

Nearly all refugees in the Fort Wayne area visit the Refugee Resource Center. BAC and 10 other organizations offer services and classes there, in everything from how to clean a home, to proper indoor plumbing etiquette, to employable skills. These are new concepts for people who may have lived in rural areas or refugee camps all their lives.

Job and people skills

Phyu Phyu Aye, a Burmese refugee who's lived in the United States for a decade, teaches sewing at the Center, but also advises her students on many cultural issues.

For example, she explains that it is important to look Americans in the eyes when speaking, as opposed to the Asian custom of looking at the ground.

In the adjoining room, students in a computer class overhear the cultural discussion and join in. Instructor Nyein Kyaoo says he also speaks about American culture in his class.

Immigrants attend an English language class at the Refugee Resource Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Immigrants attend an English language class at the Refugee Resource Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The different cultural norms were highlighted this past spring, when a public laundry facility in Fort Wayne posted a sign stating that Burmese customers were not welcome. The sign was prompted by an incident in which a few Burmese refugees doing their laundry there were chewing betel nuts, and repeatedly spat the blood red juice on the laundromat floor.

Connecting with first responders

Across town, the Multi-Cultural Council is taking another approach to reducing cultural misunderstandings.

MCC Director Irene Paxia grew up in Italy, and knows first-hand how language barriers can waste precious time in emergencies.

She recalls her immediate response after a recent car accident when she automatically dialed Italy's 118 distress code instead of America's 911. "Right away, I was brought back to reality, how things can be difficult for me as well."

To help reduce these barriers, MCC is working with Fort Wayne's police, fire, and ambulance services, who are first on the scene in emergencies. Council members go door-to-door, distributing special magnetic emergency cards to refugee and immigrant homes. In a crisis, first responders know to look for the card on the refrigerator, to learn the victim's language and other important information.

A large part of the council's job is also spending personal time in refugee neighborhoods. Because many immigrants are from countries where government authorities repress and persecute their own citizens, they're often afraid to report crimes in the U.S. Sometimes they're reluctant to take part in important training such as fire safety classes and child identification programs, which guard against abduction.

During their meetings, MCC staff members and volunteers discuss ways of cutting through those fears with police officers and firefighters.

A Fort Wayne laundromat reworded its sign to prohibit the action, rather than the people.
A Fort Wayne laundromat reworded its sign to prohibit the action, rather than the people.

Cultural understanding

MCC members are slowly making inroads.

In 2007, after a fire destroyed an apartment complex housing dozens of immigrant families, only one family accepted help from MCC. But in a similar incident this year, most of the families used its services.

And the laundromat incident was resolved through some of these programs, too. The company offered a public apology, donated funds for diversity training, and changed its sign to prohibit the action 'betel nut spitting,' instead of the people.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid