Sam is a refugee from Burma. She’s forty years old, has an upbeat personality and a fantastic sense of humor. At the time of this interview, she had been here for three weeks. The first ten days she lived with Hollie and Jonathan and their three children until their apartment was ready for them. Sam and her family only know a few words in English so this interview was done with the help of a generous friend who translated.
"Ever since I was a child, maybe six years old, there was fighting every day around my home. The Burmese military, the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council), came into our village and would kill animals and steal things. We would run when they came and after we came back, everything would be destroyed. It happened many times.
I first escaped to Thailand when I was twenty six years old and my oldest daughter was just five years old. It took eight months to become legally recognized as a refugee. I would wait for my name to be called while I watched people leaving to be resettled. From becoming a refugee to actually being selected for resettlement took fourteen years."
"In the camps, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) gave us rice, salt, fish paste, charcoal, the basics-but no money. If you had no money you couldn’t buy anything beyond those few things. If you went outside the camp and the police caught you, they would send you back to Burma. When we lived as refugees we didn’t have the chance to work. We came here for my daughter’s future. There was no future there, we couldn’t go home.
I didn’t know anything about America before we came. I saw some pictures, but I had no idea what to expect. I have been here three weeks. I want to learn English but so far I can only write my name.
We came from a bamboo hut in the camp to a home like this. Everything, EVERYTHING has changed. I have to learn the simplest things but if I don’t understand it, I have no English to ask how to do it."
"I can do any kind of work they may find for me, even working with the beef, turkey, anything. I’ve heard from new friends that some people get a job right away, after a couple months. I am worried if I go straight to work that I won’t learn English. My husband has hearing loss and my daughter is young; I really want to learn English so I can speak and so I’ll be able to understand."
Advice to New Refugees
"If I could talk to a family who was coming, I would tell them to be happy, have hope, to learn English, and get a job. Maybe one day you can go back, but don’t be sad. Try to keep these things in your mind."
Maung & Sam
"We lived in the same village. He was older than me so I always saw him as more of an uncle, or an elder. But he would come visit my home and he told his sister he liked me. At that time I had a young daughter and been divorced already from a man who was my age. I thought maybe if I married a guy older than me, it’d be better than my first marriage.
He liked me. We didn’t have things like ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ or ‘I love you’. It just all happened quickly."
"I am Buddhist but I can also go to the Christian Church; I believe in only one God. When I lived in the refugee camp, I also went to Church and the Buddhist temple. The monk prayed and the pastor also prayed. And what you believe, it affects how you look at life."
Sam & Hollie
Hollie: "It started when I learned on the news about Syrian refugees. All the hardships I saw in the world that refugees were suffering, it's a lot for an American to understand. As Christians I really felt like the gospel of Christ is to welcome refugees to the United States and be their friends, and so I prayed for God to make a way and . . . you can tell her that." (Translator speaks to Sam.)
Sam: "God brought me here. Just like you said. You prayed for people who are refugees and then we came. I was very happy when I lived with you. We were like the same family. After we separated and I moved here, I was really sad. I wasn’t sure who was going to help me with these new things."