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Three years of progress in lives of Burmese immigrants

Thu, Aug 11, 2011

By Mary Faith Hilboldt

Group of Burmese immigrants.

From never sleeping on anything but a bamboo mat to all the conveniences of America in the 21st century, the Burmese refugees have learned all things anew since their arrival four years ago.

And they’ve adopted beautifully to their new home.. The women call their plot of land at the Old Victory Garden at Western and Peterson, the “American farm,” proudly cultivating it for fresh green beans, peppers, onions, chilies, lettuce, and potatoes.

Rev. J.H. Heschle and his dog, Abydos.

“It’s been wonderful to watch the Burmese grow since they’ve arrived at St. Paul’s. It will be just as wonderful to see them become U.S. citizens, just as most of the “lost boys of Sudan” have since they arrived at the church.

“Angela, the first Burmese to be born here, is now four years old and running around trying to pet my dog.

“As priest of this church, it’s also been wonderful to share the love of Jesus Christ and God, and see them spread that love throughout the community.”

The Burmese themselves are a loving people, hugging those they know and greeting them warmly.

The teenagers, especially, are a refreshing change from some of their American-born cynical counterparts.

Extremely polite and appreciating every opportunity, these kids have made the most of every advantage that has been made available.

Sah Wah, the girl in the StreetWise story from 2008 also posted here, is now considering colleges
she’d like to attend. At this point, she is thinking of applying to De Paul University.

Sanay Ma with her science project and award

Sanay Ma, highlighted in the August 3 StreetWise cover story, won third place competing with 22 other high school students, after presenting her science project at the UIC finale of its Health, Science, and Enrichment Program July 26.

Moo Tin, also in the 2008 story, is doing so well in school that she did not need to attend summer school this year.

Moo Tin, July 2011 (little Burmese girl)

The boys, tutored by Celeste Kendall, another volunteer from St. Paul’s, have all improved and have done well in school.

But this progress does not exist in a vacuum. There are many more volunteers at St. Paul’s gladly giving their time, resources, and energy to try and procure for the Burmese whatever they need at that moment.

Schools have also played an integral part of this progress.

“Josephinum Academy has been the most helpful,” said Judith Gramer, director of ministry for the Burmese at St. Paul’s.

In fact, it was the Principal of Josephinum who suggested Sanay Ma apply for the UIC summer program. There was a fee involved, a caveat to be worked out, Gramer knew.

However, Gramer got on the phone to her numerously cultivated network, and raised the money for Sanay Ma to enter.

Proudly displaying her medal and trophy awards from UIC in front of her winning science project last Monday, Sanay Ma expressed her interest in microbiology and pathology.

“I like to see how they do it, I asked the doctors questions at UIC this summer and they always answered me and were very helpful,” said Sanay Ma.

Right now, she is considering which part of the medical field to join, and is currently considering surgery or dentistry.

Another woman highlighted in the August 3 cover story is De Na. When asked what else she would like in her new American life, she expressed her fond memories of fishing everyday as a little girl in Burma.
She, as well as Sanay Ma, thought Lake Michigan was the ocean when they first arrived in Chicago.

De Na grew up fishing in Burma with a bamboo pole and a worm, and would like to do the same in Chicago.

However, it is Gramer’s wish that someone would donate fishing rods and reels, so DeNa is able to learn the American version.

Sanay Ma, whose science project was on the acoustic neuroma nervous system diseases, was at first apprehensive about the project when Josephinum recommended her to UIC.

“I was stressed out at first, and didn’t know if I could do it. But Judith told me I could, and then got me tutors to help me. I was so interested in the topic, and I am so glad I entered,” said Sanay Ma.

Photos: Mary Faith Hilboldt

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