The local police and RELA keep extorting money from us instead of helping us. They tear up our UN identification papers, raid our house and do full body check on us to search for money. They take our money even if we are left with 50 cents. When will we be able to escape from their bullies and from losing our hard-earned money?
How long we have to stay here before UN can transport us to our permanent resident in US or Australia where we can really settle down? Some of us have waited for 5 years and some up to 10 years and there is still no news.
I can only work illegally when my boss calls me. Sometimes, it is only once, twice or none a week. If I do not have job, I cannot feed my wife and our kids. Will I have a job tomorrow or even next week?
Are my children and wife safe in our home country? I miss them so much but I know I cannot go back. The only way for us to be united is to bring them here. How do I find a big load of money to pay the agents to bring them here? Will they be able to escape from the army and survive the harsh journey to come here?
How does our future look like? When can we live without all these worries?
Every day, these kinds of thoughts haunt the group of 40 over Myanmar refugees who are staying in two small flat units at Jalan Imbi, at the capital centre in Malaysia. Their living condition is poor. They barely have enough fresh food and usually eat chicken bones with rice. Sickness visits them as regular as friends. Many of them, especially the women, lost few stones as both appetite and food quality deteriorates. For some men, their wives and children are thousands miles away and they live everyday with the risk of not able to see them ever again. For men with families, they fear they cannot provide for their wives and children. Hopes and dreams have deserted them for most of the times. Worries come like swarm of flies, uninvited and hard to drive away. Their everyday life is so uncertain and future holds no promise to them. It is like they have escaped from one hell, only to end up in another, so to speak.
Back in Myanmar, they were the oppressed group, whose half-century struggle for independence has made them particular targets of the military. Village raids, pillaging, murders, genocides, and rapes are not uncommon. Children are kidnapped and enlisted to the army, only to suffer beatings, starvation, brainwashing and being left to die. But leaving their home to come to Malaysia is not easy either. They went through painful struggles to adapt to the new environment where no one speaks their language except the few country fellowmen. And it is a point of no return because they will be shot to death if they go back. Even though they are lucky to be alive and away from the brutality in Myanmar, they are stripped of their total freedom in terms of their body, soul and spirit. It is like they have to go through failures and heartbreak almost every day, thinking but not knowing how their life would be. These scars of their emotional abuse run deep and wash away their feelings of self-worth.
Despite the harsh reality, they are not completely at lost. At the very least, I think they are blessed with 3 invaluable things:
- First, their faith in God and Christianity is strong. They pray with remarkable intensity.
- Second, there are at least some warm-hearted people who care about them -a group of generous Christians and a woman who has been looking after them for about 1 year now for 1 group and another group for few months. The woman is Madam Esther. She visits them twice a month and brings them rice, fresh vegetables, chickens, clothes, Vitamin C, medicine, games for the children- among other things. She teaches the women knitting and even buys them threads. When she learnt some have eyes infections, she bought eye drops and eye wash for them. She works hard to get enough funding to keep bringing these gifts to them. She sings with them, talks to all of them and encourage them to talk about things like what they are thankful for ("Thank you!" in Myanmar is "chei-zu tin-bar-te"), what they are feeling and what they hope for. She is even planning to bring all of them to the Zoo in this coming August. It will definitely be a fun day for all of them, especially the children.
I say, most of all, she brings them love and hope.
- So, the third blessing is also their love. Though they are deprived of many other things, they are not short of love to give. They love their families. They love and help each other.
I hear of James who is already in United States. As he has a steady job and a home, he provides shelter and food for his fellowships, those who cannot get a job yet. I hear of an uncle in US who help to sponsor tenth of thousands to enable his brother’s families to be united in Malaysia.
No wonder Esther says she is the one who is blessed in her visit and not the other way around.
Esther explains this crucial fact to me - the most important mission of their cares is to help the refugees to restore dignities in their life. It is not just about bringing them food, but to be there for them constantly so that they know they have people who care about them and can be relied on.
It is a gratifying experience for me to be able to join Esther on the visit on Sunday, 13 July to get to know the life of the Myanmar refugees in the 2 flat units. I find them to have very mild and relaxing manner, even the men. They are also very courteous. They pulled out the chairs for us to sit while they all sat on the floor of the tidy living room. They offered to carry everything for us, even our own handbags. The women are pretty and slim; some are a bit thin because of sickness or loss of appetite. The women speak no other language except Burmese, but the men, most can speak good Malays. They learn it while working for the local bosses – a testimonial of their strong wills, adaptabilities and brightness.
The kids are also very bright and active. There are 3 kids who perform wonderful songs and dancing for us. They understand English quite well because they learn it at the school – a service provided by the NGOs. Unfortunately, I cannot remember most of their names, except for a boy names Solomon and the girl, whose name sounds between “Tracy” & “Crazy”. I still cannot figure out her exact name even though I have asked her to repeat more than twice. There is a small kid who smiles very often and he looks very adorable in his red-striped shirt and little brown vest. And then there is a kid who is born with bandy legs, but he walks swiftly everywhere, obliviously carefree of any impediment. I learnt this from his father, Peter, who is a pastor and also our translator. Then, there is also a teenage kid who is deaf but so smart and observant that he instinctively showed us the ways when we were at lost on which staircase to take to go up to their flat.
They all are really captivating.
I think and believe this. Though life is difficult, we can only sink so low but we won’t stay there forever. With even a little spirit and faith left, and most of the time, with helps from some generous people, we are going to rise up and have a future that we may never dream of. Not only we create a future for ourselves, but we also create a future for our children, so that they do not need to go through the same hardship we have been through. Even though we may not become rich, but we are in many ways, successful.
And every little piece of dignities that is restored lead to that. And, we should be reminded again – this is not only Esther’s mission but mission of God as well.
P/S: Esther will welcome funding from any generous people. Please contact me if you would like to contribute - I will introduce you to Esther.
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