About 110 Christians fleeing persecution in the southeast Asian nation of Burma will relocate to central Iowa this month, joining 40 more refugees who moved here during August. With the promise of starting new lives free from oppression, the Burmese still face a host of new challenges in Iowa — learning English, finding places to live and finding jobs.
One helper is Ian Loo, who left Burma for Iowa in the mid-1970s and now leads the Des Moines Society of Burma. He says the situation in his homeland is still dire. Loo says, "There are some Christians that live in the remote area in Burma who are on the run because the Burmese government basically want to get rid of any religion except the Buddhism." He says most people in the U-S couldn’t imagine the atrocities the Burmese refugees have seen. Loo says, "They’ve been on the run many, many years before they resettle in Thailand refugee camps so they don’t have quite a lot of education. None of them speak English that well. Another thing is, all of them have to learn how to drive just so they can get around town here."
Christopher Anderson, a vice president of the Iowa Asian Alliance, says a Des Moines church held a heart-warming and successful collection last weekend to set the new Iowans up in their new homes. McDonald says, "A lot of these folks just need basic necessities of life: household items, dining ware, bedding, clothing, in particular, winter clothing. Once we get these basic necessities for these people, then we’re going to assist them further with some language training also job placement and job training."
McDonald says this is a continuation of a tradition started more than 30 years ago when then-Governor Bob Ray invited hundreds of refugees, primarily from Vietnam, to settle in Iowa. McDonald says, "Governor Ray has been a very big part of our organization from its beginning and it’s somebody who I believe a lot of southeast Asians living in Iowa have great affection for, certainly, all the people in the state who assisted in that effort of relocating southeast Asians to central Iowa. Part of our legacy and part of our mission is to repay some of that."