A Look into our Family Mentorship Program: "Just Another Ordinary Day"
“Just Another Ordinary Day”
By Johanne Cardinal-Dyason
As Za Hmun drives home from his job at a large hotel in Bellevue, WA, he’s looking forward to spending the following day, Sunday, with his wife Sui Za and their five sons. The family will be going to church where their eldest child plays the guitar and sings in the church band, followed by a pot-luck meal with church community members at the apartment complex where many of their fellow Burmese community members live.
For many of us living in the United States, this may indeed be a pretty ordinary “ho-hum” type of day. Yet, for the many refugees who are living in this country thanks to the support of agencies like the IRC, this is an “extraordinary-ordinary” day, one to aspire to and repeat as often as they can.
My name is Johanne. I am a volunteer Family Mentor with the IRC in Seattle. In December 2010, I was assigned to assist a Burmese family on their journey to a new life in a country where everything would be very different than where they came from: the language, the social infrastructure, the cultural habits--not to mention the Northwest climate (“Does it always rain so much?… When is the dry season coming?”)
Sui Za was 8-months pregnant with her 5th child when she and her family arrived at the SeaTac Airport on that cold November day in 2010. On December 30th, Baby Simon was born and joined his four brothers ranging in ages from 15 years old to 18 months!
IRC staff members help newly arrived refugees begin the process of rebuilding their lives by assisting with a key activities such as finding refugee families lodging and basic furnishings, as well as setting them up with all of the required documentation to get them started. It is the role of the volunteer Family Mentor to help fill in the blanks. In brief, we are there to convey what an ordinary day looks like by smoothing out the process and allowing family members to pick up the pace of their new environment as painlessly as possible. A Family Mentor is that 'everyday' person—that dedicated friend. Any and all issues can come up at any time. In my case, with a newborn in the family, there were many discussions regarding birth control and family planning, nutrition choices, transportation safety and rules for infants in a car. Other issues such as school work and communication with teachers, reading correspondence, explaining how banking and credit scores work, how important it is to build a good credit are just a few of the issues we worked through as a team.
Since their arrival day in November 2010, Za Hmun and Sui Za have worked hard to build a good ‘ordinary’ life in their new adoptive country. Since early this year, all 6 family members are proud permanent legal residents ("Green Card" holders); no doubt, when the time comes, they will be joining their youngest son Simon, in becoming U.S. citizens.
Through his job at a hotel, Za is learning conversational English and all three school-aged kids are pretty much fluent. Za Hmun recently called me to announce that he had been named "associate of the month" at his place of work. He receives this award less than six months since being hired! He was beaming with pride and so was I!!
It is a privilege and an honor to be a Family Mentor, helping people achieve success through reaching a peaceful and prosperous ‘ordinary life’. Over the last 18 months, we have shared challenges, triumphs and laughter. They laughed at me when I couldn’t quite get what they were trying to say or when I mispronounced one of the boys’ names; and they made me giggle when they didn’t quite know how to tackle eating a hot dog on their first Fourth of July!
But at the end of the day, this family's biggest gift and a true inspiration to me is their wonderful outlook on life. Because of their unflinching belief in a better life for them and for their children, their love and dedication to each other, and their close ties to their community, this family has given me a great deal more that I could ever give to them. Thanks to their perseverance, they are now well on their way to as many ordinary and extraordinary days as they wish and strive for.