Jessie Visits Refugee Communities in New Delhi - Part 3

Jessie Griggs Burnette, a former LSG resettlement intern and current volunteer, recently spent time with refugees in New Delhi, India. Jessie is currently studying for her Master’s in Anthropology at Georgia State University. On our blog, Jessie is writing a three-part mini-series based on excerpts from her journal. Read her third post below. rohinga

Important Note: This trip to India was not for publishable research. This was a personal voyage to meet a group of people that I knew were in need of help and attention. This blog post is, literally, a glimpse into my personal diary. It isn’t meant for publication or academic use. It is simply a raw reflection of my experiences. I am often asked about my own feelings as I travel and work abroad. I feel that by sharing my own feelings and thoughts with the public, I may be able to convince others to take risks – to face their fears.  It is easier than one may think to travel, learn, and help. Everywhere I go, I am met by kind and generous people, always protecting and guiding me. Others can do the same.  I want to be a voice for those who can’t use their own. Sharing my personal experiences within a community waiting for resettlement is one way I can do so.

“As I sat surrounded by refugees, for a single moment, I had a fleeting thought. I stared into the small crowd, and felt like a false advertiser. I felt as if my simple presence was making a false promise that I couldn’t uphold. I felt sure that they thought I was there to deliver some good news or hope, and the truth is, I had no idea why I was there. I had no plan. I had delivered enough food to last the community a week, but I had no sustainable plan to offer.” Diary Excerpt- May 14 2014

Today, I have a plan. Action begins with an idea. The idea has been born, and the first steps of action have been taken. Together, with a team of dedicated and compassionate individuals, I am working to begin a foundation to educate refugee children while they wait for resettlement. Those in the refugee community know that this wait can be a long and grueling one. Our immediate scheme will focus on providing a private education for refugee children living in the city of New Delhi. The long term goal will be planned carefully, and implemented as a team of anthropologists and educators volunteer their time, working diligently and strategically on a very specific task of evaluating current programs that are active, yet struggling to succeed. We will work to identify the problems at hand, and focus on overcoming the issues that have been presented by the refugee community. The immediate goal is to identify and educate as many children as possible so that if and when resettlement occurs, they will find themselves prepared to enter an accredited school system. We have a very long term goal of creating a foundation that can support and sustain a school. The school will offer a targeted education, boasting language, history, science, math, and cultural relativism courses. These are lofty goals, but with time, collaboration, and dedication, we will have the tools needed to succeed. Until then, at the request of refugee mothers and fathers, we will sponsor children as they wait for their turn to live in a permanent home.

If you are interested in being a part of the team or donating to the cause. You may contact the author, Jessie Griggs Burnette, at jgriggsburnette@gmail.com.

Click to read part one and part two of Jessie's visit to New Delhi refugee communities.

Jessie Visits Refugee Communities in New Delhi - Part 2

Jessie Griggs Burnette, a former LSG resettlement intern and current volunteer, recently spent time with refugees in New Delhi, India. Jessie is currently studying for her Master’s in Anthropology at Georgia State University. On our blog, Jessie is writing a three-part mini-series based on excerpts from her journal. Read her second post below. refugees

Important Note: This trip to India was not for publishable research. This was a personal voyage to meet a group of people that I knew were in need of help and attention. This blog post is, literally, a glimpse into my personal diary. It isn’t meant for publication or academic use. It is simply a raw reflection of my experiences. I am often asked about my own feeling as I travel and work abroad. I feel that by sharing my own feelings and thoughts with the public, I may be able to convince others to take risks – to face their fears.  It is easier than one may think to travel, learn, and help. Everywhere I go, I am met by kind and generous people, always protecting and guiding me. Others can do the same.  I want to be a voice for those who can’t use their own. Sharing my personal experiences within a community waiting for resettlement is one way I can do so.

As the refugee leader directs my driver through the streets of New Delhi, I try to refrain from imagining where I am headed. I want to go without expectation of what is to come. I know I am being taken to a place my new friend has described in a way that sounds nothing less than devastating. This will be a very different scene than the one I had encountered the previous day. According to my guide (a refugee himself), these refugees are relatively new arrivals. Working scarce and dangerous night jobs in the city, they have very limited resources. He had asked me to visit them so that someone "on the outside" would know they existed.

I tell myself to go without a vision of what is to come. I somehow feel my actions will be more genuine upon arrival if this is the approach I take. Why this matters, I am not sure. Even though I am not here for official work or research, the anthropologist within me wants to remain as neutral as possible as I enter this community of displaced people for the first time. As our car turns off the pavement onto a dirt road, I catch my first glimpse of the makeshift tent homes. I had previously seen images like this from afar and from photos given to me by refugee friends living in official UNHCR camps. However, the reality of being in the scene first-hand comes with new responsibility. As I strain my eyes to see what is ahead, my informant tells the driver to stop the car. The road is too rutted to drive down.

As I approached the camp on foot, I am not aware of what I expected. I had tried to eliminate all expectations. Even if I had allowed myself to imagine the circumstances,  I couldn't have dreamed up anything close to the reality of the situation. This camp is unofficial. It was constructed with donated funds and arranged by other refugees with (somewhat) more stability. Inside, the individuals struggle to survive. What I find is senseless suffering.

As I stand among the Rohingya refugees, I do a quick assessment of myself. I am unsure of what I am feeling. I feel astonished, uncomfortable, sad, angry, and most of all I feel confused. One moment I am in a home with beautiful marble walls and floors, sipping tea and enjoying biscuits, and the next I am surrounded by suffering, hunger, and hopelessness. As a graduate student studying anthropology, I am all too aware of the social inequalities and structures leading to these types of scenarios. I am also hyperaware of my own culturally constructed expectations and biases. And yet, in the moment, all of these structures make me very angry. I am bewildered. I find myself searching for the human factor in all of this. I wonder how human beings can cause others to suffer in such a devastating manner.

I see desperate mothers, fathers, and babies. There are about 15 children of staggered age and height gathered around me with their mothers. I once again recognize the familiar faces and traditional clothing from my work with refugees back in Clarkston, Georgia. My friend had stopped to buy chocolates for the children on the way over. He passes me the bag of candy. I distribute them to the children first who wait patiently with wide eyes and eager smiles for their turn. Some of the outstretched hands are so tiny that I can barely fit two chocolates inside. I stuff as many pieces as I can into their little palms. After the children have a few candies each, I share them with the women. They smile kindly and I wonder what they are thinking.

tentsAs I distribute chocolates, I look down a very short and dusty tent-lined lane. The tiny vinyl village is constructed of tarps and bamboo. I immediately wonder what will happen when the monsoon season arrives. It is quickly approaching. How will they possibly stay dry? Belongings hang from the canvas walls, elevated from the dirt floors inside the smoldering hot shelters. I am told that 34 people are living here. From what I can see, many of them are children, pregnant women, and people in obvious need of medical care. The tarps are strung together in a way that resembles a makeshift motel, the wall of one room supporting the next. One larger room stands separately and has a rug-lined floor. This, I learn, is the church that doubles as a school house. This building catches my eye as I am invited in by the pastor. I accept the invitation and follow the community leaders inside. The rest of the camp residents flow in after us. With the help of two translators, taking us across three languages, we discuss the inequalities faced by the Rohingya population on a daily basis. I listen most of the time as folks take turns talking around me. They eagerly share a laundry list of problems in hopes of someone outside listening: discrimination, poverty, hunger, beatings, robberies, sexual assault, rape, lack of shelter, etc. Of all these issues that need to be dealt with, the families say they first want education for their children. One seemingly strong lady speaks up and asks me to please help them find a way to educate their children. Through a translator, she tells me, "Everything else, we will figure out, but education, we cannot properly provide."

The unofficial meeting comes to a close. As we depart, I help an elderly lady off the ground. Her breathing is labored and her arms are as thin as an infant's. She is weak and weathered. I make an assumption that is later confirmed; she is suffering from the final stages of TB. I say goodbye with a smile. As I climb back into the air-conditioned auto, I pull my sunglasses close to my cheeks to catch the tears that I can no longer fight back. I have never felt a sense of helplessness quite like this. My thoughts turn to their home country of Burma and envision the larger scene of turmoil there. The political and structural violence is powerful and prominent. I wonder if they will ever know peace and comfort again.

For part three of Jessie's visit to New Delhi refugee communities, visit our blog on August 12. Click here to read part one.

Jessie Visits Refugee Communities in New Delhi: Part 1

Jessie Griggs Burnette, a former LSG resettlement intern and current volunteer, recently spent time with refugees in New Delhi, India. Jessie is currently studying for her Master’s in Anthropology at Georgia State University. On our blog, Jessie will be writing a three-part mini-series based on excerpts from her journal. Read her first post below. 20140518_122942-1024x768

Important Note: This trip to India was not for publishable research. This was a personal voyage to meet a group of people that I knew were in need of help and attention. This blog post is, literally, a glimpse into my personal diary. It isn’t meant for publication or academic use. It is simply a raw reflection of my experiences. I am often asked about my own feeling as I travel and work abroad. I feel that by sharing my own feelings and thoughts with the public, I may be able to convince others to take risks – to face their fears.  It is easier than one may think to travel, learn, and help. Everywhere I go, I am met by kind and generous people, always protecting and guiding me. Others can do the same.  I want to be a voice for those who can’t use their own. Sharing my personal experiences within a community waiting for resettlement is one way I can do so.

Today I finally visited a community that I have been trying to reach for more than two years. I made my way through Delhi once more via air conditioned vehicle with a private driver. Each time I do this I feel so over-privileged. Nonetheless, I do it because my hostess insists it is the only safe way.

The expedition takes about 45 minutes from where I stay to the area of the city that is home to many Burmese refugees. As I travel, I try to locate landmarks, but I am unsure of the direction I am traveling in. I go through what I believe to be a wealthy area. I see a KTM store, some fancy hotels, and a McDonald’s. It is hard to judge with my American standards what is wealth and what is common. As in most places, poverty is pretty easy to identify, but the lines blur in the more upscale areas. I am positive these lines do not blur for the local community, but I am not properly trained to identify social cues leading me to a clear conclusion on the subject.  Anyway, I arrive around 11 at the address that I received via email from my Burmese contact. He is a Christian Pastor and community leader. He has told me to meet him at a local school, and he will take me from there to his home where the rest of the community leaders have gathered. While traveling to meet him, I think about the insanity of what I am doing. I have flown 30 hours to a country that I do not know how to navigate properly, and I am now traveling another 45 minutes via car without a cell phone or any true personal protection to meet a stranger, a man, who claims to be a refugee community leader. When I write it down or say it aloud, I feel like I must be a mad woman. My mind tells me I should be wary, but I have zero visceral reaction. I do not feel afraid. If I do have fear, it quickly dissipates, and I force myself to move forward.

As my driver gets closer to the school, I wonder how in the world I will recognize this stranger in a city of 18 million people. We approach the address, and I immediately spot the Burmese face in the crowd. He, in return, quickly spots the American girl traveling alone via fancy auto. There is no time wasted for introductions. He greets me with a warm smile and a handshake. He explains that his home is a few blocks away, so we both climb into the auto and he directs the driver down a skinny side street. We have arrived. The driver parks next to some bricks stacked unsteadily as high as the car. Somehow he manages to keep from blocking the street. I am always amazed at how India seems to swell to the perfect size for fitting whatever is needed. I follow the pastor to his apartment complex. As I ascend the stairwell, I am gripped with a moment of fear. The stairway is dark and narrow. The stairs are steep, in regular Indian architectural style, and I am following a stranger right up them. I stifle out the hesitation, take a deep breath, say a quick prayer for protection, and continue up to his apartment. As soon as I enter I feel at home. Relief floods my senses, and the kind greetings from four Burmese women and one man leave me feeling like I am back in Clarkston.  I am immediately astonished at the fantastic English spoken by these refugees. All, with the exception of two, speak English almost perfectly. I am offered a chair while they sit on the floor on a mattress that doubles as a sofa. The pastor also takes a chair.

They have a water cooler, which is most definitely considered a luxury, a computer, and a tablet. They all work fulltime jobs and have been in the country many years. They share rent in three different apartments and help one another to afford this lifestyle.

As we begin to talk, I am incredibly impressed by one young man and a lady in the room. They are vivacious and strong. They are fighters and lovers. Their heart is broken for their people, but they have fought hard against inequality for the Burmese community. The young man in the room is attending college in Delhi. He does so illegally. He created a false identity and registered himself. He knows that education is the only way he will ever have a future. He is doing this knowing that he will not receive a diploma. His determination is infectious. The lady leads the conversation. She is brilliant, fierce, and gentle all at the same time. As they speak, I move from the chair to the floor to sit at eye level with them. They protest for a moment, but I insist and they concede.

They are Kachin. The overall population of Burmese refugees in Delhi numbers into the thousands. However, the Kachin are a very small group of 30 individuals. They believe because of their small numbers they are looked over by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In Burma, there are many different ethnic groups including Kachin, Chin, Burmese, Rohingya, Mon, and others. Among these ethnic groups there are several more tribes. Among the tribes there are 135 different languages spoken. Many of these ethnic groups are represented in Delhi’s refugee population.  They spend two hours explaining these basic things to me along with the inequalities and discriminations that they are faced with daily while living in Delhi as refugees. With their permission, I record the conversation because they tell so many stories that I can’t keep up. Discrimination is a harsh reality for most, and the struggle to survive is nearly unbelievable.  They are not allowed to travel outside of Delhi. Existing as refugees means they are confined to this one city, where they have very few rights, for the rest of their lives unless they receive resettlement. The pastor and his wife have been chosen for resettlement, but only because he wrote 300 letters in six months to the UNHCR.

They each say they feel fortunate to be in a city where they can earn a living. They are happy they can send their children to school if they teach them Hindi.  Yet still, they each share stories of discrimination and the hopelessness of diplomacy.  Most of their family members are dead or living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Kachin State. They have no way of knowing where they are; their loved ones are displaced peoples inside of a country ripped to shreds by years of political unrest. They cling together to survive. They are tired of simply surviving. They want a future for their families, for themselves.

They thank me for caring and for coming to their community. They tell me I am the first to want to see the “real” refugee life. The young man says “I hope to meet again someday in America”. I say I hope the same.

For part two of Jessie’s visit to New Delhi, visit our blog on July 29.

Remembering Sue Benner

Lutheran Services of Georgia honors Sue Benner, a long-time LSG supporter who died on February 14, 2014. Sue’s passion for individuals and families in need was admired by all who knew her. An active member of Living Grace Lutheran Church, Sue lived out her faith as Chair of their Community Outreach Committee. She participated in sewing and quilting groups, served in the Women’s Prison Ministry program, and organized the Gas Cards for Foster Families Annual Campaign. Thanks to Sue’s campaign, for the past six years, LSG foster care parents and FACES support companions in metro Atlanta received gas cards as a small token of thanks for the care they give every day to the children and adults in their homes. She also served in the Southeastern Synod Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (WELCA) in several capacities. To honor Sue, the Southeastern Synod WELCA requested that gas cards to benefit LSG be brought to Sue’s memorial service, which was held on February 22. Sue is survived by a loving family—her husband, two daughters, a son, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and many extended family members. Sue truly lived a life of service, ministry, compassion, hope, and love. She will be greatly missed.

Two Ways to Volunteer with LSG!

Lutheran Services of Georgia works to bring restored hope, transformed lives, and healthy tomorrows to individuals and families in need throughout Georgia. Our work depends on the generous support and skills of our many volunteers. Are you interested in joining our LSG family? Here are two great ways to get involved!

Volunteer with Family Intervention Services (FIS): LSG's Family Intervention Services is looking for volunteers! Specific responsibilities may include:

--Assisting with supervising parent-child and sibling visitations --Assisting with transporting clients to and from program activities --Assisting with co-facilitating children's group --Providing childcare for participants of parenting groups or training session --Completing documentation for services provided --Assisting with administrative duties, such as filing and data entry --Working in collaboration with staff to develop innovating programming

Volunteers are especially needed on Saturdays to assist with ongoing FIS parental trainings. To learn more about qualifications for the position, click here. For more information on volunteering with FIS, contact Terri Medina at tmedina@lsga.org or (404) 591-7067.

"First Friends" Cultural Mentorship: "First Friends" provide assistance to refugee families or individuals new to the United States as a cultural guide and friend. First Friends are matched with a newly arrived refugee or refugee family and visit during the first 3-6 months in the U.S. to check on their progress, to answer questions, practice English conversation, and help with the adjustment process.

For more information on becoming a First Friend, contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org or 678-686-9619.

Thank you for considering volunteering with LSG. We can't do it without you!

 

Volunteer of the Month: Adrainne Gray

Congratulates to Adrainne Gray, our Refugee and Immigration Services volunteer of the month! Adrainne's passion for service drives her to volunteer in the community through LSG. Three years ago, Adrainne and her family approached LSG in search of ways to follow Jesus's calling to serve their neighbors. After learning more about LSG's work with refugee communities, Adrainne decided to mentor recently arrived refugees. She quickly discovered that, here in Georgia, "We didn't have to go far to serve and walk along with our global neighbors. They were coming to us."

As Adrainne served with LSG, she felt a growing call to take on a more prominent role in ministry. She joined the Lutheran Deaconess Association and is now in the process of becoming a consecrated deaconess. She also began studying for a M.A. in Practical Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary. Because of her experience with LSG, she requested that her fieldwork be with LSG's Refugee and Immigration Services department.

Today, Adrainne coordinates Words of Hope, a subset of Friends in Hope, LSG's visitation ministry to immigrants in detention. Adrainne recruits and trains volunteers who travel to the North Georgia Detention Center. There, they use storytelling and story gathering to share Bible stories with women in detention. She said, "For my fieldwork, I felt that the bible study was a beautiful opportunity to practice both Word and Service."

Adrainne's faith inspires her to continue acting as a compassionate presence for refugees and immigrants in detention throughout Georgia. "Jesus calls us to be bold and to follow him," she reflected, "even into places that are uncomfortable. I really believe Jesus is asking me to listen to the voices that are ignored or silenced by the majority, to listen to their cries. I challenge others to come and hear."

To learn how you can share Words of Hope with immigrants in detention, click here.