SHS refugees travel the distance


Freshman Joseph Thang

When he was a young boy in the Chin State of Myanmar,  Joseph Thang and his family ran from their home.

In the two-week journey that ensued, Thang lost his shoes and was walking through thorns to a new life, barefoot. Malaysia, their first stop, was a place that neither accepted nor rejected them. After anxiously waiting for two years and going through U.N. interviews, they finally got the go ahead to come to the free world that they would come to call home.

Their story is similar to the other 326 refugees who have made their way to SHS. Over the past 15 years, the refugee population of Perry Township has grown exponentially by about 44 percent. They were willing to sacrifice everything and everyone they know just to make it here to the U.S., just like the millions that are now running from Syria right now to anywhere that will take them.

Whether they’re running from their homes, for their life or just coming to America in search of a better one, hundreds of refugees have come to SHS from Myanmar.

Thang, now a freshman, says that he was hiding during the day and traveling by foot at night just to escape the army, all for the promise of a better life halfway across the world.

Thang left the Chin State for Malaysia to begin his journey. He says he was in Malaysia for a year and a half where he was interviewed by the U.N. to see if he qualified to come here. After that, he went to New York for a week, then to Washington D.C. for a few days before finally getting to Indianapolis.

“It was like the Underground Railroad,” Thang said.

If Myanmar’s army had caught him, instead of getting an education here in the U.S., he would have been jailed, with his chances of getting to the United States diminishing.

Once they get here though, there was a whole community established ready to help them transition. One example of this is the churches set up around the area. Pastor Ci Kap of Falam Baptist Church of Indiana (FBCI) says that his church helps people find jobs, get medical help, go shopping, learn to read and sometimes get bedding and clothing.“Everything the human needs, we supply them,” Kap said.Another example is Exodus Refugee Immigration in Indianapolis.Director of Outreach and Immigration Megan Hochbein says that Exodus has helped, on average, 750,800 refugees each year for the past five years. Exodus helps the refugees the same way FBCI does. They help them find doctors, get clothes, etc. However, there is a language barrier that at times they have to overcome.

“There is a language barrier for many refugees from all over the world,” Hochbein said.

The student refugees can also get help while at school from the community and staff at SHS. EL teacher Mrs. Marsha Manning has been helping with refugees in Perry Township since 2004. She says that when they first get here she tests them to see how far along they are in their studies and then places them accordingly into different levels as far as how advanced their classes are. However, many factors seem to play into what they are like when they get here. Manning says that she has to help some learn the basic concept of what school is like. She has to teach them how to follow rules and how to work with a bell schedule.

Freshman Ro Thang says that school here is very different than it is back in Myanmar. He says that here the worst punishment students seem to get is ISS, whereas back in Myanmar students would receive physical punishment if they did something wrong.

The language barrier inhibits success as well. For some when they arrive in the United States, they are hearing a brand new language and don’t understand anything going on around them. Others are familiar enough with the language to get around and communicate with the help of others. It all depends on their background and what level of education they received back in Myanmar, according to Hochbein.

Senior Than Mawi says that it was difficult for her when she first got to the U.S. Mawi says that she landed in Washington state, but it was difficult for her and her family to find a job because they didn’t speak English.

“My brother or my sister, they wouldn’t get a job because they don’t speak any English at all,” Mawi said.

They might be leaving for different reasons, but refugees all are coming for the same core reason. They’re coming for the same reason millions have come for from around the world before them. They’re coming for the thing America promises as written by Thomas Jefferson, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”