Nearly 100 displaced Burmese refugees have found homes in Richmond County.
After war broke out in their native land, many were captured and taken to concentration camps where they were made to work. When the Indonesian tsunami of 2004 left the country devastated and without resources to take care of the prisoners, they were released.
Although most of the displaced do not speak English, they have applied for Green Cards and citizenship, with the help and sponsorship of various entities.
The Burmese have taken up residency at the Madison Apartment Complex and are in the process of learning English.
Susie Jordan, a registered nurse and English as Second Language (ESL) instructor, is helping them in any way she can.
“Perdue has sponsored me to teach ESL, basic living skills and give community assistance for their Non-English (Burmese, Thai and Spanish) and English peaking people that work at Perdue, their wives and children,” explained Jordan. “Together we opened the Madison Class inside the Madison Apartment Complex, which is focused on education, community inclusion and graduation for all ages.”
Jordan serves as an instructor, mentor and more.
“At Madison, I can help with many things, not just English instruction,” she said. She also helps with “housing, enrolling children in schools, after-school help with homework, summer activities for children and their families.”
“I have fantastic volunteers and great contacts in all areas of our community, including our churches (Christian and Muslim),” she said. “I take folks or ensure transport for doctor visits, pediatric visits, social services, medicaid, food stamps, etc. As a qualified nurse I can help with hygiene or home cleanliness issued, basic home economy, etc.”
For example, several young men needed housing and Jordan found them an apartment, showed them the area and where to buy food and medicines and an auto mechanic for when they have car trouble.
Last week, Jordan assisted in the purchase of two new scooters, helped folks pay their car taxes, get auto insurance, and a birth certificate for a young Burmese couple whose new baby was born at Moore Regional Hospital. She made two appointments with WIC and help take a baby to the doctor for her six-month visit. She helped change a court date for a ticket and found a lawyer for that person. She got the fire department to show folks how to put a baby’s car seat into a vehicle properly.
The list goes on. Jordan took folks to visit their ill grandfather in the hospital and brought a pregnant diabetic mother to her ultrasound. She asked a local pharmacy to deliver medicines to folks that have no car to pick them up. She checks each day on people with diabetes and COPD at the Madison Complex.
Now that Perdue has sponsored these folks, they are gaining a workforce and seeking translators. People may ask why Perdue is willing to hire people from another country, who don’t speak English, when many are without jobs in the county.
“It’s because half of the people that apply test positive for drugs and cannot be employed at Perdue. Unfortunately, that is the plain truth,” said Jordan. “There are so many capable people here in the county that are on disability or drugs, or both, and I don’t like to say that. It’s really disheartening. A lot of able-bodied people here get degrees but they end up going to work in other places like Chapel Hill and High Point because that’s where the jobs are.”
Before, the application process was simple, just fill out a form. Now, Perdue is making use of an Employment Security Commission that screens applicants.
Jim Brown, complex human resources manager, said Perdue does not discriminate, and they are not choosing Burmese workers over other Richmond County folks. Perdue is willing to consider anyone with at least one year of employment experience. Brown said the hiring has now decreased, and that no more than five Burmese have been hired in the past few months.
Most of the Burmese population is centered around Greensboro and High Point, and many commuted to Perdue for a time until gas prices became too much.
“We are still having translation issues,” said Brown. “After funds ran out at RCC for the ESL program, we decided to pay Susie’s salary. With her, it goes beyond the classroom. “
Jordan’s goal is to help the displaced families become independent in the community.
“These people have loans taken out,” she explained. “They bought their way. They bought their own tickets, their green cards, they make payments and pay rent. Their rent went from $400 to $450 in eight months and they are still paying their bills on time. Four have passed the citizenship test, and it’s not easy. It has 100 questions that if you asked most children or adults that were raised here, they wouldn’t know.”
Jordan is having a hard time getting volunteers together. She is often alone. Jordan spoke with Michelle Parrish at United Way about the possibility of getting volunteers together who might be able to help.
“I don’t know about anyone who does that in the community, even for the elderly,” said Parrish. She could not give further comment on the matter.
If you are interested in becoming a translator or volunteering with the displaced, call Susie Jordan at (910) 638-1822.
Staff Writer Dawn Kurry can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ex. 43, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.