Lives (re)born: Rosie and John, Lai Chin refugees from Burma ... and baby Krista!

Rosie is a refugee who arrived in Sacramento, Calif., from Burma in October 2011. Originally from the Chin State area in Western Burma, she is part of the ethnic Lai Chin, a predominantly Christian population and one of the largest Burmese refugee groups.

Rosia and Krista

Rosie and Krista
Photo: Chelsea Sachau.

By Becky Kogos, Communications Intern
Opening Doors, Inc., Center for New Americans

Sacramento, California

Rosie is a refugee who arrived in Sacramento, Calif., from Burma in October 2011.  Originally from the Chin State area in Western Burma, she is part of the ethnic Lai Chin, a predominantly Christian population and one of the largest Burmese refugee groups. 

As a Christian, Rosie was subjected to constant persecution.  She was prevented from celebrating religious holidays and from congregating for worship.  She witnessed other Lai Christians who refused to give up their faith being taken into the forests outside of her village and executed. 

In 2006, the Burmese army entered Rosie’s village and gathered all young, able-bodied men and women.  Working as a preschool teacher at the time, Rosie was forcibly removed from her classroom and ordered, along with the other villagers, to carry the soldiers’ supplies as they were marched away from their homes. 

Not knowing where they were being taken or what would happen when they got there, that night Rosie and her husband John decided to escape from the army.  The couple fled to Malaysia, a nation that has no refugee camps.  There they were considered illegal immigrants since they lacked documentation. 

As a nation, Burma has been in a state of constant civil war since being granted independence from the British Empire in 1948.  The Burmese military dominates all forms of government and retains the authority to suspend laws and civil liberties at will. 

Due to these abuses, Burma has a severe record of human rights violations in addition to serious violations of religious freedom.  Burma also spends the least amount on public health of any other nation in the world.  According to the U.S. State Department, over two million citizens of Burma have fled for economic or political reasons, and many, like Rosie, to escape violence and religious persecution.

After hearing about the United Nations’ refugee agency from other migrants from Burma in Malaysia, John and Rosie began the long process in June of 2009 to become officially recognized as refugees.  They were interviewed five times during the course of their application process before officially being able to move forward and relocate to the United States by invitation of the U.S. government. 

After two years’ efforts, the couple finally arrived in the United States, a nation they selected because of its ethnic diversity and its freedom of religion.  Church World Service received their case from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and arranged with its affiliate Opening Doors to help them resettle to Sacramento, Calif.

Upon arrival in Sacramento, Opening Doors staff and volunteers met them at the airport and transported them to an apartment that had been furnished with donated furniture, household items, and food.  Seven months pregnant with their first child, Rosie was grateful for all the assistance provided during the move-in. 

A few weeks later, a month ahead of her expected due date, Rosie gave birth to a little girl.  Rosie’s daughter Krista was born Wednesday, November 23, as an early Thanksgiving present for her proud parents. 

The delivery was attended by Sarah Jafari, Rosie’s volunteer mentor who will continue working with John and Rosie as they adjust to their new lives as parents, and as residents of the U.S.  Additionally, Carmichael Presbyterian Church hosted a baby shower to assist the couple in gathering the baby supplies they lacked.  Rosie calls being a new mother an “amazing” experience and is thrilled with the progress Krista is making.

In the months to come, Opening Doors staff and volunteer mentors will also help the couple get their social security cards, understand their new home and neighborhood, and begin looking for work.  Through Opening Doors’ RHEAP (Refugee Health & Employment Attainment Program), they will work with volunteers to develop resumes and learn about the U.S. job application system and workplace culture. 

Rosie says it is a relief to finally be in a nation where she no longer has to hide her religious affiliation or legal status.  Rosie enjoys working very much and looks forward to getting back into the workforce now that she has delivered her baby.  In time, she hopes to open her own bakery.  Opening Doors’ Microenterprise Program will be there to assist her with this when she is ready.

Media Contact:
Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676, lcrosson@churchworldservice.org
Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526, jdragin@gis.net


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