Monday, September 7, 2009

America - land of the free

Complaints about immigrants are uttered in living rooms across the country. As Americans, we feel our space is invaded and that “foreigners” are usurping our resources. We fight hard to keep our freedoms, our jobs, roofs over our heads, and food on our tables. Yet, we are complacent and unappreciative of what we do have.
Fortunately, I have met some people that are educating me about the realities that exist beyond America's borders. News reports that used to seem so far away have materialized into very real faces that I am getting to know each week.
Every Saturday morning, I volunteer with a movie-making class. (see inset for details) The adult students are immigrants and they are each creating a one-minute film related to a journey. I am getting snippets of their stories during class discussions and when I offer one-on-one assistance.
One student’s journey began when she fled religious persecution. As a Christian in Burma, Joyce was a minority in her homeland where 90 percent of the population is Buddhist. Government rulers consider Christianity a progressive western influence and its practice is prohibited. Books published outside of the country are contraband, making the Bible illegal. Violators are thrown in jail.
Joyce left Burma, huddled with her daughter and 20 other refugees, covered with tarps, in the bottom of a boat made to hold four people. As they crossed the waterway, they prayed waves would not capsize their overloaded boat or they would not be discovered by the water patrol.
Once they arrived in Thailand, guides led them across the country. Joyce said they walked for weeks, barefooted in order to reduce the sounds of their footsteps. They walked through swamps, peeled away leeches, waded through high grasses, thick brush, and over thorny vines. “We couldn’t make a sound, even when the thorns pricked our feet,” she said. The snap of a twig could give away their location to human traffickers or policing authorities. After walking across Thailand, Joyce made her way into a Malaysian refugee camp, eventually coming to America.
She continually gives thanks to God and seems excited to have an opportunity to record her story.
Last week, as she and I walked across a parking lot to film a segment for her class project, she looped her arm in mine and smiled. I commented about how much I admired her for what she has endured. She stopped and pointed to her feet. “I never believed, I never dreamed, that I would ever be here, with my feet on this parking lot, in this city, in America.”
She and her husband are together, both working and contributing to the community.
“I gave my first paycheck to help other refugees, said Joyce. “I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food to eat – I don’t need anything else.”
I was humbled and choked back tears as Joyce hugged and thanked me for helping her with her story.
Her English is broken, but her emotion is universal.

“Movie-Making for Immigrants and Refugees” is a partnership between FaithAction International House (including its VISTA volunteer, Trish Perkins), the American Friends Service Committee, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Worlds Touch, an international technical assistance organization founded and directed by Trish, in her spare time. Through digital storytelling, participants have the opportunity to acquire new technological skills, hone communication skills, as well as interact with the community at-large.
For more information, check out the links above as well as Trish’s blog.

1 comment:

  1. Super, Iris. And what a great volunteer you are, too. I'm really happy to be working with you. This is a beautiful vignette from the class. I'll link to it, too, on my blog!