Refugees Find Hope for Future in Central Florida

Naw handed her husband, Lum, a tissue as he shared memories from the years he spent trying to escape the hunger, imprisonment and violence of a war-torn country.

In the Gospel of Matthew (25:31) we hear about the importance of welcoming refugees, in this passage that is known as the Judgment of Nations. 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’”

Naw handed her husband, Lum, a tissue as he shared memories from the years he spent trying to escape the hunger, imprisonment and violence of a war-torn country. 

Born in neighboring villages, this Burmese refugee couple suffered the same injustices to their basic human rights before coming to the United States in January of this year. Welcomed by the Refugee & Resettlement Services program of Catholic Charities of Central Florida, Naw and Lum are beginning a new life in Orlando with their two young children.

For over thirty-five years Catholic Charities of Central Florida has assisted the Church in its role of ‘welcoming the stranger’ by helping over 14,000 individuals resettle in Central Florida.

Their resettlement process began when they fled their villages to Malaysia. The couple met shortly after registering as refugees with the United Nations. Once registered, each application is reviewed for potential relocation to a place where they are most likely to be successful in resettlement.

Florida has the largest refugee population in the U.S. with more than 27,000 resettling in the state annually. While the majority of Florida’s refugee clients come from Cuba, the state is home to refugees from 97 different countries.

In 2001, the United Nations established World Refugee Day that is celebrated on June 20 around the world. This day honors the courage of refugees determined to begin a new life for their families.

“Here, I can ask for help,” said Naw as she smiled towards Nicole DeCarufel, her case manager.

“I’m so proud of this family,” commented DeCarufel. “The first year in America is usually the hardest because clients are adjusting to a completely new lifestyle and have to reconcile their cultural beliefs with ours, in addition to the stress of trying to learn a new language, a new place to get used to, and not having very much money to begin with.” 

Naw and Lum have created a foundation for their family’s future. Their case manager has helped them find an apartment, a job, daycare and food assistance services for their children and even a car that was donated to the program. “Lum passed his driver’s license test on his first try,” DeCarufel said. “That is almost unheard of for non-fluent English speakers.”

The couple has picked up words and phrases from listening and watching others speak English.

Lum described the work he used to do with boat engines in his village. “I want to be mechanic,” said Lum. “I want to prepare the engines.”

After English classes, Naw plans to study to be a nurse. “In the villages, the nurses help,” she said, explaining that nurses are greatly needed in the Burmese villages because they do not have doctors, clinics or hospitals. 

“I want to know more. I need more,” said Naw as she stretched her arms out wide to show just how much she wants to learn.

Naw said she has God to thank for opening the hearts of her parents to send her to school and provide what they could for her. 

“When we stay in the village, they send daughters to school only 3 or 4 years. Then they work in fields with family,” said Naw. “For me, I hope that my daughter, my son, not be like me. Not be like grandmother, grandfather.”

Through the support and compassion of Catholic Charities of Central Florida, the Church extends God’s love and charity to provide hope and opportunity to immigrants like Naw and Lum in our community. 

A Community Fair in celebration of World Refugee Day will be held on June 21 at Oak Ridge High School. Visit www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/refugee-services for more information.