Knowing refugees has brought my family a wider view of the world and wonderful friendships

Fro left to right: Lin Zaw Oo with shaved head, Angel, Poe Kpaw, Olivia, Beauty Moo, Mu Sah with Beauty Moo’s oldest daughter Lydia, Mu Shoobah, A Poe, Janet Burdick. December 2014

In honor of World Refugee Day 2017: Knowing refugees has brought my family a wider view of the world and wonderful friendships

When I was laid off from teaching art, I started teaching English to refugees. I taught at the transition house in San Jose where they first arrived from refugee camps. I have taught refugees from many countries including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burundi, Rwanda, Eritrea, Cuba, China, and Korea. I learned so much from each of them, but two young Burmese women have become like family to me.

I met Beauty Moo and Mu Sah almost 10 years ago. Beauty Moo was pregnant with her first child; Mu Sah was single. While teaching English and preparing my friends for citizenship were my main focus, I’ve helped with things like getting the hole in a bathtub fixed to explaining genetic testing for children. I’ve taken them to doctors and to meet with teachers. One moved to South Dakota for a year to be near her family, and we kept in close touch while she was there. Most significant for me was assisting at the birth of a baby and with understanding and grieving for a stillbirth.

Working with refugees has helped me to make up for the pain my mother suffered as a young child.

When I was a child, my mother told me of her difficulty knowing no English when she started school in Texas. Her parents were the first generation of their families born in the United States, and they always spoke Czech at home. Working with refugees has helped me to make up for the pain my mother suffered as a young child. She was always interested in hearing about the lives of refugees I met.

My Burmese friends show me an appreciation of life as it is, an enjoyment for small things, devotion to family and friends, and hope for their children’s futures.

They share things people give me and that I find at yard sales with other refugees as well as sharing their experiences. My children and grandchildren have visited my friends in their homes and mine. My husband always looks forward to the delicious home-cooked food they bring to us. I am like a mother now to my friends and grandmother to their children, important to them because their families live so far away. They call me Pipi Janet which means grandmother in the Karen language. I enjoy a deep feeling of satisfaction in helping my refugee friends adjust to their new country and a delightful affectionate bond with them.

In honor of World Refugee Day 2017, the Refugee Center Online is collecting stories of how refugees make our lives better.

The Refugee Center Online believes newcomers make our country a better place. Refugee resettlement is not just the moral or ethical thing to do – it benefits us and our communities as well. These stories from individuals around the country show how knowing, teaching, working with, and perhaps most importantly, being friends with, refugees have improved the lives of Americans.

Refugees shaking hands

World Refugee Day June 20, 2017

Find events in your community and learn how you can celebrate World Refugee Day 2017.

Learn more
About Janet Burdick

I am an artist who taught art for 20 years in prisons, jail, an elementary school, and summer programs. I’m in three book groups. I follow world events and write often to government representatives. Other interests include travel, yoga, hiking, gardening, and making art.