Connecting to Community: World Refugee Day in Omaha

Story by Dena Howard, Nebraska/SW Iowa Region, Director, Service to Armed Forces Families & International Services 

Our community hosted a special event on 22 June 2013 for refugees who have chosen Omaha, Nebraska as their home in celebration of World Refugee Day.  The American Red Cross was there with our mascots Scrubby Bear to train hand washing; Whales Tails to promote learning to swim and Ernie the ERV, to share disaster planning, especially fire prevention!  We also shared Restoring Family Links (RFL) information with the refugee families, in multiple languages (with a live translator)!  RFL is a program that strives to reconnect families separated due to war or conflict. One of the refugees in our community from Burma, Boe Boh, has been in the USA for a short time. She helped promote the event by translating the World Refugee Day poster into Karen and posting them in the Burmese community! 

Boe Boh

Boe Boh

Boe Boh was 13 years old when the Burmese military destroyed her family's village.  They were pursued through the jungle and were able to escape into Thailand.  She resided in a Thai refugee camp for 17 years.  There, she lived in a bamboo hut and had only rice, plants she picked out of the jungle, and rainwater to survive.  She was married and raised her 3 children in the camp.  Her husband left her and the children and she later remarried a few months before being granted refugee resettlement in Omaha.  She came here without her husband and pregnant.  Her husband, and the father of her son Louis Li, is still in Thailand, awaiting approval to join with the family; a process that could take years.  She is an extremely strong woman who has embraced the importance of education and is grateful for everything.  She attends school five, sometimes six, days a week and studies constantly with her children.  We are all so blessed to take this journey with them.

We have a wonderful Red Cross volunteer, Paula Hinger, working with this refugee!  She started working with a local church’s refugee program.  The program ended but she has continued her support by tutoring Boe Boh’s children (as well as others living in the apartment complex).  She is now volunteering her time with Red Cross International Services department doing RFL in this Burmese community!