Burmese refugee families who don’t speak English were able to pre-register their children for kindergarten recently, thanks to the help of local educators and the Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center (EMBARC).
The event was hosted by EMBARC and team members of Des Moines Public Schools Early Education program in an effort to reduce the confusion and anxiety refugees with little or no English-speaking skills encounter when faced with Western parenting norms.
“The number one barrier is obviously language,” said Crystal Abbe, family engagement facilitator of Des Moines Public Schools. “The logistics of kindergarten enrollment can be daunting for any family with a child entering school for the first time. So we worked with EMBARC to ensure Burmese families received the information within the framework of their own language and culture.”
In all, 27 families completed the pre-registration process during the event, which was held at Woodlawn Preschool in Des Moines. They were assisted by EMBARC’s parent navigators, Des Moines Public Schools bilingual outreach workers and family engagement specialists. Parents were also provided tips to help get their children developmentally prepared for school.
“Most refugees come to the United States with little to no English proficiency,” says Jeanna Bauer, EMBARC community navigator projects manager, “so they don’t know when or how to get their children into school. Events such as this give them an opportunity to take an active role in their children’s education and helps put them on a path to independence.”
EMBARC’s parent navigators are themselves refugees from Burma who have been trained to adapt to new social norms and equipped with problem-solving skills, which they then pass on to other refugees. The program helps build their knowledge, skills and confidence, said Bauer.
“I’m happy we had this event,” said Khaing Zin, a refugee from Rakhine State in Burma, now called Myanmar. “It is hard for me to sign my child up for kindergarten on my own. Here I can learn how in my own language.”
The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the aftermath of hysteria surrounding Syrian and Iraqi refugees—from state governors closing their doors to those refugees’ relocation efforts, to Congress attempting to severely restrict their admission altogether—should give all Americans pause. How have we moved so quickly from a country of safe haven for those fleeing religious and political persecution to one that turns its back on them?
Mone, a refugee herself, recalls fleeing the Burmese army at the age of five, looking back to see her home being burned to the ground. Mone was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, where she lived until she was 19 and she and her family were resettled in the U.S.
With the recent suspension of the United States’ plan to accept Syrian refugees, it is important to remember the reason those concerned flee their native countries in the first place. They leave their homes and everything familiar to them because they experience persecution at the hands of their own government; they leave, fearing that remaining will cost them their lives or the safety of their families.