Divorced from her abusive husband, a taboo decision, Bathin raised her children in refugee camps on the Burma-Thailand border and then in Bangkok, where she applied to be resettled in a different country. Two and a half years later, in 1999, she got word from the U.N. that she'd be resettled in Connecticut, a place she'd never heard of, sponsored by a church group there with ties to her father.

"I was so depressed. I don't want to leave my country," Bathin says. Even though she'd spent her life running, she knew this time would be different. This time would be for good. "When you were in Burma, even if you live in Thailand, you can feel that you can sneak back in. But if you are too far, like the other side of the world, you already know this is harder than before.... This is the feeling of exile."

She and her children arrived in Connecticut in October, the first refugees from Burma the small town of East Lyme had ever seen. "I was just blown away that a young woman with two kids could come over here as a refugee and start all over again with nothing," says Louise Lynch, who met Bathin at church. "My prayers were, 'Thank you, God, for the wonderful world,' and her prayers were all about the sorrow she'd seen," Lynch recalls. "She'd come out refreshed at the end of it with the strength to soldier on."

Drucie Bathin helps refugees from Burma feel at home.
Anthony Camera
Drucie Bathin helps refugees from Burma feel at home.
Kit Taintor is the director of the Colorado African Organization.
Anthony Camera
Kit Taintor is the director of the Colorado African Organization.

As usual, Bathin didn't waste time. She soon started taking English and GED classes and worked a string of low-paying jobs — at a daycare center, a Motel 6 and a Burlington Coat Factory — as she improved her English. College came next, and in May 2008, Bathin graduated with a history degree from Eastern Connecticut State University, the same school her daughter was attending. Her favorite class was poetry writing. One of her poems reads:

Day in and out the invader dictator comes to conquer her land/He burns the children in midday sun and slaughters the father and son/She hops as fast as a calf with her head band white scarf/He seizes her on the shoulder, and drags her down on the ground

By 2008, more refugees from Burma had come to Connecticut, and Bathin had a part-time job at a resettlement agency. She also had another child, a boy fathered by an American man from whom she is now separated. But budget cuts at work forced a round of layoffs, and after traveling to Burma and Thailand for the funeral of her father, who died of an illness shortly after Bathin graduated from college, she decided to move on.

Stein, Colorado's refugee coordinator, had launched a nationwide search for someone who could communicate with the state's influx of refugees from Burma and teach them the basics of living in the United States. It was an attempt to avoid the cultural and educational missteps the state had made with previous refugee groups.

"We had very few Burmese with any English capacity," Stein explains. "An American couldn't have done this position. A recently arrived Burmese couldn't have. We needed somebody who had a foot and a head in both worlds." Drucie Bathin, he decided, was perfect.

So, as she had countless times before, Bathin packed up and moved.

******

Bathin is petite, with sweeping bangs and straight black hair that she pulls back. She laughs easily and warms up quickly, not hesitating to lock arms with a near stranger and share secrets, though it's plain that she withholds the most private details of her life. Her phone rings constantly — a jarring, jangly ring — and she keeps her conversations short, hanging up without saying goodbye. She speaks hurriedly, rarely pausing for questions or further explanation. To be fair, she does a lot of explaining — about the horrors in Burma and the hardships of surviving in a strange new place — and it often seems as if she's eager to get past teaching people what's wrong and on to making it better.

For the first three years she was in Denver, Bathin worked as a "community educator and navigator" for the state. Her job was to look at the whole picture: How can Colorado help the refugees from Burma — who should never be called "Burmese," Bathin insists, since that refers to a specific ethnic group, the group that has oppressed, raped and murdered many of the minorities — transition to living in the United States?

But often, the refugees called on her to help with the nitty-gritty. She was one of the only people in Colorado fluent in English as well as the Karen and Burmese dialects, and their requests to her were small-picture: Help my child register for school. Help negotiate with my landlord. Help me find a job. Most of the refugees here live in apartment buildings on either side of the border of Denver and Aurora, within spitting distance of East Colfax Avenue; a few are managed by nonprofits, but most are run by landlords willing to rent to people who may never have lived in an apartment before but who, for at least eight months, are guaranteed to make rent. Many refugees look for jobs as housekeepers or dishwashers, or, if they can arrange transportation, in the meatpacking plants in Greeley. Getting better jobs largely depends on their English skills, something most refugees from Burma lack, though they're offered free classes. Those who live in Denver send their children to special programs at three public schools, including South High.

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9 comments
onegoodpup
onegoodpup

  • Hello My name is Mike we are meeting with 5 Burmese families and are in need of anyone who can  translate for us. This would be a great help much more that I can explain right now. Please help us Mike 3039939798 

seeseh
seeseh

Bathin is not working for the Burmese refugee , she only works for Karen, you only cover for Karen , not for the whole Burmese.. Be careful please!!!!

Payton_vege
Payton_vege

Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

Tom Haywood
Tom Haywood

Great article, thanks Melanie for exposing the tremendous work Drucie Bathin does to help others and for educating the public on the refugees from Burma. Many Americans are not aware of America’s efforts on opening our doors to refugees. I invite you and others to visit www.nickelcitysmiler.com to view more about the challenges and the determination of the Karen people that now live in the US strive for a better life.

Mark Roberts
Mark Roberts

I Went to Viet Nam 3 times I have watched as those people came here much in the same way. If they stayed they would be in prison or dead. It is not going to be easy but they can make it better. They have a chance, and these are the people that end up making the best Americans. They will do whatever it takes and they are not like the lazy Americans born in this country and think it should be free. These are proud people and although things are bad now it will not stay that way. Welcome just be careful of those that say they want to help.

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Pu Phuut
Pu Phuut

Helping people in need is the most prestigious reward that men can to give. Some people say that " help me to help you" which somehow demands to get back something for helping. However, when Jesus was on earth to help people, he never say " help me to help you" but helped them anyway. Even if they can not help you to help them, just help them. The reward of helping is not available on earth but in heaven.

 
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