Meg Allen, program director of the Denver Coalition for Integration, which hosts monthly meetings for refugee service providers, agrees. "Could I go into the community like Drucie? Do I have the respect, the clout, the language abilities?" Allen asks. "No. She's the right person for the job, hands down."

Some of the challenges the ECBOs will face are the same as those faced by other nonprofits, not the least of which is funding. The American process of applying for and winning grants can be tedious. It involves gratuitous data collection, writing and patience. "It can be really frustrating and quite challenging for these new communities to understand," Taintor says, "because like us, they want things to happen immediately."

Others are unique to their position as organizations with "a foot and a head in both worlds," as Stein says. "If you looked at all the needs in the community, Drucie would have to walk on water to meet all of them," says Joe Wismann-Horther, who works in Stein's office as an integration program supervisor and has known Bathin since she arrived in Colorado. "She gets close to that. She has to be really careful that she doesn't take the weight of the entire community on her shoulders."

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.

The ultimate goal is to develop the organization to the point where some of that work can be farmed out to volunteers or contractors. But letting go can be hard. "All of a sudden, you are no longer the person on the ground," Taintor says. "You are no longer the person showing up to a new refugee's house and showing them how to clean the bathtub or how to store their food. It is really, really hard to start delegating that to other people, and it's really, really hard to step back and understand that what you're doing by developing programs or overseeing other people is, in the end, more powerful."

"The idea is to grow the organization in a way that Drucie can start to delegate," Taintor adds, "so she's got somebody in charge of the youth — so she's not doing the youth and the elderly and employment, so she's not spread so thin. Because like anybody in the nonprofit world, the other real challenge is not becoming burned out."

******

But Bathin's not there just yet. Though she hired Hae, who as a male helps negotiate and coordinate with the tribal leaders, several of whom are male and still cling to a somewhat patriarchal view, the Rangers is still largely a one-woman show.

On an unseasonably warm Saturday in December, Bathin circles a group of twenty teenagers who are rehearsing a traditional Karen dance to perform at a New Year's celebration in Kansas. The teens are loud, hungry and boisterous, and it takes some coordinating to pick them up at their homes and shuttle them (with Hae's help) to a sparsely furnished Aurora apartment. Inside, the air is thick with the smell of cooking rice. As one adult sears turkey in a wok with hot chiles, Bathin wraps long, traditional skirts around the girls' skinny jeans and corrals the teenagers outside to practice.

"The youth, they never get together," Bathin explains. "There is no place for them to get together. So when they get together, they talk, talk, talk! Like, oh, my God!"

On a strip of concrete between the parking lot and a playground, one of the two dance teachers keeps the beat by smacking an empty cookie tin with a stick. The dancers begin singing a song they wrote, about the tribes coming together. Bathin translates some of the lyrics: "If you have unity, if you dare to come, we will wait."

The teenagers' feet are constantly moving, almost as if they're stepping on hot coals, as their arms and hands make a series of intricate swoops and twirls. Throughout the eight verses, they change formations from a V to two lines, then back to a V.

Bathin inspects their movements like a drill sergeant. If she sees a floppy arm, she straightens it. If she spies someone not singing, she points at them and makes a talking motion with her hand. At one point, she admonishes a boy for wearing his black jeans slung so low she can see his white boxer shorts, grabbing at his waistband and eliciting laughter from the rest of the group.

This is the second year she's played chauffeur and chaperone for the youth dance group, and she explains that some of the teenagers who participated last year didn't come back this year. "They don't think it's cool. They think they are too old," she says. "They don't know it's good to keep the tradition."

As the kids practice, Denver police detective Phouratsamay Chanthavong, who goes by P.C., pulls up in a black SUV. A refugee who came to Denver from Laos in 1978, P.C. understands the need for activities to keep kids busy. He volunteers for an Asian youth mentoring program and often intervenes when young refugees get in trouble with the police, mostly in defending themselves from American teenagers who pick on them. "I see myself in these kids. I feel for them," says P.C., who arrived in Denver when he was nine years old and now works on Mayor Michael Hancock's security for the Denver police. "They could go easily the other way. Very easily."

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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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