There is a lot of talk, and concern, in recent days about refugees. Social media is abuzz with information — and in some cases, fear-mongering — about the issue, especially as Syrian refugees pour into Europe.
Sometimes, as arguments grow heated, it’s valuable to step back and consider the difference acceptance can make, to put a human face on an admittedly overwhelming situation.
Consider Ta Hay Tha, who is now 16 years old and living in Kimberley.
Ta Hay Tha was born in a refugee camp on the border between Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) border. He was born disabled, with no arms or legs. It is frightening to imagine how hard this young man’s life would have been living with thousands of other desperate political refugees in a camp.
But Ta Hay Tha was lucky. He came to Canada with his five siblings and their Mother in 2008, sponsored by EK Friends of Burma, as are all refugees in Kimberley and Cranbrook for the last 15 years. His eldest sister, August Paw had already arrived in 2007 with her husband and their first child.
Today, Ta Hay Tha is a student at Selkirk Secondary School. He has a full, active life, partially in thanks to the compassion and kindness of strangers. It began of course, with Friends of Burma, and people like Shauna Jimenez, who have assisted the family with their transition and continue to be part of their lives all these years later. Ta Hay Tha has been given a special bucket ski so he can ski at the Kimberley Alpine Resort. Another volunteer is experimenting with building him ski legs.
And now, Ta Hay Tha will be mobile in the summer as well.
He recently received a battery-operated cycle, a one of a kind vehicle that he can steer with adaptable arms, and control and stop with his legs.
It’s all due to “wonderful, wonderful volunteers” Jimenez says.
The cycle has been paid for by War Amps Canada and was adapted for Ta Hay Tha by the Tetris Society, which specializes in making things work for the disabled.
Assistance was also received from Fun West Sports in Calgary.
“I phoned ten different bike shops to see if they could work with the Tetris Society volunteers to make this bike,” Jimenez said. “Rob from Fun West was the only one who said he’d try.
“The last three months we have been travelling back and forth to Calgary, trying to make it work. And they did make it work. Hearts and minds together made it work.
“These wonderful volunteers had never even met him but they spent hours and hours on it.”
The bike has enough power that Ta Hay Tha could go all the way to Cranbrook on the Rails 2 Trails. The smile on his face in the picture above will tell you what it means to him.
It all started with Ta Hay Tha and his family being sponsored as refugees by Friends of Burma.
“Like most refugees, they came seeking safety, welcome and inclusion,” Jimenez said. “It is hard to imagine how anyone could be afraid of these gentle people. However, our current federal government works hard at creating that imagined fear. They try to convince us that refugees are terrorists. The truth is that refugees are escaping terror. They seek safety, just like our own grandparents when they came to Canada as refugees or immigrants. Remember, we are all former refugees or immigrants, unless we are First Nations.”
And if Ta Hay Tha and his family had not come to Canada, their situation now would be dire, Jimenez says.
“They would now be facing forced repatriation to Burma. Most refugees from Burma are terrified of being forced to return to the country they fled. After living in refugee camps on the Thai/Burma border for over a decade, they are about to be forced to return to Burma. The military government is still waging war against many of the rural, ethnic folks, like the Karen and Chin. There is a good chance they would be murdered by their own government, upon being forced to return. It seems the world has tired of their story — some call it compassion fatigue. The current Syrian crisis is constantly in the media and is reminding us that there are refugees languishing all over the world, seeking safety and being refused. Many Karen refugees, like Ta Hay Tha’s family, have been waiting for decades in refugee camps, for the opportunity to come to Canada and start new lives in safety.
“I encourage everyone to get to know any one of the former refugees living in Kimberley or Cranbrook. Volunteer with EK Friends of Burma – help former refugees improve their English skills, help them learn to drive, accompany them on a bike ride, help them with their school home-work, share a cup of tea with them. Many EK residents are currently involved, but we always need more volunteers. You will be able to make up your own mind about who is/is not a terrorist while you reach out to welcome new refugees and help them resettle successfully in our communities. Perhaps you will even want to join a group like EKFriends of Burma and sponsor a refugee. Currently some local church groups are considering doing just that. Call 250 4223259 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have room in your heart to help someone feel welcome in our community.”