By Nile Sisters
Editor Note: Monday June 20 is World Refugee Day. There are now 42,500 people forcibly displaced from their home every day. 65.3 million people were displaced last year. Since the Fall of Saigon in 1975, San Diego has become home to thousands of people who have escaped war, persecution and displacement in their homelands. This is one family’s story.
In 1996, memories of a recently passed high school examination quickly faded as San San N., seven family members, and 35 others fled to the Burmese jungle to escape government troops. With their food supplies exhausted after 22 days, they quickly learned to forage for edibles in the jungle.
Approaching the Thai border, they slid down a mountainside to the river’s edge only to set off buried land mines along the shore, one exploding near San San. The terrified group had never before experienced such deadly weapons, which killed two members and injured several others with shrapnel. Miraculously, San San and her family crossed the river by boat and arrived alive in Thailand.
Once safely in Thailand, they all received refugee documentation. The newly displaced family walked for a full day to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) camp, where they lived for nine years. Food allotments for each family were never enough. San San’s father worked in the camp to provide additional food and clothing for his five children. San San also worked on-site at the Muslim nursery school, earning $3 a month. After two years, she began teaching primary school, and her earnings increased to $9 a month.
After attending a six-month, teacher-training program in Thailand, San San met another instructor who became her future husband. He, too, had fled Burma, fearing political persecution. San San, her husband, and their two children eventually moved to the Mae La refugee camp. Finally approved for emigration, they arrived in San Diego in March 2013.
One of San San’s first challenges in America was learning the function of a contemporary kitchen oven! And although she had studied English in Burma with visiting teachers from Switzerland and Canada, she found mastering the American English to be a major challenge.
San San now is employed by AGM Packing Corp., where she received an employee-of-the-month award in 2014. The property management firm that employs San San’s husband has awarded him similar recognition for his help in translating Burmese tenants’ problems.
The couple has plans for continuing their own education and advancement as well as for their children, who are excelling in school. The Nuyans hope to become US citizens by the end of their five-year residency requirement, paving the way for their children to have a nationality—at last!
Nile Sisters Development Initiative aids newcomers and migrants to San Diego beyond the initial allocation period. We also assist refugee and immigrant families who experience difficulties after assimilation. Since 2001, Nile Sisters has served thousands of refugees and immigrants. In 2013 alone, we served more than 1,700 refugees in San Diego County.