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Myanmar Refugees in Indiana Await Word

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Myanmar Refugees in Indiana Await Word

Buddhists Monks hold candles during a prayer service for the victims of the Myanmar cyclone in Fort Wayne, In., on Friday evening. Fred Gilbert is seen on the far left. (Photo by Mike Puente/WBEZ)

As aid to the survivors of Myanmar’s cyclone trickles in, many friends and family feel virtually powerless to do anything. The many refugees living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, are among those who are worried and offering prayers.

For Dr. Khin O O, the past week has been filled with feelings of helplessness, despair and a realization that two of her cousins probably did not survive the devastating cyclone that hit the county’s Delta region a week ago.

KHIM O O: Unfortunately, I think two of them have been wiped out because he worked off shore. I don’t we’ll be able to get a hold of him at all.

Dr. O O left Burma for Fort Wayne years ago and treats many in the refugee community, most of whom speak little English.

There are about 4,000 Burmese refugees living in this northeastern Indiana city, about 2 and one half hours east of Chicago.

It’s said to be the largest concentration in the United States. The emigration from Burma to Fort Wayne began in the late 1980s when many fled the southeast Asian nation as the military Junta government began its crackdown on dissidents who were calling for democratic and social reforms.

Last night, Dr. OO prayed with about a hundred members of the local Burmese community on the lawn outside the stately Allen County Courthouse.

Here, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists lit candles as they called for the military rulers to allow international relief efforts to aid those suffering after the cyclone.

KHIN O O: I just can’t imagine living without water, without electricity in this hot water and no shelter. I just can’t imagine how they cannot allow the aid to come in when everyone is trying to help.

The events in Myanmar haven’t gone unnoticed by 14-year-old Tahe Ohu, who was born in Thailand, but now lives with her family in Fort Wayne. She spoke of frustration at last night’s service.

OHU: It’s the only thing we can do right now. We can pray, we can sit here, we can make fund-raisers, donate money, but that’s not enough.

Ohu says her family has been unable to contact loved ones in Myanmar either by internet or cell phone.

OHU: Phone lines are dead so we don’t know what to do right now, but we are trying to get contact.

As tears swells up in her eyes, Ohu says she hopes aid can find its way soon.

OHU: I’m worried more about the children and the older people. I have a grandfather, and I have a grandmother, but I don’t know where they are right now.

Fred Gilbert, a Fort Wayne social worker, says communication to Myanmar is never good, primarily because the government there monitors all communication with the outside world.

GILBERT: It’s just spotty, here and there. It’s been very difficult. Apparently, some of the towers are working. No landline communications so far. We just haven’t heard much.

Throughout the day, the Burmese community here will continue to gather to determine what they can do to provide relief for their loved ones nearly 9,000 miles away.

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