- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

FREDERICK, Md.

Refugees from Myanmar are settling in the Frederick area, where community groups are helping them find work and providing other services.

“Without it, there’s nothing to eat,” said Phun Thang, a Myanmar refugee and a leader of the Falam Baptist Church-Maryland in Frederick.

Mr. Thang was among dozens of refugees, asylum-seekers and local service-providers at a recent open house at the downtown Frederick offices of LIFE & Discovery, an educational corporation.

It was the start of collaboration among LIFE & Discovery, Lutheran Social Services, the International Rescue Committee and Frederick County Public Schools. The goal is to offer services for the area’s increasing number of refugees from Myanmar, a Southeast Asia country under military rule. It was formerly known as Burma.

A few months ago, education officials, area Myanmar pastors, members from the Maryland Office for Refugees and Asylees and others started meeting to discuss the future of local refugees.

LIFE & Discovery provided space, with computers and Internet access, for case workers to visit.

The case workers are available every Monday to assist refugees in their job search, said Jennifer Schiller, program coordinator with Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area.

Assistance includes English-language classes and interviewing techniques, she said.

Previously, refugees living in the Frederick area had to go to Silver Spring or the District for caseworkers’ services, Miss Schiller said.

Elizabeth Chung, executive director of LIFE & Discovery, hopes other state and local service-providers will take advantage of the collaboration and meetings to contact area refugees and asylees. She cited English as a Second Language programs as an example.

If the partnership is successful, Miss Chung said, it could be expanded and replicated with other immigrant groups in the area. Many immigrants come to Frederick from Africa.

Chan Thui, an employment advocate with Lutheran Social Services, will be working Mondays with refugees. The agency estimates 400 to 1,000 Myanmar people live in the Frederick area.

The biggest challenges are learning the language and finding work, he said.

Van Thawng, 17, a Frederick High School student, plans to volunteer Mondays to help his countrymen and hopes to learn as much as possible about local culture. He came to the United States about four years ago and likes the round-the-clock electricity, clean environment and sports activities at school.

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