Myanmar woman shares refugee story at MCC

A local woman stood in front of full room to share her experience as a refugee with locals Monday.

Van Uk, 35, from Myanmar (Burma), spoke about being a refugee, her country and life now at the Welcoming our New Neighbors from Myanmar event the Marshalltown Diversity Committee held at Marshalltown Community College.

“Our family wanted us to leave the country because we were in trouble,” Uk said. “They are the one’s who told us to leave.”

Uk left her immediate family in Burma to go with fellow students from high school and college to India when she was 16. Uk said the Burmese military were coming to her home state of Chin, trying to change the Chin National Day to Chin State Day.

“The university students, college students and students in high school demonstrated,” Uk said. “Some people got arrested and I escaped to India.”

In India, Uk said she was picked up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“As soon as we were in India we felt relief, we felt freedom,” Uk said. “It’s really depressed living in Burma.”

Uk lived in New Dehli until she was sent to live in the United States in 2000. She lived in Maryland for a decade, then moved to Marshalltown.

Uk, her 4-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter are one of many Burmese families living in Marshalltown. She moved to be closer to her uncle and aunt.

“My Burmese people, even if they don’t speak English, they work,” Uk said. “Seeing them being able to work, that’s my favorite part of Marshalltown.”

She also likes seeing her friends at Chin Baptist Church of Marshalltown, CBC succeed.

“I love seeing them and the brand new cars in the church,” Uk said. “Compared to other states of Burmese people, in Marshalltown they work and they work hard and they get a nice car.”

In addition to being a mom, Uk is a full-time, pre-nursing freshman at MCC. She said she wants to help others.

“I want to be something, someone for my country and my people,” Uk said.” I want to help my people here and if I get a chance to go back to Burma, I will take it back home.”

Uk said the language barrier is most difficult for her and the other Burmese people living in Marshalltown.

“They need a lot of help with the language barrier, everywhere they go they need help,” Uk said. “They don’t have enough people to help them.”

Uk invited people to help them.

“These Burmese people we will always have problem in language barrier so where ever we are that is our big problem, especially for older people who are here,” Uk said. “They cannot read your mouth. Language is the most challenging thing for us.”

Chris Russell, member of the Marshalltown Diversity Committee, said Uk is one of about a hand full of Burmese MCC students.

“We plan different things that will both help our students learn about other cultures who are their fellow students and expanding their global view of the world but then also for the speakers themselves,” Russell said. “This is her time first public speaking and being able to talk about your country and all that is a great connection for her as well.”

Russell invites students and the general public to watch “They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain” from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in Room 206 at MCC if they are interested in learning more about the Myanmar culture.