“I was available to take the family to many, many appointments during the first few months. We went to Maximus (Milwaukee Job Center Central), the W-2 agency, to get bus passes, to the bank to open a checking account, for doctor appointments for immunizations and physicals. This is in addition to obtaining Social Security cards, Medical Care Cards, and state ID cards. LSS was very helpful in navigating the “system.” The social workers there gave lots of advice on various contacts for the government agencies and health care. I also rode the bus routes with them to show them how.” ~ Joanne
“During our visits, we worked on English, and also how to navigate the “system.” They would bring household items to us to ask their names and sometimes their uses. The daily mail and school papers also arrived on our laps, so we could sort out the furniture ads or nonessential school mail, explain what papers to sign, and return conference papers. They learned how to jot appointments down on the calendar we posted on their refrigerator. Khu Matio also learned how to write a check.” ~ Terry
“Communication was constantly a challenge. They knew the alphabet, “hello,” “please,” “good-bye,” “thank you,” and could count. We used a lot of gestures, children’s picture dictionaries, and Richard Scarry’s Word Book. I made charts for basic vocabulary to help them. I printed different fruits, the numbers so they could copy them to write checks, and general terms. We also made trips to Maximus, the bank and the stores.” ~ Erika
“I reviewed pictures of people that they knew from Trinity and looked at their family photos, too as we learned words for husband, wife, daughter, uncle, etc. Their photos had banana trees in the background.” ~ Joanne
LSS provided English classes of different levels as well as information on basic living skills, jobs, and interviews. Khu Matio was able to find employment with a temporary agency to work at a factory fairly quickly. That was good, because besides taking over normal living expenses, refugees are required to reimburse the U.S. government for their airfare beginning six months after their arrival.
“When urgent matters came up, or when the ideas were too big for our limited communication, it was very helpful to be able to use e-mail. Khu Matio’s older brother Luis and sister-in-law Mubi were very fluent in English and still lived in Thailand. Once we got their e-mail, we could ask a question, and they in turn would call Khu Matio and explain. Khu Matio and Kye Meh would do the same when they had a question for us.
“Certain topics were “untranslatable,” no matter what the system. For example, twice a year, at the beginning and end of Daylight Savings Time, we now laugh with Kye Meh as we remember our difficulty in explaining the concept to her the first time. It was less than two months after their arrival, so there was no way to really tell them about this strange custom. Terry finally went into the kitchen and turned the clock ahead, much to their consternation. She tried to explain, but failed, knowing that they must have thought she was the strangest person in the world. The next day, Joanne found the clocks turned back to their original times, so she repeated the process. Eventually they caught on that, for whatever reason, this was the way it was.
“About this time we met Ellen and Pat, two retired social workers from Milwaukee who were going to visit the family’s old refugee camp in Thailand. When they returned, they were able to update us on the status of the family who remained there. Ellen and Pat joined us through the next few years at family birthday parties, helped connect Maria with educational resources in Milwaukee, and found an outlet for Lusia to sell her weaving.” ~ Erika
“Between us, we also showed them how to better function in Wisconsin society and culture: we went for walks to the local park, and to Asian food stores, Lake Michigan, the zoo, trick-or-treating, and the Domes. It was interesting to note a comment from Khu Matio during the visit to the tropical Dome. “Oh, that is a leem tree! We use that for medicine and food in refugee camp.” ~ Joanne
“Throughout our work with “our” family on 27th St., phone calls with questions or requests for help became routine. “What do you do when the tornado siren sounds?” ‘Toilet won’t flush.” “Why no power here? We always pay bill.” “What are storm windows?” With lots of phone calls and e-mails between us, one family member or another would drive down to help solve the problem. ~ Erika, Joanne, Terry
“I searched out a school, took them to the Central Office to register the oldest girl, helped fill out the paperwork for free lunch, and took the family for a tour at the school. On the first day, I watched in amazement as that spunky five-year-old jumped on a big yellow bus all alone when it pulled up in front of her house. I then drove to join her in class for the first part of her day. The Milwaukee Public Schools, and specifically Silver Spring School, has gone out of its way to be helpful and accommodating. Even when that school did not have a formal ESL program, they created support for Than Myan and the rest of the children as they joined her at school. They also provided an excellent well-rounded education for the last four years.” ~ Terry
In August that year, Trinity found out that the rest of Khu Matio’s family: his parents, sister and her baby, and six-year-old brother had been cleared to come to the U.S. They had been on the waiting list for over three years. Although they could be placed anywhere in the country, they were hopeful that they will be placed near Milwaukee to be reunited as a family. Trinity learned that “our” families were Christian, with little or no English skills, but with a strong employment history. They had lived in the refugee camp in Thailand for over 15 years, since the adults were small children. (Trinity would later learn that the “Mom” of the family, Kye Meh, left the Karenni state in Burma with a much older brother when she was seven – about 1992. She never saw her parents again.)
“Once we learned they were actually coming to the area, and were sponsored by the International Institute, we were able to ask the congregation for clothing and more household items for the next arrivals. They arrived on schedule. Eventually, congregational volunteers helped get the rest of this family settled into the same duplex. The oldest sister, Maria, proved to be as fluent in English as Khu Matio kept telling us she was, so the communication issue improved immensely after their arrival. The first family was also able to help them navigate “the system,” but we again were involved in frequent trips to obtain cards, transport to medical appointments, etc. Now, anywhere we wanted to go with the whole family involved at least two cars, lots of coordination, and FOUR car seats!
“A highlight that fall was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when I invited the three women to come to my house so I could guide them in making a traditional dinner. The rest of the family arrived in time to attend the Trinity-Freistadt evening Thanksgiving service, then returned home. Discoveries from that dinner: turkey and pumpkin pie are tasty; there is NOT always room for Jell-O!” ~ Terry
“From Christmas to Easter and summer picnics, the three Trinity families described here took turns hosting several other events a year with the Khu Matio families. We also shared other cultural traditions throughout the year: school Valentines, Easter egg dying and hunts, the Fourth of July, pumpkin carving, the Folk Fair, children’s birthday parties, and Christmas tree decorating. We also went to Open Houses and Conferences for the children.
“During the next two years, until several of our friends learned to drive and bought cars, we coordinated our efforts to get them to church on the major holidays. A special evening for all of us happened in April of 2010, when Kye Meh chose to be baptized. The rest of the family had been baptized at the refugee camp or sometime earlier, but as the only in-law, she never had the opportunity.