The Maran family, who arrived here as refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 2014, consider Creston a wonderful place and they are coming back home.
After being sponsored for a year by the Creston Refugee Committee, the family relocated to Toronto, believing it would be a good move for them. They believed they would find a place to live and a job for Jay Dan, husband to Cindy and father to Merry, Joshua, and Daniel.
Toronto proved not to be as rosy as they had hoped.
Linda Price and Dave Budney of the refugee committee, who maintained contact with the family, said Jay Dan worked part time for little money and no benefits, accommodation was hard to find, and then neighbours complained about the noise of the children. For three months, the family slept on someone’s floor. The Marans felt isolated, and they encountered prejudice. The support they needed was non-existent.
A few months ago, they began to plan a return to Creston where they had been welcomed and accepted by the community. They wanted to return to a place where they had friends and emotional support. They will be back to live here at the end of December. The move is their choice, and they are paying their own way.
Their saga as refugees began with Jay Dan and a story of courage in a mountain town in Myanmar, a country of more than 130 distinct ethnic groups and as many different languages. Elections in 2010 started a move to a civilian government, but the country’s military still wields considerable power. Human rights abuses persist. Kachin province is in the north where civil war erupted over ethnic autonomy and control of the area’s rich mineral resources.
On Thanksgiving weekend, about 15 years ago, Jay Dan and a friend confronted two government soldiers who were assaulting a young woman. They helped her escape, but Jay Dan knew there would be consequences—imprisonment or worse. His parents urged him to flee their country so he left Kachin, where he had just completed his studies in statistics at the university.
He walked hundreds of kilometres, catching buses when he could, making his way to Thailand and finally to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has never learned what happened to his friend.
Jay Dan lived and worked in Kuala Lumpur as a United Nations refugee for ten years and met his wife, a refugee who had lost her entire family. But even in Kuala Lumpur they lived in fear every day.
Several years after Jay Dan left Myanmar, his younger brother Naw Naw fled because of harrassment from soldiers; he found Jay Dan only by chance after two years of searching. They have lived together since then and don’t want to be separated again.
Jay Dan and Naw Naw attended ESL classes and had part-time jobs in Creston in 2015; they hope they can find employment again. Naw Naw would like to become a Baptist minister like his father, says Price, whom the family calls “our Canadian mother.”
In an email to her, Jay Dan said they celebrated Thanksgiving at their church in Toronto. He remembered when he was forced to leave his parents. “Every year this month my feeling is a little bit sad. Anyway I’m looking forward for my future and my family’s future.”
The Creston Refugee Committee is actively raising funds to welcome two more families to the valley in 2017. The committee is responsible for providing financial support for one year following arrival in Canada. Donations may be made through Trinity United Church office across from the Post Office. For information on the committee and fundraising efforts, please phone Linda Price at 250-428-4632.