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Voices Of Diversity: Helping The Burmese

Updated: Friday, July 11 2014, 05:54 AM CDT
WATERLOO, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -    When emergencies arise, being able to communicate is vital to getting the help that you need. But, Cedar Valley Refugee Newcomer Services (CVRNS) in Waterloo said more needs to be done to help the city’s growing Burmese population.
There are about 1500 Burmese refugees in Waterloo. Many have come to work for Tyson. The meat packaging plant has dedicated resources to providing training and good paying jobs for refugees. In the area, the group speaks five different languages with at least 12 different dialects. Liberata Aung and Ann Grove staff CVRNS. Aung works as a Burmese Advocate and Interpreter. Grove is the Program Coordinator. Together, they help refugees adjust to life in a new country. That includes educating them on the basics like teaching refugees how to navigate a new health care system, how to get a job, how to apply for food stamps and how to interpret the laws in America.
Grove said CVRNS offers something unique for the Burmese population.
“The reason we’re special is that we have Liberata,” Grove said.
There aren’t very many Burmese interpreters. Aung just came to the United States about a year ago. She learned English through working at universities in Burma. Now, she strives to give back to those from her homeland.
“By not knowing English they face lots of problems. I know that. I am interested to help them to solve their problems,” Aung said. 
One of those obstacles can be communication in an emergency situation.
“I don’t want a mother to feel like something’s happened to her child, and she can’t communicate to people what’s needed,” Grove said.  
Her solution to the problem is cards with pictures on them that depict multiple aliments from a headache to dizziness to diarrhea.  Grove believes the cards will help emergency responders figure out what is wrong with a patient earlier on during a call. She explained that Burma doesn’t have free public education like in the US. Thus, many Burmese are not literate in any languages. The cards give them an opportunity to relate to a picture without the pressure of trying to speak or read the words. However, for those who are literate, there are cards with one of the more common Burmese languages on them next to a picture of the aliment.    
Waterloo Fire Rescue Chief, Pat Treloar, told CBS2/FOX28 that they’re interested in using the tool if it helps them do their job better. However, Medical Officer, Jason Hernandez, said emergency calls from the Burmese population are limited.
“We definitely don’t see it on a regular basis by any means,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez also said that usually the problem is with figuring out initially what is wrong with a patient. Yet, Treloar said that can also happen with English speakers when they’re unconscious or too injured to speak for themselves. Hernandez did note that firefighters have used similar cards for other languages, and they’ve helped on calls. 
“For the day to day, the routine type stuff, they work pretty well,” Hernandez said.
Waterloo Police Chief, Dan Trelka, said his department is also working to navigate language and cultural barriers. He’s even had Grove speak to his officers to help them achieve better cultural competency.  
“In Burma, apparently it was appropriate for them to bribe police officers. In America, that’s a huge issue,” Chief Trelka said.
While the training has helped officers in understanding some of the cultural differences, Chief Trelka said that he believes the calls police cover are too vast to benefit from the cards. Both the police and fire departments said that they often find their most valuable resource for communication on the call. 
“Many of the kids in the Burmese families are bilingual and right, wrong or indifferent we rely a lot on them,” Chief Trelka said.
That solution worries Grove. She explained that it disrupts the family dynamic and puts the kids in charge, which can cause problems down the road. She said sometimes parents are unable to discipline their children when the child becomes their connection to the outside world. She added that the experience of communicating during an emergency can also be very traumatic for a child.
 “It’s a big burden for a child,” Grove said.
She said that the cards she would like to make available to first responders are a better resource than children. She said the cards for first responders aren’t very expensive and CVRNS is hoping to receive donations to help supply them to the Waterloo Fire Department.
If you would like to donate cards to CVRNS, a check can be made payable to “Operation Threshold,” CVRNS’ parent company, with “CVRNS” in the memo line.
Operation Threshold, Black Hawk county office:
1535 Lafayette
PO Box 4120
Waterloo, IA 50704
(319) 291-2065
Cedar Valley Refugee Newcomer Services:
Ann grove: (319) 234 -0843
Voices Of Diversity: Helping The Burmese


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