AUSTIN, Texas — Despite the pandemic's major financial and social impacts on their daily lives, one refugee family is still choosing to find joy amidst their struggles.
What You Need To Know
- Christian pastor in his home country Burma, now called Myanmar, but was forced to flee to Malaysia in 2006
- Opened learning center in Malaysia but still struggled
- Wife cooked for 200 kids a day
- Approved for refugee program in America during 2016
Jonathan Tan loves spending time with his wife and four kids on his days off of work.
“Playing with four kids, and drawings and music, singing," said Tan.
It’s his favorite way to take his mind off of his troubles. He lost both of his part-time jobs when the pandemic hit.
Now, he has a new job as a park monitor, but it’s still not enough to pay the bills, and he says he is still “struggling for paying for rent, for living. I have four kids. And, the kids are very, um, need expenses for education, for food, clothing, so we still, not enough for living, daily living.”
But, Tan is used to facing adversity.
He was a Christian pastor in his home country Burma, now called Myanmar, but was forced to flee to Malaysia in 2006 after being persecuted for his religion.
Life there was still difficult.
“We had no permit to work, we are still illegal," said Tan."All refugee children cannot go to the public school, the whole day they are running around the street - so I was very concerned for the children.”
He found his purpose in creating the United Learning Center, a school for refugee children.
“The name I chose, I picked United meaning unite in one. All the children, poor or rich, different religions, but unite in education," said Tan.
He made sure the education was free for all children.
“Grace every day cooked for 200 kids," said Tan of his wife.
But he and his family left it all behind in 2016 when they were approved for refugee status in the United States. Now they live in a two-bedroom apartment in Austin, where they all sleep together in one room.
“Our culture, we are sleeping together so we are more happy," said Tan.
Even after arriving in Austin, finding a community didn’t come easily.
“I have no friends, I have no American friends, I feel like very lonely, I don’t have any contacts… But after six months, after one years I connect with American friends," said Tan.
Now, because of the pandemic, he’s isolated again from the community he worked so hard to build. He misses his family back home more than ever, after 15 years without seeing them.
“We miss a lot for the family. After five years we can apply for citizenship in United States, then after that I can visit back to the country and I will meet with my family. It’s my very big hope for the future," said Tan.
Until then, he’s finding joy in moments with his family, playing, drawing, and teaching them Burmese characters. Through it all, his faith gives him hope.
“I worry a little bit about for the future, but we are, we trust God, we pray to God, and we have peace," said Tan.