By Yuki Nakajima
Northwest Asian Weekly
On a warm Wednesday afternoon, Adriana and Doi Bu (last names are withheld due to Refugee and Immigrant Children’s Program’s policies) are ready to talk about their lives at their house. Adriana, an ESL teacher at Everett Community College, is smiling and patting her knee every time she talks to Doi Bu. They just celebrated their one year anniversary of living together.
More than a year ago, Doi Bu met Adriana. Doi Bu is originally from Burma (Myanmar) and had been staying in Malaysia for one and half years before they met. Adriana wanted to be her foster parent.
In 1979, following the Vietnam War, the United States took in children from Vietnam. Many of them were unaccompanied minors, which meant that they were children who came to the United States without families.
They depend on foster families to care for and help them adjust to their new lives. Since then, children from countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Central America have been coming to the United States.
The Refugee and Immigrant Children’s Program at Lutheran Community Services is currently looking for foster families that can welcome these children.
Molly Daggett, a program manager, has been working for Lutheran Community Services for 16 years. She says that United States is the only country in the world that accepts unaccompanied minors.
“Other countries take refugee children, but with families,” Daggett said. “It’s really something the U.S. does for purely humanitarian reasons so I’m proud.”
However, the number of refugee children throughout the program has exceeded the number of foster families available.
There are some requirements in order to be a foster family, such as making bedroom space for the children, obtaining a license from Department of Social and Health Services, and having a stable income.
The program also performs a background check to help judge whether the person or family is suitable to be a foster family.
Becoming a foster family may seem like a lot of work, but Adriana didn’t think it was.
One day, she received an e-mail from a college professor. The e-mail was from Lutheran Community Services, stating that it was looking for someone who can potentially be a foster family.
“I just called Meg [who recruits foster families]. The next day, I went down to Seattle for an orientation, and then I started the process. I didn’t even think about the reason for becoming a foster family,” Adriana said.
It took three months for her to prepare to take in a refugee child. Adriana asked the program to find a 13- to 17-year-old girl for her.
In June 2008, Doi Bu came to Adriana’s house.
“[When I came here] everything is different, especially the culture,” Doi Bu said.
Even though they have a close relationship, they encountered some problems. Adriana said that one of the problems was the different cultural ways of communicating.
“There is the American way of communicating from my family, and there is the Myanmar style of communicating from Doi Bu’s family, so it’s pretty different,” she said.
Americans, Adriana observes, tend to communicate more openly and work through problems vocally.
Adriana also said a case worker from Lutheran Community Services helped a lot when she and Doi Bu encountered problems. They tried to find the ways to resolve the issues and talked about how they approach the problems differently, she said.
“The important thing I would say about being a foster family is if the child is not from your culture, foster families need to make sure that they take time to bring their child to places where people from the same country and the child can get together,” Adriana said.
“They have to be willing to buy and cook their food and be understanding,” she continued. “Lots of times, these kids have had some difficult things happen to them so there has been some trauma. You need to understand that behavior is not always from them. It’s because of trauma.”
Doi Bu is planning to go to college. She might have to move out, but Adriana is willing to support her as much as she can. Doi Bu doesn’t consider herself an unaccompanied minor anymore — she is a member of Adriana’s family. ♦
For more information, visit Lutheran Community Services Northwest at www.refugeechildren.net.
Yuki Nakajima can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.