It is always good to catch up with long time friends. Some friends you meet in special and remarkable circumstances. Some meetings are random occurrences that lead to long-term friendships. Other times, you are thrown into a difficult circumstance together and a stranger becomes a lifeline, and then a friendship develops. For me and the Shwe family, it was sort of a combination of all of these.
The Shwe family are Karen people who were in Thailand as refugees from their homeland Burma. They escaped persecution and slaughter to become squatters and survivors. If you don’t know about the atrocities that have been happening for the past three decades and still occur today, I strongly recommend that you visit my friends the Free Burma Rangers. I met the Shwes in March 1997 as a fourth year medical student on an elective rotation at the Kwai River Christian Hospital. At that time their family was only four: Moses and Shirley, their daughter November, and son Junior; but they were about to become five. I delivered their daughter Rosie during my rotation there and thus we became friends.
I soon realized that the Shwes, as well as the other people in their squatter villages and refugee camps are more than just survivors,. Many have not come from poor, illiterate farming villages in rural Burma. Some have been organists in large international churches, some have been professors, some have been community leaders. They may have lost everything material in their escape but what they brought with them no one could take away. They are some of the bravest and most tenacious people on the planet.
The Shwes were no exception. Shirley’s English is quite good, and Moses can play guitar like no one else. Shirley helped organize some local women to form a cottage industry sewing cross-stitch handicrafts to sell overseas and make a bit of money for their families. I returned to work full time at KRCH in 2000 and during my years there we spent time together. Usually, it was visiting them in their bamboo and thatch hut sipping a not-so-cold drink. I got to see the Shwe children, also very bright and beautiful, grow up a bit. Rosie has stated that she will become a doctor from the time she was able to say so.
Eventually I left Thailand and moved to China but we still kept in touch. They decided to apply for third country placement as refugees. We talked about how they could get to the States and they said if they had a sponsor, it would help expedite their application and ensure a placement. I discussed with with my home fellowship, the one where I have been a part of since middle school and where my mom still attends. They agreed to be the refugee sponsor for the Schwe family and began working with Catholic Charities to bring them over. Even so, it took years for everything to be processed and work out. Finally, in April 2009, the Shwe family arrived in Ft.Wayne, IN, my home town!
When I went back to the States this fall, we were finally reunited in a completely different place! It was so unreal, yet so cool to meet them in my hometown, and not where I had met them on the fringes of the Thai-Burma jungle. They are settling in well enough and credit the generosity and kindness of the fellowship that sponsored them, which is also where they attend. Shirley and Moses both have jobs and Moses plays guitar in the worship band. November is married and has a 4 month old named Abigail Katherine (!), but her husband is still in Thailand. Junior and Rosie are in middle school and are doing well. Rosis still wants to be a doctor and now she has an excellent chance of making it! I look forward to more reunions and a continued friendship with this very special family!
The photo here is of the Shwe family in their apartment. Moses had to work and couldn’t be there. Unfortunately, I don’t have any digital photos of the Shwes when I was in Thailand. The first photo above is of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) credit to Free Burma Rangers.