40th Anniversary: How does it feel to be accompanied? A testimony of a JRS staff

22 July 2024|Kyi Thar, Urban Refugee Project Director, JRS Thailand

It is a personal reflection upon how it feels to be accompanied during my career as a JRS staff. Let me begin the story with my inspiration to be part of the JRS mission several years ago and share with you how one of the JRS values, “accompaniment” relates to me. It is a life-changing experience that I am about to tell you from the perspective of someone who has been accompanied by the organization that he loves and the colleagues that he dearly respects. It is going to be something personal but I can guarantee that it is a true story. This reflection was crafted during JRS Thailand annual meeting in October 2020. I decided to share it with a broader audience.

Our mission as JRS is to accompany, serve and advocate the rights and wellbeing of the brothers and sisters who are seeking refuge. What I am about to highlight is how I felt when I was accompanied by JRS. I am sharing this testimony with great respect to the integrity of my late mother and my family, and with tremendous gratitude to our JRS colleagues in Thailand both former and present.

I am originally from Myanmar but I now live and work in Thailand. I was seven years younger when I joined JRS as a Community Liaison Officer in a border city called Ranong, in southern Thailand. I moved to Bangkok to work in the Urban Refugee Program in 2015, which I am now assigned as the Project Director. JRS came into my life ten years ago. JRS was one of the partner organizations that I worked with I wondered, then, if I could be a staff of JRS.

At some point in life, we have to face the deepest and darkest moments. I wondered, then, if I could be a staff of JRS.  Three years after joining JRS, something happened to my mother. I had to go back to Myanmar and had her checked up in Mandalay. The medical checkup came out that she was having staged-four cancer and had two months to live.

When we encountered the greatest challenge in our lives, we realized it happened unexpectedly, most likely when we were not prepared. The story I am about to share with the world is my difficulty while helping my mother who was diagnosed with stage-four cancer. It’s the very first cancer experience in my family, my sister, myself, and mom. Since my father passed away in 2010, we only had three in our family and we were living in three different locations. Our family is of mixed religions. My mom was a catholic and we are Buddhist. I was working with JRS in Bangkok. My sister was in Yangon and my mother was in Anisakhan, our hometown in Mandalay division, Myanmar.

One day in 2015, my mother called my sister telling her that her condition wasn’t good. We didn’t know exactly what was about, but in our hearts, we knew it seemed serious.

After all the necessary tests determined she has stage-four cancer. The whole world became dark twenty-four hours every day. We were neither financially nor socially strong to support our mother’s treatment. Generally, there was no social welfare that we could count on in Myanmar. We did not have health insurance either. Many of my fellows in Myanmar would understand how challenging it could be to be diagnosed with cancer and to cover the cost.

As I left Myanmar and started working in Thailand a decade ago, I didn’t know many people to ask for help. My mom had been diagnosed in Yangon for a year until her time was up on December 16, 2016. Cancer treatment for a family like us with a humble background was unthinkable. But we managed to go through the horrible storm, especially with the emotional support of JRS colleagues and their contributions. JRS was one of many kind people who walked with me in the incredibly challenging journey of life. We could spend time with our mom for over a year from the two-month time that she was supposed to live. Although we lost her, we had a good fight against cancer.

Work was my only place where I could stop thinking of my mom and served others in vulnerable situations at that time. I give thanks to the colleagues who always stood by me, listened to me, and more importantly accompanied me when I was at the deepest, the darkest, and coldest bottom of my life, where I had no will to live on. Their warm words, assistance, and understanding kept me going. Everywhere I looked I only saw the darkness and hopelessness everywhere during those days. JRS and my colleagues and together with many other Samaritan-friends and family members gave me “hope”, the most important thing that I needed.

I became believing in the deeper impact of "accompaniment" on someone in such a difficult time.  What JRS's accompaniment did not only help me through the hardships but also saved my life, healed, and transformed me into a better human being.

Without the accompaniment of JRS for a staff like me, I am sure I would have lost everything. Therefore, as the JRS staff that I am, I continue accompanying our colleagues and the refugees with everything I can. Moreover, I learn new skills and knowledge from them.  I believe my accompaniment will have some positive impact on them. I have a personal mission statement in line with the JRS’s. Almost every day, I start my work by praying in my mission statement, giving thanks to those who have accompanied me, and asking for more strength, guidance, and grace to accompany others. Certainly, there are many events that JRS has accompanied me in my career and life that I may not know.