Bangkok, 25 November 2019 – Kyi Thar, a caseworker with the Urban Refugee Project in Bangkok, shares his reflection on his work accompanying and serving asylum seekers and refugees in the capital of Thailand. Kyi Thar comes from Myanmar and has been working for 6 years with JRS in Thailand.
All of my journey with Jesuit Refugee Service in Asia Pacific started with a wonderful phone call. It was in the mid of 2013 when I received a call from Thailand. After serving Myanmar migrant families for several years in Ranong, Thailand, I went back to my village near Mandalay in Myanmar. I was sitting in front of my house to recover from teaching English to students at a nearby private school in the community. Back in 2013, internet penetration and mobile phone SIM card availability was a big challenge in Myanmar. However, someone from JRS managed to get my contact number and reached out to me. She introduced herself as an assistant country director and told me if I knew there was a vacancy announcement stationed in Ranong on JRS website. I am still thankful to her and to JRS for this phone call. I had no idea about the vacancy nor knew what to do for my future then. I was actually in the dark looking for a guiding star. I knew I wanted to go back to the field and serve the vulnerable ones. I could not imagine how to make it happen. Since that day onward, my life has changed completely. I have started living a purposeful life. When I recall this memory, I still get emotional. How powerful the call was!
In the following day, after receiving the call, I had to dive my motorcycle to the city where I could get internet access. I read the job description of Community Liaison Officer — Ranong Project several times. My heart determined that this was it. Finally, I decided to apply for it. I went through all the recruitment process until I was offered the job. I discussed with my grandmother, 85 and my family if this was a good decision. They all supported me although they knew I would go away for a long time. I was so excited to meet the children from migrant families and to serve them under JRS.
When I was in Ranong in 2007, JRS was one of the partner organizations that I worked with. Although I was inspired by the job that JRS staff did, I was not thinking of joining JRS one day. But, in 2013, I became one of them and I worked in the Ranong project until it reached a successful exit. I spent about 8 months in a year in the field working closely with ninety to a hundred families. Every day at work, I reflected upon the JRS’ mission “to serve, to accompany and to advocate” for the refugees.
Once, a wise Jesuit priest asked me what JRS taught me. I replied to him that the greatest lesson I learned would be how to serve, accompany and advocate for the vulnerable brothers and sisters who had to leave their homeland. It took me a while to deeply understand the concept of JRS’s mission. After working closely with refugees on a daily basis, I realized that my actions, words and thought transformed. I became ready to serve or “service-oriented” as our Human Resource Office described me. I was always available to accompany them and I was proactive in raising their voices whenever relevant.
I have been with JRS for over 6 years now. After completion of Ranong project, I applied for a caseworker job in Urban Refugee Program in Bangkok and got accepted. Since 2015, I have served refugees and asylum seekers of 30 different nationalities in Bangkok.
During a Mass, I have learned that we could find God in the face of refugees. It is true. I am still thrilled to serve refugees and to listen to what they have to share. Every day at work is a brand new day and I feel as if every day was my first day at work. I experience new things, learn new skills and gain new knowledge.
When my mother was fighting against cancer in Myanmar in the year 2016, I almost lost my job at JRS. It was the most challenging time of my life emotionally, physically and financially. JRS family stood by me, encouraged me and provided me with support and understanding. JRS has proved to me that we actually work as a family. I will never forget about it and I am still grateful to all JRS staff in Asia Pacific Regional office and JRS Thailand office until today.
Professionally, I learned how to build a rapport with the refugees and how to come closer to them and my understanding of them improved. I feel it so naturally. It can be one of the many miracles that I have experienced working with JRS. I have served over 1000 asylum seekers and refugees directly. I am enjoying my job even more than 6 years ago because my job became a vocation. I wish to continue this job for several more years.
More importantly, I respect the resilience of the refugees. They are always kind to me. I also learn a lot about life from them. I love working with refugees. After working with them for four years in Bangkok, they have become my partners, colleagues. The relationship has evolved from service-provider and service-receiver to partnership.
I know there are a lot of newer things to learn in this career path and I am looking forward to it. Over the years, my job in JRS has eventually transformed from a simple job to a vocation.