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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lessons from a refugee camp

In 1984 I left the United States for the Philippines. My destination? The Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) in Bataan, a refugee camp for Indochinese refugees, the majority waiting to relocate in the USA.

I was twenty-three. My job? I was an English-as-a-second-language teacher and also taught cultural orientation. I was at the camp seventeen months. I lived with and worked with an organization called World Relief.

What did I learn as I taught and lived among the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians? That, in spite of turmoil, death, and political unrest, in spite of war, devastation, and loss, courage and hope prevail. The refugees opened their hearts and homes (scanty billets made of wood) to me. They gave freely. They taught me that although life is unfair, there is beauty to be seen. And most of all, no one---no one---can steal your joy and hope.

My newest novel, A Wedding Invitation, captures some of my experiences. A Wedding Invitation is a work of fiction, but I used many of the things I saw and did during my time in the camp.

This first picture is of the market place in Phase II of the camp. My classroom is in the building behind it. The other photos are of my students, many of them Amerasians, as my character Lien is in my novel.





1 comment:

Aritha said...

Interesting to read this. Thank you.