By Nancy Price
In the past 20 years, 70,000 refugees from the Chin state of Mynmar (Burma) have flocked to the United States to escape religious persecution and forced labor. Around 20,000 of those immigrants live in Perry Township, Southport and Greenwood.
“The (Burmese) government is the reason I came here,” said ZaBik Bualteng, executive director for the Chin Community of Indiana (CCI). “Even my brother-in-law, he was arrested twice; he did nothing wrong as a (Christian) pastor and leader. They targeted pastors, they punished too many pastors. The religious persecution is huge.”
Ten years ago, the Chin Community of Indiana (CCI) opened in Perry Township to serve as a community liaison to help refugees find employment, offer ESL classes and locate community services and resources. In the past five years, the center has needed additional funding for resources as the Chin population’s growth has spiked.
A GROWING POPULATION
“Our Chin population is growing very fast,” said Bualteng. “People know this is a good place to live. The money they make, and the expenses is very good, and housing is very cheap compared to the cities of Dallas, Washington, D.C. area, Denver. Housing there is very expensive. Those people get, like, $10 an hour right now, even in Dallas, but here, many people are starting at $16 an hour because of Amazon and all the other warehouses.”
In 2015, Jeff Lake, past president of the Rotary Club of Indianapolis and current assistant governor, was discussing potential grants with the club’s foundation board when a member recommended the Chin Center. “I was chosen as the liaison with the Chin Community of Indiana, so I’ve been working with them since 2016 when the first grant was given,” said Lake. “We provided a $250,000 grant; $50,000 a year for five years.”
The club’s funding has provided salaries for staff, utilities and other operating costs. “Primarily it’s for them to be able to operate at the highest possible level, because without that money they wouldn’t be able to have the staff and other things they currently have,” he added. “We also have a Chin support committee that’s going to meet quarterly, with ZaBik, and our whole intention there is to find out, ‘What are your needs? What is the current status of the Chin community and what are their needs?’ Now we have other human resources that maybe we can help with, that they have a need for real estate or banking or whatever the case may be. And they tell us, and we try to find someone who can help. And in a large club like ours, we have a lot of people, we do things to help them.”
The Chin Center also relies on donations from its 40 local Chin churches (there are 40) in addition to its members, though often members can afford very little due to supporting their families locally and in Burma. As well, locating employment the past four months has been even more difficult for the Chins due to COVID-19.
CCI is planning to raise the bar financially by forming its own business club so that the Chin community and its partners can network. “What we’re trying to do is let (the Chins) know there are other things they can do; they could be an electrician, plumber, accountant; (those jobs) make pretty good money,” Lake said.
The Indianapolis Rotary Club has given a three-year extension to continue to support the Chin Center.
“Za’s only been here since March but he’s already started a youth council, a business club,” said Lake. “So things are happening at an accelerated pace, so that helped our foundation board realize it’s a good idea to extend the grant three more years. They have a fairly small location here. It’s kind of a small place to handle all they do. At some point they may want to have their own separate freestanding facility somewhere else.”
Bualteng referred to the Rotary’s extension and his friendship with Lake and other club leaders as “exceptional” and also extended his appreciation for those in his local community, including donations from the Marion County Health Department and the time schoolteachers give to help Chin students. “They are just like missionaries for us,” he said.
Lake said a goal of the Indianapolis Rotary Club is to help the Chins assimilate into their local community. “We don’t want them to be just a separate entity, a bubble,” he said. “They want to be a part of the community. We want them to be a part of the community.”
Southport International Rotary Club
The Southport International Rotary Club meets at the Chin Community of Indiana, 2524 E. Stop 11 Road. “We wanted to call it an international club so that all people could be invited regardless of where they’re from,” said Jeff Lake of the Indianapolis Rotary Club. For more information, call (317) 502-9634, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to facebook.com/SouthportInternationalRotaryClub.