Bridging the future

Justin Thang and his non-profit, Hope For Tomorrow, looks to help Burmese earn citizenship

By Jeremy Dunn

Over the holiday weekend, the Dave Matthews Band filled the Noblesville night sky with the sounds of their hit song, You & Me, echoing the lyrics, “You and me together, we can do anything.” While fans were celebrating the jam-band’s annual weekend visit to Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center (or “Deer Creek” to the venue’s faithful), southsider Justin Thang was putting the group’s powerful lyrics into practice, helping over 30 Burmese men and women become official United States citizens.

Thang is the founder and executive director for a non-profit organization, fittingly named Hope For Tomorrow, and it is aiming to build bridges for refugees to more easily transition into society.

Finding his way

Initially, Thang believed that arriving in the United States in 2007 would instantly provide him with endless opportunities and that all of his hardships from Burma would disappear. The non-profit executive director quickly learned that he could not be more wrong. Thang recalled, “As a teenager, I thought in a blink of an eye my life would change. I used to think that my family’s life would be changed completely since we now lived in the United States. I also thought that I would forget every single hardship that had ever happened to my family, friends and people in Burma because of the dictatorship government. However, all of my thoughts proved me wrong. The moment I walked into an American school, new challenges started. I remember I was the only person who stayed in class because I did not know it was lunch time and I missed lunch because of it. I remember running to the restroom to cry because I did not understand what my teachers were saying. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I am not the only person, let alone refugee, that has felt this way.”

Inspiring hope

As he continued to face the challenges of transitioning to a life in the United States, Thang took note to the obstacles that many Burmese families were facing in the area. More importantly, the Hope For Tomorrow founder had identified a major need for help amongst these families. It was from that need that Hope For Tomorrow was born. “There are many Burmese refugee parents wandering around to find someone that can help their child in homework. Some parents will drive around the community to find someone who understands, just one person who understands, but in result they find no one. Imagine how defeating that would feel. Not only for children but even Burmese parents. Many of these parents that have yet to become an American citizen because they do not know who could possibly help teach them English. That is how Hope for Tomorrow became a reality.”

Thang began working with local community leaders to establish the 501c(3) non-profit organization and found a location within the Homecroft area, directly off of Madison Avenue. Looking to empower Burmese refugees toward hopeful and successful futures, Hope For Tomorrow moved forward with a mission of bridging the gap between the Burmese and American communities through education and service.

Justin Thang, founder and executive director for Hope For Tomorrow. (Photos by Rick Myers.)

Facing the challenges

In order to provide the appropriate support, Hope For Tomorrow had to determine what the greatest challenges are for Burmese families trying to transition to American life. While hygiene routines, food choices and methods of transportation must be relearned, Thang pinpoints the language barrier as refugees’ biggest obstacle. He shares, “One of the greatest challenges refugees face upon arriving in the United States is the language barrier. Most refugees reach the United States with a less-than-fluent grasp of English and refugees often arrive with even less English experience. Also, employment, transportation, legal responsibilities and receiving assistance in each of these areas are more difficult without a firm grasp of English.”

Equipped with this knowledge, Hope For Tomorrow looks to provide educational opportunities for the Burmese community through a variety of programs for children and adults alike.  Aside from hosting summer school, the non-profit will offer an after-school program three days a week for students ranging from kindergarten through 8th grade. Adult citizenship courses are available two nights a week. Also, Thang’s organization hosts a “Night of Burma” to allow the community to come experience many of the traditions and highlights of Burmese culture.

Looking to the future

Even though Hope For Tomorrow is still young in its existence, the heartfelt non-profit has helped 38 men and women earn United States citizenship. Thang, who takes on a full-time job while working with the organization in the evenings and on weekends, believes that as more people in the community become aware of Hope For Tomorrow, the opportunities for growth will flourish. “A lot of businesses, leaders and schools did not know a lot about Hope For Tomorrow because we are only a one-year-old nonprofit organization in Southside of Indianapolis,” he said. However, we are hopeful for the future. We believe that we will be able to build stronger bridges between Burmese and American communities in the United States.”

Priscilla Mawi, 16 months, shows her American pride with U.S. flags with her mother, Biak.

It is no secret that Thang is incredibly passionate about Hope For Tomorrow’s vision. The dedicated founder and executive director, humbled by his own experiences, has an unmatched drive to help others create a better future. “We are here for people who need that extra boost and guidance in finding success here in America. One of my biggest hopes for Hope For Tomorrow is to seek out a larger office space for our students and parents, allowing us to serve our community better. I believe that God’s plan for Hope For Tomorrow is what will ultimately determine where we will be. In all of these things, I want Hope For Tomorrow to be a place that will bring people from the community into community and relationships. Hope For Tomorrow is a place that can make these things possible,” he concluded.

Just as the lyrics resonated in the night sky, Thang is a testament that “you and me together, we can do anything.”

For more information on Hope For Tomorrow:

Visit hopefortomorrowusa.com

Check out Hope For Tomorrow on Facebook, facebook.com/hopefortomorrowusa

Contact Justin Thang at justin@hopefortomorrowusa.com

5 Questions with Justin Thang

  1. What is the best advice you have received? Love others as you love yourself.
  2. Who is someone you look up to as a role model? Jesus Christ.
  3. What is one thing you have really come to enjoy about American culture? Freedom.
  4. What is your greatest accomplishment? Founding Hope For Tomorrow.
  5. What is one thing you have yet to experience in the United States, but would like to? To visit the White House and meet with the President of the United States.