The 25th anniversary of the first Burmese refugees settling in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is especially sweet for Minn Myint Nan Tin, because it coincides with her adopted city becoming a Friendship City with Mawlamyine in Myanmar.
“I have a chance to solve people that who care about us and also the country that I love is both for me, it is a dream come true. ”
The co-founder of the Burmese advocacy center was a key player in bringing the project to Fort Wayne,which is the home to some 10000 Burmese.
The Friendship City program falls under the umbrella of Sister Cities, but is a less formal agreement.
With democratically held an elections last year, and the emergence of civilian government in Naypyidaw,the time seemed right to pursue a relationship.
As their homeland moved toward the civilian-like government, a lot of change for the refugees, too.
Several have started their own businesses-including 13 grocery stores, 3 restaurants, 2 hair salons, and a car dealership.
Sister Cities president, Dorothy Kittaka, notes that a generation of children has grown up speaking English-and many Burmese have become U.S. citizens.
“So this is a place where they’re thriving, and why not go back and see what we can do to connect with what they left?”
In February, nine members of the Fort Wayne community, including Sister Cities Vice President Tom Herr,made the first official visit to Mawlamyine.
“They need a lot of help, and I think they looked us to maybe help them under this new period in their history.”
The group has already identified several areas in which it can help:
from business expertise in developing off-the-grade energy sources for power and water, to providing new equipment for the local hospital, to starting an English as a second language classes.
“This is where it starts with young people going and understanding and having this experience, seeing their land, and how people are people all over.”
As committee chair, Minn is already working on setting up an additional visit to Myanmar, followed by a student exchange in 2017.
She hopes by that time, the Friendship agreement will have blossomed into a full Sister Cities program, further connecting her new home to her old.