July 31, 2008

New Residents Strive to Become Independent

By Jennifer L. Boen, The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Jul. 31--Myo Aung, 39, has type I diabetes and gives himself two shots of insulin each day. He spent 12 years in refugee camps in Thailand after fleeing his homeland of Burma and arrived in Fort Wayne in 2005.

Tuesday night, he was a patient at ASK Ministries' clinic for Burmese refugees.

He learned English grammar in school in Burma, but when he arrived here, he knew his greatest opportunity for a job was to become proficient in English conversation, so he enrolled in college.

"You cannot learn to speak English by going to two hours of ESL (English as a Second Language) classes," he said. In December, he will graduate from Ivy Tech Community College with an associate degree in auto mechanics. "I want to open my own auto mechanics shop. There is a need for this in the Burmese community."

When Aung's initial Medicaid refugee health coverage ran out, he went to Matthew 25 Health and Dental Clinic for his insulin. He recently qualified for the new Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP). It is not an entitlement program, but covers care for people who may not qualify for Medicaid and have no other insurance.

The problem is that now that Aung is under the HIP program, he cannot go to Matthew 25. Yet at this time, he cannot afford to pay his portion of the "buy-in" for HIP in order to get benefits. His wife recently lost her job, and his insulin costs about $100 a month, which does not include testing strips and other supplies.

"That is why I'm here," he said, waiting his turn Tuesday to see the volunteer doctor at ASK. Thanks to donated medicines and supplies, ASK was able to provide the insulin and glucose testing materials he needed.

---- Aye Khin, 51, sat patiently in the ASK clinic waiting room for more than three hours Tuesday night with her daughter, Aye Aye Aung, 12. Khin, who came to the United States in 1997, has type 2 diabetes.

She was laid off from her job this year as a seamstress for a local company that made purses and other products for Fort Wayne-based Vera Bradley. Khin said she knows about 200 Burmese who lost their jobs due to the layoffs resulting from Vera Bradley's reorganization, which occurred when the company moved to new headquarters this year near the General Motors plant.

"Before, I had a family doctor," Khin said through interpretation by her daughter. "Now I lost my job, and I cannot afford to go to that doctor."

Friends told Khin about the ASK Burmese clinic, and this was her first visit. Her exam by Dr. Khin Oo, an internal medicine specialist and a native of Burma, was unhurried. Because Aye Khin speaks only a little English, Oo could go over the medical concerns and findings in Khin's native language to ensure all was understood.

"It is very helpful to have this. I am very thankful," Khin said. "The medicine is very expensive. I do not know what I'd do."

But not affording her medication is less worrisome, she said, than the fact she does not have the $300 a month she was sending to her three sons, who remain in a refugee camp in Thailand.

Aye Aye, who attends Northwood Middle School, said she hopes to become a doctor. Looking every bit the typical teenager, she produced a picture of her three handsome brothers on her mother's cell phone, taken via a Webcam at the camp.

"I am trying to get them here," Khin said of the last of her nine children still living in a camp. Six are already in the United States.

She has been studying for her U.S. citizenship and was recently approved. "Maybe in September will be the ceremony. Then I can bring my sons here."


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