“I was 17. My mom was missing and I applied with UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and they accept me because I was young and stayed by myself. I had to wait three years.”
Deborah entered foster care in 2009, after escaping the military junta in Burma and living for several years in dangerous conditions in Malaysia. Here are her thoughts about how foster care changed her life for the better.
Q: Tell me briefly about where you came from.
A: I was 17. My mom was missing and I applied with UNHCR and then they accept me because I was young and stayed by myself. I had to wait three years. Burma is a poor country, everyone knows, it’s really hard to live your life over there.
Q: How did you feel when you first learned you were going to live with a foster family?
A: It was exciting. My Dad passed away when I was young. I never think about him. I was excited to have both parents.
Q: What were some of the challenges you had to overcome, and what helped you?
A: A lot! Even though you think that you are excited to have a mom and dad, it’s strangers. You don’t feel like it’s mom and dad at first. Also learning English, the culture, and the weather!
Q: What helped you get through the challenges?
A: This community! Lutheran is very helpful. They do everything to help me, from start to end. My green card, my caseworker – I don’t worry about anything, like food, clothes, school supplies, everything! Because of Lutheran Community, all goes smoothly.
Q: What would you say to someone considering becoming a foster parent with us?
A: If you really, really love the kids as your child, you should have them. Not because of benefits or money, consider their behavior from beginning to end. You have to teach them emotionally, help them – there’s a lot to do but the only reason is love.
Q: What impact did your foster family or Lutheran have on you?
A: They changed me. It’s very difficult to graduate high school since I came here late, but because of foster family I became independent, and because of Lutheran I did it. ETV [funding available to youth in school until age 23] is so helpful – I can pay my rent, go to school. They helped me transition, apply for scholarships, everything.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
A: Yes. Really, I don’t know how to say thank you. It’s hard to live on your own when you first get here. It’s sad to leave the program [at 21] because then you realize after you leave how great the benefits are, but at the same time I am so grateful for having done it.
Deborah is now living independently, studying at Highline Community College, and working part time. She hopes to become a nurse, and has been an active member of the community helping other newly arrived refugees and immigrants in the Seattle area.