Dinner to celebrate refugee 
success stories
Sponsors needed to aid in resettlement efforts

By RASMIEYH ABDELNABI - GM Today Staff 

June 17, 2008


Fadumo Shariff is seen with her son, Ismal, nearly 3, and daughter Salma, 3 months old, at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Brookfield. The Somalian native and her family resettled in Milwaukee in 2004, through a Lutheran Social Services refugee program, after spending most of her childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya.


This family came to Wisconsin last year from a refugee camp in Thailand. From left are Ehnay Blur Soe, 4, his mother, Eh Ree, his brother, Eh Ku Soe, 7, his father, See Nay, a native of Burma, and his sister, Paweh Nei Ser, 9. See Nay’s village was destroyed in 1997 by the Myanmar army, forcing him in the refugee camp in Thailand.


BROOKFIELD - Burmese native See Nay came to Wisconsin after spending 10 years in a refugee camp in Thailand. Similarly, Fadumo Shariff came here after spending most of her childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya.

Both came with help from Lutheran Social Services and Immanuel Lutheran Church. On Friday, they and their families will attend the World Refugee Day Dinner, held at the church and sponsored by LSS.

See Nay is of the Burmese Karen ethnicity and in 1997, he left Burma after the Myanmar army destroyed his village. While he did not lose family members, some of his friends did. He left for a refugee camp in Thailand, where he wasn’t allowed to work and had to live off of what was given to him. In May of last year, through a sponsorship by Immanuel Lutheran Church in Brookfield, he, his wife and children came to the Milwaukee area and eventually settled in Menomonee Falls.

Now See Nay works, takes English as a second language classes and is working toward getting his driver’s license. His wife, Eh Ree, works at the child care center at the church. Two of their children, Paweh Nei Ser, 9, and Eh Ku Soe, 7, attend a public school in Menomonee Falls. At home is 4-year-old Ehnay Blur Soe, affectionately called "Blue."

"In my country, we didn’t have freedom. When I live in my country we need hope," See Nay said.

Shariff, of the minority Somalian ethnic group of Bantu, came to Milwaukee with her adopted mother and siblings in the summer of 2004. Now, she is married with two children, Ismal who is almost 3 years old and 3-month-old Salma.

In the coming weeks, she will graduate from high school.

There are many differences See Nay and Shariff have encountered here, food being the biggest for See Nay and his family.

Food was simpler in Burma and the refugee camp, he said.

Susan Klagmann, a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church’s refugee sponsorship committee, said Eh Ree used to put Popsicles on the shelf instead of the freezer and watermelons in the freezer. Shariff’s mother was afraid to use a stove or go to the bathroom.

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"What’s this thing? It makes the fire by itself," Shariff recalls her mother saying about the stove.

For Shariff, everything in America is bigger.

The purpose of the fundraising dinner at the church is multifold, said Ako Hasegaw with LLS. It is not only to raise funds for the organization’s refugee and immigrant services, but to also bring to light the issue of needed sponsors for refugees and celebrate the success of those who have resettled in America.

"They help the family with anything they need to start their own life in the U.S.," Hasegaw explained of the sponsor’s role.

Most sponsors are committees formed by churches or civic groups of eight to 10 people.

"There are more people in need of sponsors, than there are sponsors. It takes a lot of time and commitment. Imagine popping yourself in another country; everyone is talking but you don’t understand what they’re saying," said Linda Schuler, a member of the church’s refugee sponsorship committee.

Klagmann agreed being a sponsor could be time-consuming, especially when the refugees first come to the country. However, once they learn the ways of the country and get their lives in order, they prove to be assets in the quest to assist other refugees.

Both See Nay and Shariff help with translating for those relocating to the Milwaukee area from their respective countries.

"He’s become a leader in the community. He’s a good guy and he helps out," Klagmann said of See Nay.

In addition to that, the refugees and their sponsors have became family members. Klagmann was at the birth of both of Shariff’s children, even cutting the umbilical cord attached to Salma.

Rasmieyh Abdelnabi can be reached at rabdelnabi@conleynet.com

Refugees resettled

The number of refugees resettled through Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan’s Refugee & Immigrant Services Program in Southeast Wisconsin.

* 2006: 163

* 2007: 237

* As of June 6, 2008: 135

Source: Ako Hasegawa, community resource developer with Lutheran Social Services’ Refugee and Immigrant Services


At a glance

* WHAT: World Refugee Day Dinner

* WHO: hosted by Lutheran Social Services and Immanuel Lutheran Church

* WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday

* WHERE: Immanuel Lutheran Church, 13445 Hampton Road, Brookfield

* ACTIVITIES: international food, dance and musical performances

* COST: $15 for adults, $10 for children between 4 and 17 years old

* INFORMATION: For more information or to RSVP by Wednesday, call (414) 325-3063


This story appeared in The Freeman on June 17, 2008.