Challenges of Living as Aliens on Foreign Soil
The team of Tzu Chi volunteers in Thailand provide comprehensive long-term aid to refugees living in the country, including medical and charity aid, in a bid to assist these refugees weather through the hardships of life in a foreign land. As a result of having a different religious faith, Rehana and her family had no choice but to flee their home country, Pakistan, on the 24th April 2014, and travelled to Thailand in order to escape violent religious persecutions. In fact, her brother was even executed with a lethal injection by religious fanatics.
Although Rehana and her family were issued with UNHCR’s (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) certificates, they couldn’t find any sustainable livelihood without a valid work permit in Thailand. This was especially pertinent to their daily meals, rentals and other essential living expenses. The family already owed three months of rent as they have almost exhausted the meagre funds that they had brought along with them, and were faced with the harsh realities of losing their food and shelter.
On 21st June 2016, life struck another hard blow on the heavily burdened family, after Rehana’s father, who was the sole breadwinner, was left half-paralysed (on his left torso) due to an accident. This tragic incident only added to the family’s woes. Although Rehana received financial aid from BRC (Bangkok Refugee Centre), which covered the medical cost of her father’s surgical treatment, the family still owed another hospital 2800 Thai Baht and had to surrender their passports to the hospital as security bond.
At that time, Rehana and her family could barely afford their medical and living expenses and could only depend on the daily supply of food by a nearby church for sustenance. Thus Rehana felt that the hard life they lived in Thailand was not much different from the oppressive circumstances that they had fled from in Pakistan. Such harsh living conditions could only leave one feeling oppressed and trapped.
Blessings from Kindness Received Ignites a Joyful Spirit of Giving
After witnessing the mounting financial burdens of the refugee family in the aftermath of the father’s unfortunate mishap, the BRC team suggested that the family approached Tzu Chi volunteers in Thailand for aid. Thus, on 1st Sep 2016, Rehana took the initiative to seek help from Tzu Chi Thailand and explained the dire straits that her family was in. After which, Tzu Chi volunteers planned a home visit to Rehana and her family, to conduct a needs assessment. After the visit and further discussions with the family, Tzu Chi Thailand decided to enrol the family into Tzu Chi’s long-term aid recipients’ listing. The Tzu Chi team believed that the aid this family would receive, which included monthly rental aid, adult diapers and protein milk supplements, together with the food aid from the nearby church, would help the beleaguered family to tide through the hard times.
Through their interactions, Tzu Chi Thailand volunteers found out that Rehana was a pastor in Pakistan and frequently led worship in churches there, with a relatively good command of English. Therefore, the team invited Rehana to join them in December on that same year as a volunteer translator in a community medical outreach.
In the midst of the patients’ waiting area, Rehana could be seen happily singing and joking with everyone she met. In addition, she also led children in joyful songs, dance and other fun activities. Rehana excitedly told another volunteer, “It’s a really wonderful feeling! I’ve lived in Thailand for two years, and I’ve only just received such a great opportunity to interact with little children. In the midst of serving the people, I can see everyone having a really great time here!”
Although Rehana and her family were still receiving aid from Tzu Chi and other charity groups, it was because of the invitation from Tzu Chi to assist in the translation work that enabled her to rise up to her true potential by engaging in activities that she enjoyed doing. She even found some work that enabled her to earn some money to supplement her family’s meagre income.
As their family situation gradually improved, a joyful smile began to brighten up Rehana’s countenance as she reflected on these heartfelt thoughts, “Tzu Chi is like a great big family, because in the midst of our group activities, we could see everyone gathered together, and doing things together, just like a big family.” Through these companions in Tzu Chi, Rehana’s heart began to fill with hope for the future, while at the same time looking forward to being transferred to a third country soon.