Firefly Stories – UNSPOKEN Stories

The Utica Firefly was started in May 2011 by Geoff Storm and Ryan Miller to explore the art of storytelling, focusing on Central New York and culture and themes close to the heart of our community.  A main portion of Firefly is the live event which has been hosted by local coffehouse/venue Tramontane Cafe, although it also includes recording stories of local interest.

The second Firefly event on October 13, 2011 has held in conjunction with the UNSPOKEN Human Rights Festival. The Firefly UNSPOKEN event featured stories of refugees, resettlement, human rights, equal rights, terrible stories, happy stories, and stories that made me want to laugh and cry. One different feature of this particular Firefly were that non-locals participated; filmmakers and participants of the festival shared their stories as well.

Deb Fowler, who teaches ESL classes in Massachusetts, shared the poignant story of her Burmese student Bawi. Bawi wanted nothing more than to attend school in Burma, but because of extremely poor living conditions and the high cost of education, could only attend school sporadically. Then Bawi’s village was overcome with Burmese soldiers and Bawi was threatened and tortured. Bawi escaped to Malaysia where he had to live in desperate conditions and work to survive. Bawi sent most of his money back to cousins in Burma to provide for education so they did not have to struggle as he did. Deb wraps up her story with this anecdote:

Last May, in a small village in Chin State, Burma, there was a graduating class of six. Five of those were Bawi’s cousins.

Bawi was able to start a new life for himself in Malaysia, and now is finally getting the education he desired in America.

This story, along with other UNSPOKEN Firefly stories, can be found on the Utica Firefly Live Events website.

Firefly has created a unique way of sharing stories of Starting Over. I look forward to seeing what stories of resettlement are to be shared throughout the project.

Karen Reunion and Thanksgiving

Banner celebrating Rev. Win's 30th Family Reunion

Today was the 30th Family Reunion and Thanksgiving Service for Rev. PU Nay Win at the Tabernacle Baptist Church on Hopper Street in Utica. The Church under Rev. Mark Caruana has strong ties with the refugees of the Karen community from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Over 1,000 Karen community members belong to the Church.


We arrived at 10am, unsure what exactly would be happening. The Church was filled with families and members of the Karen community from small children to the elderly. The service was in Karen, so nothing was understood. However there were some really great moments of song – young kids and a mixed choir with a backing band. The participation level in the Church seems high.

After the service ended, many community members greeted us hello. Although we didn’t know it was him at the time, Rev. Win thanked us for coming and invited us to the party. We made our way to the event room at the back of the Church where food was laid out. We learned later than the family and friends shared in the task of providing food for the party.We met members of the refugee community, including from the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees and the Redeemer Church, who came to celebrate.

We met a local woman, Mint, who we shared a table with. She explained the party was a gathering of family and friends from Rev. Win’s family who gathered together in celebration and thanks. Mint shared with us stories of her family, background and life in America.

It was a nice event and good to hear stories from the Karen Community about Starting Over in Utica!

Karen Community Members and Friends of Rev. Win

COR Center Resources

The Cultural Orientation Resource (COR) Center provides information and assistance on refugee resettlement in the United States.  Some of the information resources provided includes:

  • Refugee packages – multiple resources to be used to assist with refugees from a specific geographic area. These packages include videos, background historical and cultural information, program overviews of overseas Cultural Orientation (CO) programs, student lesson plans and welcome guidebooks.
  • Videos – Numerous videos featuring interviews with resettled refugees from Bhutan, Burma, and the Darfur region of Sudan, as well as with refugee seniors. Videos include interviews and experiences with resettlement.
  • Map and brief descriptions of overseas CO programs: location, populations, duration and emphasis.

The video section is an especially great resource. The videos show interviews with refugees about their life in the United States. You can see real stories of hope, fear, happiness, loneliness and thanksgiving. Most of the refugees featured are happy with their life in America.

The video Bhutanese Refugees in the United States features one especially enlightening interview with Dilli Ram Khapangay who had been in the US 1 year and nine months. He is grateful for his liberties in America – the ability to eat what he wishes, practice what religion he chooses  and so on.

I had 33 difficulties in Nepal – water, food and so on. Here I’ve found only three difficulties. The rest of them are gone.

Dilli’s story and the many more shared through the COR Center website are great reminders of the hardships refugees face and the what happens after moving to America and Starting Over.

Dilli Ram Khapangay, Refugee from Nepal