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The Call For Help As Grant Money To Aid Burmese Immigrants Expiring

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WATERLOO, Iowa - The influence of Burmese immigrants into parts of the United States is being felt, with more than 100,000 counted in the 2010 census.

This also included a growing population of about 1,200 in Waterloo. Children are being assimilated into American culture and even Lucky Brothers Mart, a Burmese grocery store, has a constant clientele from its perch on East 4th Street and Sycamore in downtown Waterloo.

"We were persecuted by the government and we had to flee Myanmar," said Liberata Aung, a Karen, an ethnic minority in Myanmar. Aung said her and other Karennis left their homeland in recent years and that she arrived in the United States in April 2013, one year after her adult daughter's arrival.

Aung works at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) office at the First United Methodist Church in Waterloo. A primary focus for Aung is translating English for other Karennis as the USCRI office works to help with assimilating into American culture, whether teaching on customs or helping with tax forms.

Lead case worker Ann Grove said the Waterloo office opened in December 2012 with a temporary federal grant and that the grant money will run out at the end of February. Language barriers remain a constant concern.

"What we see is that there is still a large part of the population that is fairly limited in their English proficiency so there's still a huge need for more English language training in a variety of formats," said Grove.

Aung, who said she learned English years ago because of her interest in the language, stressed the language divide is generational.

"The old people have met a lot of problems on language barriers but the youngsters, they have grown up here, they went to school (here)," said Aung.

Across from the USCRI is the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where the church's preschool has dozens of Burmese-Americans enrolled. Aung believes, five years from now, the population will stabilize as the children help their parents and other adults become more confident in language and culture.

Grove said the office could keep providing these services on a budget of "about $100,000 a year". Yet, until that point is reached, she said the call is out for donations and funding but also volunteers to help these people who escaped persecution and terror for peace in Iowa.

As for why Waterloo became a destination in recent years, Grove pointed out the region's affordable housing, a low cost of living compared with larger cities, parks, trails, nearby fishing and access to churches.

Operation Threshold is accepting donations at P.O. Box 420, Waterloo, IA 50704

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