The first-ever multicultural New Year’s celebration held at Broadway Presbyterian Church in Rock Island on Saturday was the brainchild Tika Bista, who works with the refugee program there to help assimilate former refugees from other countries into this community.
The goal is to teach them English, help them financially when needed and get them into school, find jobs and other similar needs. By observing the celebration, however, it is clear they do not want to forget their own ethnicity.
“This is the place to learn about other cultures, to get together and not form gangs or fight, but to make brotherhood,” Bista said.
The celebration basically involved dancing, music, stories, poems, drawings and messages from former refugees from Burma, now called Myanmar, who spent many years in refugee camps in Thailand and Bhutanese people who fled their country and spent years at refugee camps in Nepal.
“We were kicked out of Bhutan in 1990, and we went to a camp to Nepal,” Bista said. “It was all about human rights, people wanting human rights. Many were killed, and the government basically kicked out everyone who fought for human rights. I spent 19 years in refugee camps.”
Among the many people speaking, one man described the essence of one of the songs sung: “We are tired from war. Everyone is against each other. The song today talks about how we are supposed to be like children. They fight, but they still become friends. That is easy. If we become like kids, then peace will rule.”
Plaw Thaw is pastor of a small church that meets at First Baptist Church in Moline. He and others from his church who sang and danced Saturday are Karen people, a subset of Burmese.
They were among millions who fled Burma because of civil wars. Thaw and everyone else in his church lived in refugee camps in Thailand for many years before moving to the Quad-Cities.
“A friend called and told me about this program here, and I didn’t know exactly what they were to do,” he said.
Many from his church attended Saturday’s event, including about two dozen young people who danced and sang about love and peace, a direct message against all the fighting they have witnessed in their lives.
“I have been here four years,” said July Paw, 16, of Rock Island, one of those from Thaw’s church. “My teacher taught me how to dance. I love it here. We have lots of opportunity to go to school for free.”
Her friend, Pawkaw Ku, 13, also of Rock Island, also has lived here four years after spending her life in the camps in Thailand.
“Different refugee camps, and we could not go to school,” she said.
Both are excited to begin preparing to become American citizens in a year or more.
Divya Gurung, 12, of Rock Island danced with other girls of Bhutanese descent but raised in camps in Nepal.
“I have been in this country one year,” she said. “What we did was more of a Hindi dance.”