The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 19, 2016 10:25 pm

Burmese community celebrates education center

Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne's Burmese community now has a new center where people can congregate, check out books and get help when needed.

Sunday, The Burmese American Society held an opening ceremony and open house for its Burmese Community Library and Education Center at 6617 Hanna St.

Opening this resource was a dream of Ven Kuthala, the Buddhist monk who presides over the temple and monastery found at the rear of the same property, said Nyan Aung, the Society's president. The Center is funded by private donations, Aung added.

Cars pulled into the parking lot over a four hour period. Burmese and well wishers came to see the Center and eat a piece of birthday cake, a large American style sheet cake in white and red.

The birthday cake was offered in honor of Aung San Suu Kyi who is now the defacto leader of Myanmar, formerly Burma, winning an election in November. Her picture is hung twice in the Center, one alongside her father, General Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947 during the country's transition period to independence from Britain.

The 71-year-old is a great hope for the refugee and immigrant community here which she visited in 2012, Aung said. She has led the fight to bring democracy to her native land. Aung was in Myanmar in 1988 when resistance to an oppressive government took the form of student uprisings.

Suu Kyi subsequently was put under house arrest for periods of time between 1989 and 2010 and in 1991 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Aung himself was a freedom fighter who was involved in the uprising of 1988 when the military took over the country. He came to Fort Wayne in 1993.

Some Burmese immigrants or refugees may find it safe enough to return to their native land, said Lauren Bohnstedt, a Burmese immigrant now married to Zachary Bohnstedt. Both came to the ceremony dressed in traditional Burmese attire.

"Burma used to be one of the richest countries (in Southeast Asia)," Lauren Bohnstedt said. "Now it is one of the poorest." Thousands of people were killed in her country by the military dictatorship. Bohnstedt came to the U.S. as a 17-year-old immigrant about 13 years ago, she added.

Indiana is one of three states to accept Burmese refugees, the other two being Texas and New York. There are about 6,000 Burmese refugees or immigrants here while the largest resettled population in Indiana is in Indianapolis, Bohnstedt said.

While some people may return to Myanmar because the political conditions are much more favorable, others will likely stay because "they are so used to this country," Bohnstedt said.

Inside the Center, two rooms are set up, one with books in English and one with books from Burma, some of them being donated by Burmese groups in Canada, said Shar May Aung, the Center's secretary. The Center will be open Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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