INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has granted $600,000 to the Burmese Community Center for Education supporting work that involves two faculty from the Indiana University School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The three-year grant supports the BCCE Community Self-Empowerment Program, an ongoing project of the nonprofit organization with offices on the north side of Indianapolis established just over three years ago to assist immigrants from the war-torn country.
The project is directed by May Oo Mutraw, BCCE director, and Neineh Plo and Jerry Htoo, BCCE assistant directors. The principal investigators on the project are School of Education Educational Leadership and Policy Studies faculty members Thu Suong Thi Nguyen, an assistant professor, and Brendan Maxcy, associate professor.
The grant, awarded from the HHS Administration for Children and Families Office of Refugee Resettlement, is designed to support community-based organizations such as the BCCE. The Indianapolis organization has been conducting work largely through volunteers based in a building at First Baptist Church. The focus is on education, workforce development, family and social health, and housing for the Burmese community, estimated to be more than 8,000 in Indianapolis.
“The funding supports ongoing program efforts in two ways,” Nguyen said. “The BCCE connects community members with bridging services to help their transition to this country. The center also provides advocacy and education programs to empower the community.”
Nguyen’s research focuses on how students from immigrant families navigate their new environments and how educational policies and practices affect their experience. She began working with the BCCE shortly after it began. Nguyen’s work on the experience of refugee families and students is informed by personal experience. Her parents fled Vietnam when Saigon fell in 1975 and resettled in Texas.
Burma, officially called the Republic of the Union of Myanmar as designated by the military government, has largely seen little but conflict since the military junta overthrew the democratic government in 1962. Refugees have fled the country since, only slowing slightly since the military government dissolved in 2011 following elections that installed civilian leadership.
Most of the refugees who arrive here have come from camps in neighboring countries, said Mutraw, places that did not provide a lot of services.
“When they come to the United States, it’s more than a challenge for them to settle down and pursue what they came for: a better life, better education,” she said.
Mutraw was able to leave Burma in the 1990s to pursue higher education, most recently pursuing a Ph.D. in law from the IU Maurer School of Law in Bloomington.
“The majority of our people came with very little or no formal education,” she said. “So when they arrive here, the difficulties are enormous. We try to address those difficulties so they can help themselves to be independent.”
Maxcy and Nguyen hope their research can further provide evidence of what works for community efforts to assist immigrants resettling to the U.S. They are working with the founding members and youth from the center to document how the BCCE grew out of the efforts to support and empower the community through formal and informal education.