Author explores plight of Malaysian refugees

  • Aug. 27, 2010 9:06 p.m.

A City author has collaborated on a just-released book which powerfully chronicles the desperate plight of several migrants and refugees in Malaysia.

Andrew Kooman wrote 26 stories for Disappointed by Hope: 30 Days of Prayer. Although the stories are fictionalized for confidentiality reasons, they are based on actual accounts, case studies and interviews of refugees.

“It’s a really urgent issue in Malaysia right now,” explains Kooman. “There’s a relatively booming economy there now, so people come to work.” Many arrive from Myanmar (Burma) with hopes for security, justice and of course consistent employment.

“People look at Malaysia as a place of hope,” he explains.

As the book explains, while many migrants come to the country with legitimate work permits, others are not so fortunate. Foreign workers are often promised contracts in their home countries by outsourcing agencies. But when they arrive in Malaysia, they don’t receive the promised wages. Many find themselves in the middle of dire circumstances as they try to carve out new lives for themselves in a foreign land.

They sometimes have their contracts breached and in some cases are trafficked for labour or for sex.

“The stories break my heart, they are gut-wrenching,” explains Kooman of the experience of hearing about so many hardships. “But they also have inspired me because there are so many people who have overcome such obstacles and just keep going.”

That kind of resilience and strength also infuses him with renewed passion to bring these people’s stories to a broader audience.

Kooman was in Malaysia last September through November, and his travels there continue to impact him personally as has much of his internationally-driven work. He regularly travels internationally to write, partners with non-profit organizations and to teach on writing, creativity and identity.

His writings often tackle global injustice issues, and his series of short stories about gender-based injustice was also featured in photogenX’s 30 Days of Prayer for the Voiceless.

That title has now been translated into about 10 languages, and continues to effectively spread the word about injustice and poverty issues. Kooman said some readers have even been motivated to journey overseas and engage with issues they hadn’t thought they would ever be involved with.

Meanwhile, as Disappointed By Hope shows once again, he has an amazing gift at writing this type of material – he captures the essence of what people in developing countries often face in their struggles to survive and make better lives for themselves and their children.

The book is divided into four parts and chapter titles run the gamut from Violence Against Women and Led Astray by Loneliness to Death in Places of Detention and Malaysia: A Country of Hope.

Readers are left with powerful impressions of these often unimaginable experiences. His writing is raw and convicting but never heavy-handed. Kooman has a gift for showing the harsh realities many in the world face while pointing readers to practical ways they can help make a difference.

For those reading the book here at home, Kooman said they can volunteer at the Red Deer-based Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE) and help new citizens settle into the community in a number of ways. Also, several web sites of organizations right on the front lines are listed in Disappointed By Hope.

Many depend on financial donations to continue their work on the frontlines.

Proceeds from the book are also going to help build a school for the urban poor in Malaysia, he said. “Children there have so many physical and educational needs.”

Meanwhile, his works over the years have been quick to garner critical praise. Nazar, his short story about an Afghan refugee in Canada, won the 2004 Hobson Foundation Prize for Fiction. His poetry has also been featured in Rock and Sling, the e-zine Bohemian Alien and has won numerous prizes in the Utmost Contest.

Last year, Kooman also released Ten Silver Coins: The Drylings of Acchora — the first of three books in a series of Jill Strong adventures.

He’s also thrilled with yet another new project to be unveiled next year — a play entitled She Has A Name.

Burnt Thicket Theatre, in partnership with Raise Their Voice Against Injustice, are presenting the world premiere of She Has A Name Feb. 20 to March 5, 2011 at Calgary’s Epcor Centre and in Red Deer from March 9-12 at the Scott Block Theatre.

Winner of the Scripts At Work/Alberta Playwright Network Award in 2009, She Has A Name provides insight into human trafficking in South East Asia.

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Disappointed By Hope is available at Scott’s Parable Book Store, Ten Thousand Villages.