REACHING OUT – Local author Andrew Kooman spends time with Rohingya refugees from Burma during his December trip to Malaysia. He spent a month there to gather material for a new book about the plight of migrant workers and refugees in that country.

City author seeks new book material on journey

Andrew Kooman explores the experiences of migrant workers in Malaysia

  • Jan. 23, 2013 3:50 p.m.

A local author is back from Malaysia after a research stint for material on the plight of migrants and refugees in that country.

In early 2011, a book was released featuring stories by Andrew Kooman chronicling the experiences of migrants and refugees in Malaysia. He wrote 26 pieces for Disappointed by Hope: 30 Days of Prayer. Although the stories were fictionalized for confidentiality reasons, they are based on actual accounts, case studies and interviews of refugees.

Kooman spent last month in Malaysia, seeking out new material for another similar project. “I went there to meet with organizations and some refugees and to once again tell stories to highlight the exploitation and injustice scenarios that different people groups face,” he said. “The first book was really successful in Malaysia and it was actually translated into Mandarin as well.

“The reality, especially for migrant workers, is there are so many cases where it ends up being labour trafficking,” he said, adding that the goal is to bring greater awareness to these types of situations. “I heard quite a few stories and received a lot of case studies from lawyers and organizations that intervene on behalf of people who experience this exploitation. Almost all of the stories come down to labour exploitation and labour trafficking.”

Kooman said the goal is to have the book released by World Refugee Day which is June 20.

During his time in Malaysia, he was also able to meet with United Nations officials and case workers who “Do just incredible and really heroic work with people facing abuse.

“A lot of my time was spent in meetings and traveling around the country and getting those stories.” From there, it’s about crafting these experiences into stories and “Placing them in a context that would grip an audience.”

The new book will feature 15 stories under five themes including that of the plight of domestic workers primarily brought in from Cambodia and Indonesia. These workers are often stripped of their documentation by their employers.

“They work seven days a week, and also from 16 to 18 hours per day. And a lot aren’t free to leave their homes, or have their own cell phones. Basically they don’t have that personal freedom to move around and don’t even have access to their passports.

“Another theme is migrant workers and how they are perceived. Twenty-five per cent of the Malaysian workforce is comprised of foreigners. And there’s a sense that foreigners commit the most crime – there’s often a negative perception of foreign workers. But it’s actually skewed,” he said, adding that most of the crime committed in the country is primarily by Malaysians. “So we are also dealing with perceptions and attitudes.

“There’s a lot of heartbreaking situations, but we also want to highlight the important contributions that migrants and refugees make to Malaysian society. We want to highlight those positive contributions and tell some of the success stories too. So that will be a neat part of this book.”

Kooman will also be including ways to get in touch with frontline organizations in Malaysia, so that readers here at home can learn of ways to get involved such as by donating funds or perhaps volunteering. “We want to be really practical so people can quickly identify how they can become engaged.”

Kooman said that through the Disappointed by Hope book, some start-up capital was collected to support the launch of a school for refugees. “There’s already over 100 students in this school and they have to move because they need more space.” As word has spread, further support has come in as well.

“Almost all of the employees there are Malaysians who are teaching refugee children who would never otherwise have an education.”

Kooman and two of his brothers launched the Red Deer-based Raise Their Voice organization a few years ago. He said it’s exciting to see what can be accomplished when they partner with groups who have similar visions such as the Lacombe-based A Better World. The two groups have joined forces to launch the ‘She Has A Name Project’, and it’s aimed at offering training opportunities for girls coming out of the sex trade.

Over the past year, Kooman has also enjoyed tremendous success with his play She Has A Name which is about the battle against human trafficking. The play provides poignant insight into the issue in South East Asia.

Kooman has long been passionate about social issues such as the impact of war, poverty, and the AIDS pandemic, to name a few. Meanwhile, he remains inspired to continue to help bring change to issues where there is often not nearly enough awareness.

“It’s so amazing to connect with real people who face the issues because you realize how important it is that we do something to bring about change. Whatever we can do within our power is so important and it’s so needed, and it would be so meaningful to see the change happen.

“It’s also a privilege to go there and see it instead of having this abstract concept of suffering and injustice.”


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