VISION - Former Red Deer resident Andrew Kooman is releasing another book that chronicles the struggles of migrants and refugees seeking work and a better life in Malaysia.

Former Red Deer resident releases poignant book

Andrew Kooman’s stories chronicle the plight of migrant workers

  • May. 11, 2016 2:51 p.m.

Former Red Deer resident Andrew Kooman is gearing up for the release of Hope in Action – a new book detailing the unimaginable stories of migrants and refugees seeking work and a better life in Malaysia.

Back in 2010, he collaborated on a similar book – Disappointed by Hope: 30 Days of Prayer – which chronicled the plight of several migrants and refugees in Malaysia as well.

They are based on actual accounts, case studies and interviews of refugees.

As is chronicled in the book, 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.

“I didn’t really think about doing a second book, but in 2012 I was invited to return to Malaysia to put together another publication – and it felt like a natural next step,” said Kooman. “Disappointed by Hope was so well received. The sales of it also helped to support and establish a school for the urban poor,” he said, adding many of the students there were refugees as well. The chance to study is indeed a tremendous gift, as, “Refugees have no rights in Malaysia. So that was a huge result from Disappointed by Hope,” he added.

“It actually really compelled people to action – medical teams were formed and they went into detention centres offering crucial medical care to migrants in detention. If you remember from the first book, there are over 200,000 migrants living in squalor in detention,” said Kooman, who is now based in London, Ontario.

“When I did the first book, I visited one of those detention centres. It was shocking and eye-opening.” Many had been there for lengthy stretches and were virtually trapped, even though they had come to the country seeking work legally.

“So I was invited to work on a second book because we needed another push of awareness.”

Meanwhile, as Hope in Action, which is a collaborative effort as well, 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.

Along with his tremendously crafted and insightful stories are brief sidebars of valuable information and also prayers that cover a range of relevant topics pertaining to the subject matter as well.

As for Kooman’s style, it’s really striking. It’s accessible but always profound. He speaks truthfully and from the heart, and there is always a consistent pointing to hope as well. What can we do – even here on the other side of the world – to make something of a difference? Kooman’s writing is challenging but not overbearing – the reader is touched for sure, but also moved to help in some way.

He’s also quick to point out that it’s by no means a singular effort. Kooman is a true collaborator, adding he worked with an incredible team in Malaysia.

“I think it helps the average reader overcome the hurdle of apathy. I know that for myself, sometimes it can seem like there is a voice that tells us we aren’t expert enough, experienced enough, we don’t care enough or have what it takes to really do anything. We get political, or cynical really quickly or overwhelmed by the enormity of the issue itself.

“So what I love about this book and these stories and this approach is that it helps us clear that hurdle or the barrier that stops us from doing something. When you hear these human stories, they really resonate with the heart.

“It’s a reminder and a call for people back to compassion. What I also like about this book is that it moves from compassion into action and solid research. It’s a full package.”

He is also experiencing something of a dream come true watching his acclaimed play She Has A Name being transformed into a feature film.

She Has A Name saw tremendous acclaim during its theatrical run over the past several years and truly struck a chord with international audiences. The play, which is about the battle against human trafficking, provides poignant insight into the issue in South East Asia.

The story is based on an incident in Thailand where a storage container transporting more than 100 people ran out of gas and was simply abandoned.

Ultimately about 50 people lost their lives. That tragedy was a kind of a trigger for the plot. Jason poses as a john to build a case against a brothel trafficking girls into Bangkok. He must win the trust of a young girl forced to work as a prostitute who is known as ‘Number 18’ and convince her to risk her life to testify for the sake of justice. The project is currently in post production.

“Actually we are in festival submission season – we are really excited about the quality of this film. The production value is so high and the performances are incredible. People who know the story will be blown away by the story as a film.”

A wider release of the film is planned for December.

For Kooman, his journey is about balancing the joys of life with knowing there are harsh realities that so many in this world face. “In some ways, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing to be overwhelmed. But I think for me, the good news is that the good news is better than the bad news.

“When good people step in and bring forward justice or do something practical to help individuals who are vulnerable or exploited, the goodness of that is so much greater than the bad.

“I’ve had the privilege of witnessing these stories where there can be such a dramatic turn and people’s circumstances change and it’s simply because others have helped.”

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