Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa refugee children express their new lives

TAMPA — Lorenzo Diaz is 12. He lives in Tampa with his parents. When he left his native Cuba two years ago, he left behind his grandparents and his friends. He misses them. "And my house," Lorenzo says. Tuesday, he doted over a drawing on a poster board: the skylines of Miami and Havana, separated only by a thin patch of blue water. This artwork meant something to him. "We can be closer some day and be together," the boy explained.

Lorenzo put finishing touches on his poster and an accompanying essay this week. So did 11 other students, all participants in a contest for young refugees. They had emigrated from Sudan, Burma, Vietnam and Cameroon.

Winning posters will go on display June 19 in a celebration of World Refugee Day at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The Refugee Youth and Family Program, run by Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services in Clearwater, works with 700 children and teenagers from Pinellas, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, helping them and their families get used to new lives.

"Back in our own village, we had to sell groceries in the market to survive," HaZeMaBe, 17, from Burma wrote in her essay, with help from a translator.

On her poster, she drew a large tree. She glued pictures of family and friends to the limbs. HaZe- MaBe lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for 11 years before she came to the United States 18 months ago.

"We never had the opportunity to go to school," she wrote. "We never had a bed or sofas to sleep on. Here we can go to school, which makes me very happy. … Here we don't have to carry water for miles, and we don't get sick as much."

Yet there is a wistfulness over lives lost.

Khang Thach, 12, moved from Vietnam 18 months ago.

"Behind my house, they had a river. You could swim there," he said.

On one end of his poster sits his house in Vietnam, twin lines depicting the river. "There you could go outside after school and go to the park," he said.

In front of his Vietnam house, birds smile and flowers bloom.

He draws a few dollar signs next to that house, but more dollar signs next to his American house. "Here you just stay in the house," he said. "I like here, but I like my home country, too."

English came hard. He misses his friends. But at Pierce Middle School, he has a new best friend, a Cuban boy who explains words in English he doesn't understand.

A new student just arrived to his school from Vietnam.

"I explain to him what my teachers say," he said.

Across the room, 14-year-old Adriana Borrego of Cuba lifted her feet so someone could put paint on them. Then she stepped onto her poster, leaving footprints behind.

Though Adriana and her mother flew to Florida two years ago, the footprints represent the journey of many refugees and asylum seekers, she said.

In a top corner of the poster, she colored in a large yellow circle peeking out over a mountain ridge. "The sun is to give them light," she said, "to give them a good way."

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at or (813) 661-2441.

Tampa refugee children express their new lives 06/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 10, 2009 11:22am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash


    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle


    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators


    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.