Unique in its location and history, the island of Guam is a rich blend of cultures and customs. The largest island in Micronesia, Guam is home to the indigenous Chamorro people as well as people from other Micronesian islands, the US mainland, East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe, India, Australia and New Zealand. The US military presence on Guam has contributed to the number of refugees and asylum seekers that have passed through the island on their journey to a new life.
University of Guam professors Seyda Turk Smith, Kyle D. Smith and retired UOG professor Abdulgaffar Peang-Meth recently published an article in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations, “University-based services for asylum seekers on Guam: Empowerment, culture learning and community.” This article draws on the insights and experiences of UOG faculty working with two waves of asylum seekers who passed through Guam within the last 15 years: 6600 Kurdish Iraqis who were evacuated to Guam by the U.S. military in 1996 and 1997, and over 1000 Burmese nationals who in 2001 overstayed their tourist visas, and sought asylum in the United States. Several UOG professors, in collaboration with community volunteers, provided services to both Kurdish and Burmese asylum seekers. The article describes both the conventional and the culturally sensitive methodologies that guided needs assessments conducted for these groups, and corresponding services provided by UOG faculty during the asylum-seekers’ stays on Guam.
The two interventions discussed in this article demonstrate that community may emerge among refugees as a product of the simple act of gathering in groups and taking part in need-based activities. The two groups, the Kurds and the Burmese, initially devoted their attention to different aspects of the acculturation process. However, once formed into small communities with whom they shared the same culture and language, they were able to identify additional important goals that are common to all persons in cross-cultural transitions — e.g., maintenance of cultural practices, and promotion of their cultures — that contributed meaning to their time in small, refugee camp-based communities. University volunteers’ roles and the specific approaches applied in these interventions were beneficial in fostering such communities among asylum seekers on Guam.