Asian refugees learn electric-living hazards

An electric utility here is educating Southeast Asian refugees in the proper and safe use of electricity, an energy source many of them never knew about in their homelands. The company officials believe it is the first time such an effort has been made in the United States.

The electric range, refrigerator, and even electric lights have frequently been new experiences for these refugees, especially for those from Hmong and Minh tribes who have come from rural areas, where fire is the historic way to cook and the source of heat.

Pacific Power & Light Company of Portland, with the cooperation of the Southeast Asian Refugee Federation, has produced a videotape to help Asian refugees learn how to use electricity and do it safely.

Because so many Southeast Asian refugees had little or no knowledge of electricity, some have been heating their homes by turning on ovens, by using steam from boiling water, or even by using hibachis inside their homes, according to Tahn Hai Vominh, assistant director of the federation.

The videotape script, first available about mid-September and first written in English, has subsequently been translated into five languages - Laotian, Minh , Vietnamese, Hmong, and Cambodian.

There was a problem in the development of the script. It had to help those without practical knowledge of electricity, but not be so simple as to insult those who came from areas where electricity had been available, or those who have been here long enough to acquire familiarity with electricity.

Pacific Power & Light is making these tapes available to any refugee organization anywhere. The initial request has come from a refugee youth camp in Washington State near the Ca Sheila Holden, a member of the company's community relations staff, said it was probable that requests would come from both California and Texas, which have sizable concentrations of Asian people.

The videotape tells the Asian immigrant that: ''Depending upon your native background, electricity may be unlike any tool you are accustomed to using. But be careful! Electricity can be felt, and is extremely dangerous if not properly used.''

The viewer also is warned: ''Never, never use the oven or hot plates to heat your home or kitchen. It not only will waste a tremendous amount of electricity and cost you lots of money, it is also very, very dangerous. If it is used to heat your home, it could start a fire.''

Such simple things as the proper use of light bulbs are explained, along with rules for safety when using electrical appliances.

For safety's sake, the viewer is also told:

* Never stand on a wet floor while using an electrical appliance. Electricity will travel from the appliance through you and to the floor.

* Pull electrical cords from the outlet by the plug, not by the cord. Pulling by the cord could weaken or break it.

* When using electricity outside, never use electrical tools in the rain or when standing on wet ground.

* If bad weather or some kind of accident knocks an electrical wire onto the ground, don't touch it. Keep yourself or anything you are holding away from all electrical wires.

Indeed, such safety warnings are something every user of electricity should pay attention to, not just Asian refugees.

Earlier in 1982, Pacific Power, Northwest Natural Gas Company, Portland General Electric Company, and the Oil Heat Institute jointly sponsored seminars to help refugees understand electricity and other energy sources. While helpful, these seminars proved too demanding of the services of utility staffs.

The answer, it is hoped, is the videotape produced by Pacific Power.

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