When I think back on my life – and the time before I came to America – I feel like I’m sleeping. Like I have a dream within my dream and I see the lights coming in…
I am from Myanmar (Burma). But I am not Burmese. I am Zomi – a member of the founding ethnic group of my country. But when I was young, the government declared that they would no longer recognize the Zomi people, and in 2006 I was forced to flee my home.
Growing up in Myanmar, everything was under control. There were a lot of undercover cops. They knew everything you were doing. Everywhere you were going. Our parents might not have known where we were… but they knew. They were always watching.
One day, I went to church and when we were coming back, and I was approached by someone.
I was placed in a jail-like camp. Every day they made us go to the rice paddy farm and work for them. During the daytime. And we worked every day. But we were patient, and we ran, during the break, into the forest.
I found someone who I knew and asked them to tell my parents that I was leaving. And I don’t know how long I ran. But I ran and I ran until I got to the refugee camp in Malaysia.
I remained in Malaysia for almost 5 years before I was approved for resettlement in America.
As a refugee, you don’t have a chance to choose where you end up, but if the officer tells you that they are going to send your case file to the U.S. it’s kind of like Yes. Yes. Everyone wants to come to the U.S. It’s the land of opportunity.
In America, everyone is equal. Whether you are a girl or a boy, whether you are old or young, whether you are black or white. Your religion. It doesn’t matter.
In 2011, I was resettled in Colorado Springs with Lutheran Family Services-Rocky Mountains, a partner of Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service. I appreciated everything about this country. I will never forget the welcome I received…the people who gave me a hug when I first got here.
I was connected with a volunteer family who invited me for Thanksgiving. My very first Thanksgiving, turkey and mashed potatoes…They even taught me how to drive.
Once I got settled in, I told the resettlement staff, if there’s anything I can help with please come get me. I volunteered with them whenever I could – unless I was in English class. I helped them set up apartments. I worked with them whenever I could to help the agency. I had language skills to speak Zopau, and I can read and write fluently in Burmese, Chinese, and Malai…
The assistant director saw the way I worked, and she told me: if I have to hire someone, I will hire you. Then she was selected to start the new Global Refuge resettlement branch in Albuquerque… and I got the call.
Today this is my job. I help refugees as a lead case manager for Lutheran Family Services-Rocky Mountains in Albuquerque, NM. And because I was a refugee, myself, I know what my clients need. I used to be a receiver of services, and now I am a provider. It is amazing for me to be able to say that.
People want to come to America because there are things that they can only achieve once they are living freely. I am proof of that.