The Story of Htoo Eh and Her Family
In the years before her life was uprooted by Burma’s military junta, Htoo Eh was a primary grade school teacher in Tay Dey, a village in southern Burma. She and her husband Kle-Klo Say had been married four years and had had two children before deciding their village was no longer safe, due to constant bombardment from the Burmese Army. Though the family was frightened, they were prepared for the arrival of the brutal military regime; inside their home was an emergency kit stocked with clothing and a few pounds of rice, ready for when the family had to flee at a moment’s notice.
The family traveled for one month through the jungle, resting on the ground of the dense forest. However, at each place they took respite, they would again encounter the Army and were forced to run off. Soon the family reached an area of the forest known as Ee Hto Hta. There, Htoo Eh and Kle-Klo Say created a makeshift home from bamboo. They stayed in their new “home,” for three months then decided the only way to remain safe was to go to a refugee camp in Thailand. However, by then, the Thai government had closed the Thai-Burma border where the camps were located so access to the camps was stopped. Their only choice then, was to sneak in.
It was an extremely risky move; risky because the Burmese border was only 2.5 miles from the camp. However, the family arrived at the Mae La Oon refugee camp in northern Thailand in 2006 after successfully traversing the carefully guarded Thai border. Though there were wooden houses set up in the camp, they were incredibly overcrowded, offering no privacy for the small family. So, like before, they constructed a bamboo hut for shelter. It was in the camp, in 2007, that their second daughter – Eh Htee Say – was born.
The conditions of the camp were hardly sanitary, consequently, every few weeks the children got sick. A year after their youngest daughter was born, the family experienced another hardship. Htoo’s husband, Kle Klo Say became sick and never recovered. In 2008, after seven years of marriage and three children, he passed away leaving the family fatherless.
Throughout the ordeal, Htoo Eh maintains that she was, of all things, lucky. Lucky to have arrived at the Mae La Oon camp when she did, for her family was among the very last group able to register for resettlement with UNHCR since 2006; thus their 5-year process of coming to the United States began.
Htoo Eh arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on November 3, 2011 with her three children – Soe K’ Paw Shee (9), Shee Say (7), and Htee Say (4) – and younger brother, Day Htoo (18). She is grateful for the chance she has been given. Here, her children have not been sick and are attending school. She says their apartment is warm and there are more than enough clothes for her and her family.
Her Baptist roots bring her to church every week, helping her to handle the challenges she faces in Chicago. She wholeheartedly appreciates the churches that helped co-sponsor her family. She is humbled by their collaborative efforts to furnish and set up the apartment before the family’s arrival. Their generosity has helped the family begin to live their new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance in the U.S.
She dreams of the day when her mother and sister, who are still in the Thailand camp, will join her in Chicago. She is eager to learn English so she can get her high school diploma. Although she is currently searching for any type of job, she hopes to one day return to her teaching roots.
And on her left hand, with painted nails, she still wears the wedding ring that was given to her a decade ago.
Thirty Years. Many Voices. One Vision. Your donation to RefugeeOne through GlobalGiving can help families like Abdulkarim’s (full story below) begin a new life in the U.S. We help individuals and families who seek refuge through our organization become self-sufficient members of society as quickly as possible. With your help, we at RefugeeOne can help refugees build new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance.
On September 7, 2011, Abdulkarim Arabab Lazim, with his two small children by his side – Abdulmunim (7) and Selima (5) – arrived at Chicago O’Hare Airport, exhausted after a long journey from Kenya. Their arduous journey originates in El Geneina, a village on the western edge of the Darfur region in The Sudan.
One evening, their village was brutally attacked and Abdulkarim – with his wife, son, and some elders – were forced to flee for their lives. They ran toward Nyala; only travelling through the bush during the cover of night. It took several months to complete their journey by foot.
After being told that Nyala was no longer safe either, the family began walking once again. This time they headed toward Kosti, a distance nearly twice as long as their first sojourn. After ten days of walking, a passing truck approached them along the road. At first, the small, frightened group believed the truck’s occupants to be dangerous, and were prepared to run for their lives again. Fortunately though, they were told they only wanted to help them; and they drove them the rest of the way to Kosti.
They left Kosti after a short time, when they heard that Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) had established bases in Kadugli, near the Nuba Mountains. For Abdulkarim and his family, Kadugli symbolized a place for food, shelter and safety. Their daughter, Selima was born in Kadugli. In 2007, a few years after their arrival in Kadugli, an NGO worker told them that they, along with three other families, were chosen to be moved to a refugee camp in Kenya, called Kakuma.
At the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, Abdulkarim’s wife, pregnant with their 3rd child, was diagnosed with malaria. Although severely ill and hospitalized, she found the strength to give birth to a baby boy. Unfortunately, soon after their second son was born, Abdulkarim’s wife passed away. For some time thereafter, Abdulkarim walked an hour’s distance to get milk to feed his baby boy. In spite of this persistence, after five months, the baby died. Abdulkarim pleaded to be taken anywhere else. But he was eventually convinced to remain at Kakuma.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) then moved him and his children to a section of the camp specifically for widowed fathers. One day a list went up inside the camp listing the names of people who were approved for resettlement in the United States. Abdulkarim and his children’s names were on the list.
After completing the lengthy interview process, he was told that he would be going to Chicago. Although he was afraid of being the only family out of the entire group to be resettled in Chicago, he was comforted by the knowledge that he would be going to the place of Barack Obama’s home.
Abdulkarim is beyond grateful for the opportunity he has to begin a new life all over again. He is excited to learn, and his enthusiasm serves to inspire us at RefugeeOne. Abdulkarim is committed to working hard, so he can be a role model for his children; like any good father. He is patiently waiting for the day that he can tell his children about their lives in The Sudan and all the struggles they have been through. He hopes that they will achieve more than he can even imagine.
RefugeeOne would like to offer our most sincere thank you to all those who donated to our organization during GlobalGiving’s Bonus Day. The day was a huge success; with the match, we raised nearly $6,000 for the refugees who resettle in Chicago through our organization! We are humbled by your efforts. Additionally, we are excited to know that the support that we have from the community for our clients continues. For more information on how these funds will be allocated, visit our website and see the services we offer at http://www.refugeeone.org/.
RefugeeOne Marks Its 30th Anniversary. Since 1982, the organization has resettled thousands of refugees from every major conflict around the globe: Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, people fleeing genocide in Rwanda, Milosevic’s Serbia, Jews from the U.S.S.R., Kurds from Iraq, Iranians fleeing the Islamic Revolution. For 30 years, some of the most mistreated people in the world were helped by our organization.
For more information on RefugeeOne’s history and 30th anniversary, visit http://www.refugeeone.org/2011/10/refugeeones-30th-anniversary/.