Faces of The Mission
Soe Meh began running as early as she can remember -- maybe 2-3 years old. The Burmese government was burning villages-- ethnic cleansing. They burned her village because she is of the Karenni State, an area the Burmese government has been fighting to control since World War II. Soe Meh's family ran from village to village for almost 10 years because each village she lived in kept being burned. "If we do not run, we can die." This was before the United Nations Refugee Agency recognized the refugee status of the Karenni/Burmese people.
Finally, when the UNRA recognized them as refugees, Soe Meh's family found safety in one of 9 refugee camps set up by the UNRA, located on the Thailand border. Refugees could not leave their camps. If they went outside the camp border into nearby Thai villages, they would be arrested and sent to prison. Only those who had cash could bribe their way out for a day. Soe Meh's future husband, Lweh, lived in a different camp and they met one day when the camp had a visiting day. Soon after, Lweh and Soe Meh married, and she became pregnant with their first daughter. The couple applied for resettlement, so the family could live together, but they were denied, and Lweh was sent back to his original camp. He was allowed a few visits during the next 1 1/2 yrs --during that time they had their daughter, AyeMyaMon. When AyeMyaMon was about 1 year old, Lweh was allowed to live in the same camp.
Soe Meh wanted the family to leave for more opportunity and a better life. She had learned some basic English at camp, but refugees there had to provide for their own educational opportunities. All classes at camp were taught by other refugees who knew only limited English language.
Twelve years after Soe Meh arrived in the refugee camp, when AyemyaMon was maybe 2 1/2 years old, she and her family were finally approved for resettlement to Chicago, in 2010.
After arrival: "It was difficult and challenging --the language, the weather, the culture" Soe Meh just read and spoke a little English. Lweh got a job through the refugee agency at a chicken packing plant. Soe Meh signed up for English classes but had difficulty attending because of young AyeMyaMon at home. She found a solution at Madonna Mission, where on site childcare meant she could bring her daughter to class, and improve her own language skills.
Madonna Mission helped Soe Meh feel so comfortable in speaking English, that in 2015, Soe Meh became a U.S. Citizen. She is happy about that because she can vote.