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Overcoming and excelling: Karen man overcomes disabilities in pursuit of a better life

Posted: Saturday, Oct 12th, 2013


Karen bomb survivor Pah Ner is shown at his job in the laundry room at Super 8 Motel in Huron. PHOTO BY SHILOH APPEL/PLAINSMAN


According to old traditional proverbs of the Karen people, courage and humility is often key. Pah Ner, Super 8 Motel’s new employee, exhibits these characteristics faithfully each day.

Pah Ner journeyed with his wife and five children from war-torn Burma to Thailand, Buffalo, New York, and finally Huron. His journey was not without hardships.

“When I lived in Burma, I liked to walk around the forest,” said Pah Ner, through his interpreter. “I was hit by a bomb and lost the eyesight in my left eye and lost a leg.”

Later, when he and his family lived in New York, Pah Ner struggled with big-city life.

“I didn’t like living in a big city with too many people,” Pah Ner said of Buffalo, New York. “Sometimes, when I would walk, people tried to take my money, so I would run. I love Huron because it is a small city and I can do as I like.The only thing I am afraid of here is a tornado,” he said with a chuckle.

Pah Ner drove from New York all the way to Huron with his family. He said he did not know where to find an airport, so he chose to drive.

After arriving in Huron, Pah Ner began to look for a job. He found John Gard, a consultant for those with acquired disabilities and/or other obstacles. Gard introduced him to a “work experience” in which he worked for the Super 8 Motel in the laundry department for up to 250 hours in order to see if he was interested in the job. At this time his wages were paid by the state. Pah Ner enjoyed working for Super 8 Motel and settled into his new job with an enduring spirit.

“Pah Ner is a joker,” said Inez Muilenburg, general manager of Huron’s Super 8 Motel.”We like him. He is a lot of fun.”

Muilenburg, who has been recognized by Governor Dennis Dugaard for outstanding achievement in improving employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, was excited to offer Pah Ner a job.

“He is a happy man,” said Muilenburg. “He sings. We know he likes to sing because we can hear him singing in the laundry room. I think he likes country western music the best. I hear him play that on the radio once in awhile.”

However, there were also trials for Pah Ner in the beginning. Trials included communication boundaries and unfamiliarity with surroundings. Working together, Pah Ner and Muilenburg were able to find solutions.

“When he first started with us he had a communication board where he could communicate. He could point out a picture on the board and it would say the English word and the Karen word so that we could understand each other as to what he needed,” said Muilenburg.

The washing and drying machines were new to Pah Ner. In Burma, clothes are washed by hand, usually in a nearby stream.

“I had never tried a washing or drying machine before,” said Pah Ner. “I tried to remember when people taught me how to run the machine.”

Nonetheless, Pah Ner caught on quickly. He did not consider anything about the job too challenging for him as he washed, dried, folded and put away laundry. Muilenberg accommodated for his needs.

“It was usually very minor little things that helped him in the beginning,” said Inez. For example, the stool he would sit on to fold laundry was too tall for him. Inez looked diligently for a stool that would fit his needs after trying a few different sizes.

“I walked through my living room one day and I noticed this little stool that my husband was using for a plant stand and I brought it. It was just the right height,” said Inez.

The challenges now aside, Pah Ner enjoys his job.

“I try to do everything to the best of my ability,” said Pah Ner.

Meanwhile, after all he has been through, Pah Ner faces each day with an optimistic courage.

“I would like to be happy,” said Pah Ner. “I don’t want to think too much or think about the past because it is in the past.”

“I really admire them,” said Muilenburg of Pah Ner and the Karen people. “I think it takes a lot of bravery to move here from their country. I hope we never have to find out what living in a war-torn country is like.”

“The thing that we have learned from Pah Ner is that there is a life after having an acquired disability. His life had to have changed dramatically, from having to leave his country to coming to the United States and wondering if he would ever have a safe place to live and work again,” said Inez.”We like having him around. We like his smile and his laughter. He has the best laugh in the world.”

Finally, Pah Ner cited what encourages and inspires him: his family.

“I like to work to help save my family,” said Pah Ner.

For the complete article see the 10-11-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 10-11-2013 paper.


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