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A journey into freedom

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 9th, 2013

Honored as the Lutheran Social Services Refugee & Immigration Center’s Family of the Year during its recent Taste of Cultures event include, from left, Snow Sandy, Ta Mwee Paw, Tha Gerh Paw, Wah Wah Taw, Paw Su May, Dah Dah Po, Paw Say, and program coordinator Kathy Retzlaff, who presented the award. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

Paw Say had little but the clothes on his back when he stepped into the frigid January air at a Chicago airport in 2005. But he had his family by his side and a tremendous hope for starting a new life.

For the native of war-torn Burma, it marked the end of a five year wait to obtain permission to enter the United States under refugee status. The family relocated to Huron as secondary immigrants in 2007.

Paw Say and his family were honored as the Family of the Year during the Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota Refugee & Immigration Center Taste of Cultures buffet held March 23 at the Huron Campus Center.

Paw Say said his journey began in 2001, before the refugee camps in Thailand had become established for the thousands fleeing the fighting in Burma.

“When in Burma there is no freedom,” Paw Say said, through interpreter Mu Law Eh, explaining that if they were found, Burmese soldiers would force them into heavy labor or to carry their weapons.

“We had to flee every night to live in the jungle,” Paw Say said. “In Burma no longer peace — since then and now, people flee. Displaced people and fighting.”

Paw Say and his family were able to live in Bancock, where each family member was able to work and help provide for the family. They also received help through the Bancock Refugee Center.

After registering with the UN, they were given the necessary paperwork to travel freely in Bancock during their five-year waiting period.

“After 2005, they have to come to a camp and wait there to come to U.S.,” Paw Say said. “If you’re in a camp, you can’t leave and go to the city.”

In many cases, the war tore families apart, and Paw Say’s case is no different. He has a sister he has not seen in almost 20 years, although he is able to talk to her on the phone. His brother, who is still in a refugee camp, is expected to arrive in Wisconsin shortly.

Paw Say and his wife, Paw Su May, have seven children and six grandchildren. All of them arrived in the U.S. with him.

Other awards presented at the Taste of Cultures event include Outstanding Business Partner, Cornerstones Career Learning Center; Outstanding Congregational Partner, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church; Outstanding Community Partner, Huron Chamber & Visitors Bureau; and Outstanding Employer, SunQuest Healthcare Center.

For the complete article see the 04-07-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 04-07-2013 paper.

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