Suffering in silence, my heart was dark and full with hate. I held a knife in my hand and I was ready to defeat my enemy. The smell of blood surrounded me. I was a six year old girl running with my family like I needed air because I had only one chance. There was a school, a clinic, houses and a church across the river. If only I could reach the other side. Almost all that was left of my village were the ashes. It was destroyed by fire and bombs from the Burmese army. Dad looked into my eyes. Sadness mixed with faith, and he said, “We have to leave village after village, house after house, but if you make it to Thailand, do not forget who you are and where you came from.” The sounds of crying and guns firing cut me deep inside. I remember how scared I was. How lonely I felt. How numb I had to be. It is too much for me to handle and I cry my heart out as anger turns into tears. We do not know what will happen to us tomorrow or the next day.

The Karen people are suffering genocide. The military regime wants to clear the Karen from Burma. As a child, I was not allowed to study my own language, culture, traditions or literature. They said, in the near future, if you want to see Karen people you would have to go to a museum.

Life in the refugee camp in Thailand was very hard. Our camp was built like a prison, located far from main cities. We were not welcome there and Thai soldiers took advantage of us because we had no legal status or rights. We wanted to return to our home country, but new refugees constantly arrived in the camp. They brought news that the Burmese military was continuing to burn our villages and plant landmines. No one would be able to return. My family spent 7 years in the refugee camp.

My life changed dramatically when I was 13. They told us that we would be moving to the United States. Immigrating to America and adjusting to living in a new culture was a big struggle for me. I felt completely lost. I knew nothing about the English language. I couldn’t even recite the ABCs. My family had to go through the hardships of understanding and interpreting the American language and culture. As time goes by we have adapted to the new culture and life gets easier.

I realize that my parents gave up everything they had and submitted to working constantly in order to give me this opportunity, is what motivates me to strive for success. Since neither my father nor mother were able to go to school, I plan on being the first generation to graduate from college. I know college will bring about new obstacles and challenges but I also know that success never comes to those who take no initiative and become too comfortable.

My long term goal is to go back to Thailand to heal people from pain, and give them hope. My connection with my family and the Karen refugee community in America is continuous even though I have left behind the camp. Although I am away from their everyday struggles, I realize how lucky I am to be in a country where I do not suffer from mass persecution or violence. I can make a wonderful difference for people who have not been quite as fortunate as me.

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