This article can be found in the Winter 2019 edition of the Alumni Magazine.
November 4, 2019
With children in danger, it matters little what ideology drives nearly 60 years of armed conflict between the Karen people and the government of Burma, now Myanmar. Families like that of USF alumna Thamay Paw flee their villages to save their lives. That’s how Thamay and her family, forced from their home in 1997, became residents of Tham Hin refugee camp in Thailand. At age three months, Thamay existed in over-crowded, forced and dangerous confinement.
“Despite the hardships and all, God has not left us,” affirms Thamay, a 2019 graduate of USF’s educational studies program. “We heard about United Nations High Commission for Refugees that would provide safety and education opportunities. We completed the program within three years. Then we were finally able to start our new lives in December 2006 in the state of Georgia in the United States.”
They eventually moved to Fort Wayne and as a Miami Middle School sixth grader, Thamay learned of the 21st Century Scholars program, which helps underprivileged students gain an education. “Since I wanted to further my education in college, I applied for the program,” she said.
As a North Side High School student, she assumed multiple support roles for her family while maintaining her grades, participating in school programs and forming friendships. It was a tough time, with responsibilities that sometimes caused her to quail. Through it all, her mother supported and inspired her.
“I do feel that I have a big responsibility with my family, my school and myself,” Thamay said. “But I love my family, especially my mother. She is the most inspirational and influential person in my life. Ever since high school, I decided to take over when I felt that everything was going downhill and that if I didn’t do something about it, we would be apart. Because I didn’t want to lose my family, I took over. My mother trusted and encouraged me to complete higher education so that I could be a successful young adult who could support her family. Because she carries the weight with me and gives me freedom, trust and encouragement, I am able to do all the things that I have done since I came to the U.S.”
Two other supporters helped throughout her journey: USF and God.
“My whole life I’ve lived with fear,” Thamay said. “Fear of failure. Fear of abandonment. Fear of being unwanted. Fear of being unsafe. I only started to feel love and respect toward myself when I started attending the university. Having my voice heard at USF opened up a whole new journey. I became more confident and internally stronger. My faith and self-love became unwrapped. Therefore, my philosophy is not to be afraid to take a chance and create windows of opportunity, as in Proverbs 3:5-6: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’”
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” -Proverbs 3:5-6
Thamay completed all of the applications to lead her family to U.S. citizenship and help her siblings gain 21st Century Scholar awards. During her final USF semester, Thamay worked in the Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) English Language Learner (ELL) department to learn how to advocate for students and their families by interpreting at case conferences, assisting teachers who teach English Language (EL) students, and furthering her understanding and skills in navigating community and school services for ELL students.