Maylary Apolo- Provider, Community Leader, and Former Refugee

Mohamed Malim

My name is Maylary Apolo. I was born in Burma/Myanmar. I lived there for 20 years and then lived in a refugee camp for another 20 years. Due to the 1988 Uprising, I had to flee out of Myanmar. We had no other way of transportation but to walk through the jungles. While escaping the brutal military, I caught on a disease called Malaria. The trip took over 2 months walking to get to Karen Revolution. After 10 months, the Burmese military troops came and attacked the village. Then, we moved to refugee camp Called Mae La. Mae La camp opened a resettlement program that allowed us to leave the country. In 2008, I came to the United States with my family with my five kids and husband. 

It was very difficult for me, because in Myanmar we had students uprising that was not safe, so we moved to refugee camp. Upon arriving in the US I felt the same. My husband lost his leg because of a landmine in Thailand. When we arrived, I was the only one who could work, I had five children, the eldest was 13, the youngest was 6 at the time. It was very difficult for me when we first arrived in Washington DC. First, the flight was delayed due to some flight problem. Then, we were sent to a hotel. The second day when we arrived at the airport, they said “Oh! We have the wrong group,” so they sent us to a different airport, then again, the flight was delayed. Throughout that day we didn’t have food and I didn’t know how to buy food for my kids, my kids were hungry and things weren’t going well. So then when I arrived in South Carolina, the first place we lived, after 2 months my husband had another surgery for his leg because of his wound, and the doctor said it’s very close to his bone and he has diabetes, so it was very hard for me because he was at the hospital and I had to work to pay rent, the kids would go to school, it’s very hard for me as a mother. I cried a lot.

I grew up in Burma, and I got married to my husband in a refugee camp, had my five kids in a refugee camp, I raised them there. I felt like I was under house arrest because we couldn’t go outside the camp freely. Every summer time I had a worry because the enemy came and attacked our camp. In 1996 when I had my second son, he was 2 months, and the eldest was a year and a half, and one day in the morning the military came and attacked our camp so we fled in the morning and we had no shelter. They just said “Go across the road to the Thai village.” We went there, but in the evening we went back to the camp, and we heard that two women died, a few people were injured, so it was not safe for us. Every night, especially in the summertime, when we would sleep, we would wake up with fear. We couldn’t sleep well. It’s like a nightmare. One day my kids and I were sleeping upstairs and they told us, “You don’t need to turn on the light, don’t do anything, just come down and be quiet.” And I had 5 kids around me, and my youngest son looked at me and said “Mom I’m scared,” it was dark, it was midnight, so I prayed to God “Please I don’t want to raise my kids like this. I don’t want them to grow up with fear, grow up in a nightmare.

I arrived in August, so soon after that my kids went to school. The first day that they went to school, I had no idea in the US that the kids go to the school bus. So at noon one of the pastors called me and told me that “Your kids are not at school,” so “Oh no!” So I sent them to the bus but three of them were missing. So now I’m really worried for my kids, I can’t even eat. Later he called me again and told me they got on the wrong bus and got sent to the wrong school. So that was the first time in the US I was really worried for my kids. And for my job also, my first job was at Chik Fil A, and I had no experience on how to make a sandwich, I didn’t know what anything is called like even pickles, I was all alone, it was really hard for me.  

Similar to the current political tension in Myanmar, young youth are fighting for their lives to gain peace and support from the brutal military dictatorship. 

In a country where there is discrimination and prejudice against others, it is important for the immigrants and refugee youth to gain knowledge. Things such as gaining a better education, studying a specific field, and going to schools. This is important because by gaining this knowledge, they are better to fight back against the upper part of society. They will understand how politics and the economy runs. As they work their way up, they are given a higher platform and can spread the awareness of their struggling people. Similarly, many of our Karen youth are fighting back against the ruthless treatment from the Myanmar government officials by peacefully protest against the military dictatorship. Karen youth from all around the world are trying to get other countries to help the people of all ethnicities including Karen, Karenni, Chin, and many more who are forced, once again, to flee the country with nowhere to go. 

Success is where I can help others and make their day. No matter how small or big it is. Benefiting others brings up my mood and I call it a success. I also consider the obstacles I overcome a success. For example, when I graduated from Teacher’s Training, I was able to use that knowledge to help others. While currently working as Legal Assistant here in Austin, I am able to help others gain citizenship and their green card. When they become a US (United States) citizen and achieve this milestone, I feel successful. 

God and my family are my source of energy. Every day I wake up to pray with my family and ask God to give us a wonderful day. Although there are days where things are not going well, I always make sure to end my day with bible scriptures with my family and I. Whenever I feel unmotivated, I remember how far my family and I have accomplished. From leaving Myanmar to moving to Austin, MN. I will overcome the battles as long as I have God and my family.

My objective is for my kids to get their higher education, and I want to continue my education too. So right now, my five kids are all high school graduates, the eldest, she is graduating from the University of South Dakota, and the second eldest, he is in the military now, he is abroad, and the other three are in college. That was one of my biggest wishes. Myself also, I want to continue my education, but I don’t have a chance to go to school right now because of my job as a mother and a wife, but I did get my vocational training. Right now, I’m working at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota as a legal assistant. I've been working there for five years now. I really appreciate that job because my first job in the US was working at a restaurant, my second job was working with after school students, then working as an interpreter for my community, and now currently with ILCM. 

I wish for other refugees to find peace from the wars they have escaped from. I want to remind them to never give up from the problems they will face in the new countries. It will be hard adjusting to the unfamiliar environment but with hard work and dedication, new refugees will find true success. For me, there were many times where I felt doubtful of myself for leaving my home country. But now, with the help of my family and God, I am able to earn a stable income to support not only my family but other refugees. 

I also hope for the new refugees to never forget where they came from. They should always remember the people in their home country and help however they can. For over 70 years, the people of Myanmar have faced persecution from the military government. To the heartless Burmese military officials and the leaders who have been given power, I ask them to have mercy on their people to protect rather than create chaos and violence. I would like to request the the US will allow more refugee to come and asked the military to stop persecuting its people. Give your country chance to develop and let the youth have a successful life. 

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