My name is Tu Lor Eh Paw, I am a senior at Como Park Senior High, a refugee, and a mentee with the Dream Refugee mentorship program.
Seventeen years ago, on March 9, 2000, I was brought into this world. I was born in the Southeast Asian nation of Burma, now known as Myanmar. I was my parent's youngest child of nine. Our family lived in a small village where only ten families settled; mostly our relatives. My family used the slash and burn technique for farming. It was the only way we could grow food to sustain ourselves.
Two years later, my mother contracted a life threatening disease. She fought with all of her might to beat this illness. She lost her fight and left this world in June of 2002. One of the main issues that contributed to her death was our family’s lack of money and resources to seek out treatment. Our village didn’t have the tools necessary to treat of find a cure for the disease, including well-educated doctors. There was nothing we could do except to move on with our lives.
In 2009, my dad brought me and three of my siblings to a refugee camp in Burma. He left us with our aunt and went back to work in Burma/Myanmar so he could provide for us. We only saw our dad a couple times in the span of two or three months. We lived with our aunt for two years until we were notified that we would be leaving for America. My father, two of my siblings, and I left in February of 2011 and landed in Minnesota on March 9, 2011, my 11th birthday.
My dad brought us to the U.S. mainly because he wanted more opportunities for his children to get a higher quality education than he did. I started fifth grade at Como Park Elementary the week after my family’s arrival. Back in the camp, we dreamed about living in a big house and going to the best schools. We thought of America as Heaven. When we got here, it was freezing and we had to pack four people into the small apartment where we still live today.
School was much different than we expected. I grew up speaking Karen my entire life and didn't know any English, so I started from scratch when I began going to American school. Where we came from, you had to pay for school if you wanted to go to a really good one. My dad couldn’t afford that, so we went to the community school back at the camp. They offered very few subjects and we only learned the basics: reading, writing, and math. There weren’t many opportunities for higher education. You went to school for ten years and then you’re done. You just go on and live your life. I didn’t take that for granted when I came to America. I wanted more education for myself so I studied a lot and went to school every single day. Even without my parents there, I always did my best.
A lot of people say that refugees come here and take other people’s jobs. This is a misconception. When my dad came here, he didn’t know the language and didn’t have the education necessary to get those coveted jobs. His only option was to work in industry positions that required intensive labor for much less pay. It still hurts me to hear that Americans see us as thieves of their country when we were just looking for the bare minimum of opportunities. I believe that we must share these stories in order for people to know where we’ve come from, what we’ve been through, and how we have overcome it all. The experience of being a refugee is much different than the average American thinks it is. It’s important for refugees to not let the negativity that we are immersed in linger, but to make the best of our situation and help other people understand.
In order to give kids that come after me the best chance possible to find their definition of success in this country, I want to make my voice heard and serve as an example. Education is key. Work your hardest while you’re given the opportunity to do so and never let anyone else get you down. Don’t let other people’s stereotypes affect you in a way that prevents you from achieving the goals you have set for yourself. I think that, when you achieve success, it means reaching the personal goals that you have set for yourself. I want to show others that it’s possible to do this as a refugee. I’ve already accomplished three of my big goals: do well in school, learn the language and speak it fluently, and get used to living in America.
Currently, I am the Captain of the Varsity Soccer Team as well as Captain of the Varsity Badminton team at my high school. I am part of National Honor Society (NHS) and a participant in both Upward Bound and AVID, two college prep programs. At Como, we have the Academy of Finance, a partner with St. Paul College, which has enabled me to already earn 16 college credits before graduating high school. My next goals are getting into college and learning how to live by myself. Bethel University is my top choice, followed by Augsburg University and the University of Minnesota. I’m thinking about pursuing a career as an Athletic Trainer though I’m still undecided. I am the first mentee of Dream Refugee’s Mentorship Program alongside my mentor, Diana Chaman.