Sharing stories with Karen weavers on bamboo verandas. Office lunches on floor mats. Car rides with Dorothy and alleyway shopping with Hser Gay Paw. Belly laughs in Mae Sot. Singing Beatles songs with Karenni students in Nai Soi and hiking the rocky pathways in Mae La Refugee Camp. Befriending locals and food-focused adventures with friends. Mountain backdrops. Watching rice paddies zoom by from a truck-bed in Mae Hong Son.
My time has been a whirlwind. Eating and meeting and exploring and working (and playing). Throughout it all – my heart and thoughts stay close to my Karen family and friends in St. Paul. They’re the reason I’m here. So many of my recent experiences intertwine with memories of them. Betel nut stained smiles. Broken English thank you cards. Pizza and fish paste potlucks and traditional ceremonies in gymnasiums. Impromptu talent shows during Job Club and first generation college acceptance letters. Holding the hands of the weary and hugs for small successes. Brave storytellers and culture preservers. The connectedness of it all is lovely and comforting.
This month, my position at Partners will change. My participation in the Weaving Program will lessen and half my time will be spent at Partners’ new migrant center, SEED. It’s a space where migrant workers can go for resource referrals, English and Thai language classes and training. My primary responsibility is assisting a colleague train five young women in community work. We will equip them with the skills to go into migrant communities, helping families and children improve their lives. Our lessons include: parenting/discipline, child development, domestic abuse, mental illness, general health/hygiene, self-care and more. So far, it’s been a great fit.
This shift does mean a change from working mostly with ethnic Karen to ethnic Shan. It was lessons learned from the Karen that ultimately lead me to accept the new role. Their incredible adaptability and generosity. Their value of education, tradition, strong families and strong communities. My time at SEED will allow me to use skills I gained working alongside their community, to help another group of oppressed people from Burma. Throughout the last three years, the Karen have opened my heart to the people of Burma and simultaneously bound it with their liberation. There’s no turning back, and I’m excited to see what’s in store. Thank you, for your support throughout the last six months and cheers to another six!