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Paw Da Eh shares her refugee journey from Thailand to the U.S.

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

Paw Da Eh is the first in her family to go to college. Despite the hardships she has faced as a Karen refugee, she remains cheerful and ambitious. She joined our Girls Getting Ahead in Leadership Program (GGAL) in 2011 and is currently a member of WeLEAD. Paw Da Eh loves to share her story and her culture with others.


Paw Da Eh

Where are you from? I came from Thailand, basically in Thai refugee camp. We moved there in 1997 when I was two years old and we lived there more than 10 years.

What was it like in Thailand? In Thailand, it was totally different than the US. We lived in a bamboo house and the house was not really big. We had a kitchen corner, living room, and a bedroom. And we don't have electricity; we don't have a good education; we don't have access to healthcare.

What was the hardest part of coming to the US? When I first came here, I think everything is hard. Everything. The first thing I will say is language barriers and the second is transportation. The language barriers, if you don't know how to speak English it is going to be really hard. When I first came here. I don't know any English. I mean I did learn English when I came to the camp, but I don't know how to speak. It is really hard. Not just for me, but for my dad or sister we well because we don't know anything. We had to go to our neighbor or aunts house to help us read the meal or anything.

Paw Da Eh gives a speech

Did you go to school in Thailand? Yes, I did go to school. I started school when I was in pre-school and then went to 8th grade and moved here.

What grade did you start when you moved here? I started in grade nine. I spent four years in the US high school. I graduated in 2014. Then I went to St. Paul College and I graduated in December 2016 with my Associate Arts degree. I am now at Metro State doing my major, Human Services.

Why did you choose that major? I chose that because I want to help because I know how hard it is when you don't even speak English. How difficult it was when you first came here as a refugee. I received a lot of support from GGAL and my community. In return, I want to help those who need help.

So you want to work with refugees? Yes. I want to work with refugees. I want to work with people who don't speak English, who need help to access community resources. I want to advocate for them.

Do you think that being in Girls Getting Ahead in Leadership (GGAL) influenced your decision to work with refugees? Yes, it does. GGAL helped me a lot. I realize because I received a lot of help, I want to help others. When I joined GGAL I told so many my friends. If I didn't join the GGAL program, I probably wouldn't have gone to college. Honestly, I wouldn't have gone to college. I wouldn't have known anything.

When did you join GGAL? I joined in the summer of 2012.

Do you think GGAL helped you? Yes, it has helped me a lot.

What did it help you with? Scholarships, financial aid, and applying for a college.

Do you have any specific memories that stick out to you? I think that a specific story I have accomplished joining GGAL is writing scholarships essay. I applied to two or three scholarships and I got it all. That is my big accomplishment. Becuase they help us with editing and grammar stuff and they help us go through each step and help us with to do. They don't leave us alone.

Paw Daw Eh poses with a friend

What was your favorite part?

My favorite part is when we meet every Saturday and we do different kinds of things. We do many things: reading, writing, financial literacy...if you are a senior, they will start writing scholarships, and financial aid and apply for college, so much stuff. We also have field trips and volunteer.

What do you do now in WeLEAD? We meet with the WeLEAD coordinator to help us with anything. Whenever we have questions, regardless of homework or even about our problems in our house.

Is there anything else you would like to tell me? I am lucky. I am lucky to be here. If I live in camp, I would not have gone this far. I wouldn’t not know how to speak english. I am lucky. I am blessed. Because I came here and met a lot of people who support me. Compared to some people, they go to school and they go to the factory; they probably would have not gone to college. But we meet good people and we have succeeded.


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