Now in America many, many Karen people, all Christian at belief. And I told them in my church, this America and Massachusetts, Worcester, Massachusetts, the best in the world!
Paw Wah, Burmese Refugee, Worcester Hometown Hero, and Board Member of Worcester Refugee Assistance Project, describes three phases of her life's journey. She first describes her experiences in Burma, now called Myanmar, then her years in a refugee camp in Thailand, and finally her new life in Worcester. She comments that she sometimes calls herself Hope Paw Wah, as the words paw wah, translated as "bloom like the white flower," signify hope in her native language. The interview shows Paw Wah's remarkable resilience and courage along with her dedication to her family, her generosity toward others, and her love for America. This devotion is shown when she exuberantly states in the interview, "You know, this America and Massachusetts, America, Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts, America, the best in the world!”
Born in 1967, Paw Wah experienced nearly constant war and violence in her home country and finally fled to Thailand in 2000 with her husband, her foster son, and her first born son after witnessing the torture and death of her younger brother at the hands of the Burmese military. In her own words she says, "Oh, you know, when I was born in Burma, every time, everyday, we have, we suffering the fear when the war will be close to our village … and the Burmese soldier and the Karen soldier when they meet each other, meet each other in … close to my village, all the villages would get trouble … the Burmese soldier they torture people and many men what they saw then, this sight of torture.”
Throughout the interview Paw Wah demonstrates the deep significance her Christian faith has for her and how it has given her the strength to continue moving forward despite hardship, fear, loss, and dislocation. Her sense of humor also shines brightly throughout the interview as does her ability to create safety and warmth for others striving, as she has done, to make new lives for themselves in the entirely unfamiliar environment of the USA. When asked what it was like when she and her family finally arrived in America, she captures the enormity of the transition by humorously saying, "Oooh, you know, like cave, caveman came to America." Paw Wah and her family arrived in Worcester on September 9, 2008 and faced significant challenges in adjusting to a way of life so different from what they had previously known, but with time she and her family have flourished and have given enormous gifts back to the community which welcomed them on that September day.