Refugee Stories: “We want to stand up on our own.”

Every person we serve has a story. BackPack Buddies kids, CJTP students, Seed to Supper graduates, all of them have an enlightening story to tell. Here is the story of Burmese refugees gardening on our Teaching Farm.

Husband and wife, Maw and Pawpa Roeh, are Karen refugees, and Htoo Saw is their translator.  They are all building new lives in North Carolina after fleeing from oppression in their native Burma. The couple works full time in housekeeping at NCSU, and farms in their spare time on the IFFS Teaching Farm to supplement their food budget and share with family and friends.

Q: How is life different now from how it was before you came to America?

Pawpa: Here there is a lot more freedom than in Burma. In Burma we did not have the opportunity to work for ourselves, we had to work for the Burmese army building trenches, camps, laying barbed wire. Life there is hard and there is no security.

Htoo: Since 1945, my people have been forced out of the cities. They have had to flee to the mountains, to the jungles. They are in the countryside and they are illiterate, they do not even know what writing is. People think differently after living in the jungle for too long. People need to be revitalized. They need education and opportunity.


Q: You came here and started farming again—what do you like about the Teaching Farm?

Pawpa: I have a chance to eat my own vegetables from Asia: pumpkin, water gourd, morning glory, watercress--organic Asian vegetables.

Maw: At first we did not understand anything. We wanted to have a farm, but did not know how to make that happen. As refugees, we came with nothing, we had no tools. People built this shed for us.

Q: What do you want to learn?

Maw: We do not know how to farm in the US. We need people who can teach us about seasons, and what to plant each season, what to do about insects, how to eat healthily.

Q: And what can you teach to us?

Pawpa: The way we cook! How to make a Karen porridge: soak rice, then pound it into powder. Put pumpkin and yam leaves in boiling water with the rice powder and the seasonings you want. Bamboo shoots, too.

Q: Why should people support IFFS and what we do out here?

Htoo: Education—we need education if we are to live in the US. We need to learn the language. We need to know how to farm, how to have a business. If you don’t know how to eat healthy, because of lack of education, your life expectancy is very short. Now that we are here, our lives are getting longer. We want to stand up on our own.

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