Her family comes from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and are part of the Karen tribe, who have a long history of war with the Burmese government. Many describe this armed conflict as one of the world’s longest civil wars. It was this persecution that caused her parents to seek refuge at the Tham Him Refugee Camp in the Ratchaburi Province of Thailand.
Growing up in the refugee camp was all Ka Taw Dow had ever known. She hunted or gathered vegetables on Saturdays, the community went to church on Sundays, and she went to the refugee camp school during the week.
“Life in the camp was a consistent routine,” she says. “The hard thing was that we couldn’t leave the refugee camp because we didn’t have passports. They don’t let you out of the camp, but we still had to find food. We built our own home out of bamboo, cooked ourselves, and used candles for light since we did not have access to electricity.”
At the age of six, her aunt heard of a better, smaller camp in the Province of Kanchanaburi called Ban Don Yan. Ka Taw Dow traveled with her aunt and uncle (who she calls her mom and dad) to this smaller camp, leaving her birth parents, a sister, and three brothers behind. It was here that they were able to obtain passports and begin the process of entering the United States.
The process was long and difficult. Five years later, at the age of 11, Ka Taw Dow, her aunt, and uncle, were approved for entry into the United States. They rode in a car that took them to Bangkok, and she boarded her very first airplane bound for the US. Ka Taw Dow does not remember much of her traveling experience, but she recalled being extraordinarily sleepy and thought the plane food tasted awful. Landing in America filled her with sorrow for her friends and family back home.
They made their way to Columbia, Missouri because a few of friends from their refugee camp had come before them. She said, “When we landed, there were not a lot of Karen people here, and it was hard because we did not have a car and had to find jobs knowing very little English.”
Ka Taw Dow is now 18 years old, an outstanding English speaker, married, and has a beautiful baby girl named Christina. She graduated high school this spring and, with the help of City of Refuge, she is currently working on obtaining her driver’s license. She is planning to go to college to become a CNA. She would like to work with “kids or old people… but not teenagers because they talk too much.”
Ka Taw Dow talks to her birth parents who are living in Thailand about once a week and hopes she can go back and live with them someday. However, this would be hard to accomplish because her daughter is a United States citizen. Her siblings would have a similar difficulty moving to the U.S. because their children are Thai citizens.
We wish the situation in Myanmar was improving, but with incidences such as the recent displacement of 5,000 civilians after the army’s use of aerial bombings, heavy weapons and artillery fire in civilian areas, it’s hard to see an end in sight.
This is why organizations like City of Refuge exist – to help those in desperate need, who have risked everything to escape cruelty and violence in search of a safe place to rebuild their lives.
Over the next several years, a large group of Karen people are planning a trip to Thailand to celebrate the building of a new church in one of the refugee camps, and Ka Taw Dow is hopeful about being able to go.
We can only imagine what it feels like to leave your family halfway across the world at such a young age, but Ka Taw Dow has a strength and maturity that tells us she is going to make it just fine here.