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news | January 16, 2018 | Thailand | Development

From camps to a new life: Two refugee women and their American dream

On the way to ACTED's classrooms in a refugee camp © ACTED Thailand, 2018

Jeh Meh and Neh Meh sit together, discussing about their future life out of the camps. Both of them are young refugee teachers. Both of them are now waiting for their resettlement from the camps to a third country to take place very soon.

Both women started their job as teachers within an ACTED project running in two refugee camps in Thailand, which aim is to improve the livelihoods and future opportunities of refugees from Myanmar by providing vocational training in the camps. Six advanced courses – sewing, electric wiring, business computer, hotel management, and motorcycle repair – are currently available, and over 1,500 young refugees graduated from one of these since the beginning of the project, back in 2013.

Jeh Meh is ACTED’s teacher coordinator in the Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp. She is married, and mother of two young children, a boy and a girl. Next month, the four of them will move to Kansas, along with Jeh Meh’s mother. They expect to meet some family members who are already living there.

Neh Meh is the current advanced computer course teacher. She lives with her two young siblings, and will hopefully meet her cousins in Texas by the end of January. So far, over 15,000 Burmese refugees have managed to resettle from Thailand to a third country. Most of them – about 85% - went to the USA.

For Jeh Meh, one of the main motivations to move to the USA is her children’s education. “My priority is for them to have a better education. I believe that they will get that outside the camps.” She also hopes to have a better life in America: “I think that life there will be easier, and hopefully I will earn a higher wage. My brother and my sister are already living there. Hopefully, we will be soon reunited with my mother, and we will be a big family again”.

Neh Meh would like to attend college or university someday, and maybe teach in the USA. In the meanwhile, she is happy to start with any available job. She is determined to provide herself and her siblings with a better education.

Jeh Meh has been living there since 1997, when her family fled violence in Myanmar. Neh Meh was also born in Myanmar, 22 years ago, and moved to Thailand when she was only two years old. Her younger brother and sister were both born in the camp, and she is now alone to support them. Free access to education and healthcare in the camp is very valuable to her: “even if it’s a refugee camp, we had free education, and free healthcare”.

Jeh Meh still has her village across the border, but her house disappeared years ago. She doesn’t want to return to Myanmar, nor does Neh Meh. For Neh Meh, there is nothing left there: “no home, no food, no land”.

Jeh Meh was happy to work with the NGO, “not only for me, but for the whole community: it’s for my people.” Neh Meh is also positive about her experience, an opportunity to provide knowledge and skills to others, and she enjoyed teaching, with challenges, and determination to ultimately overcome them.

None of them has ever been to a big city, nor taken an airplane. But this is about to change. In a few weeks, they will be both trying to find their own American dream, outside the refugee camps.