Saw Sar Kapaw*, pictured above with his wife and son, worked as a lawyer and activist in Burma, also known as Myanmar. He sought out justice and had a passion for his daily work. But on February 1, 2021, everything changed. His fight for justice had just begun.
Burma, which sits just west of Thailand in Southeast Asia, has a history of British colonization, military rule, and internal conflict between ethnic armed groups. A democratic government finally emerged in 2015, and was re-elected by a landslide in late 2020. But then in the middle of the night on February 1, 2021 Saw felt uneasy. Something was not right.
At 2 AM the internet went down, and then the phones stopped working. He could not reach his wife, Yee Min who lived in a neighboring state. The next day, the military paraded into the main city and arrested key democratic leaders, making it clear the coup had begun. Saw was trapped with his colleagues, unable to go outside for days.
“After those days, the military said ‘you can go back to your hometown and stay freely,’ but we knew that with this condition, nothing is really like that because the people don’t accept the military coup. I had two options – go back to [my hometown]… or go back to Yangon and participate in the underground movement,” shared Saw.
Saw Sar Kapaw knew he had to advocate for democracy and freedom throughout his country, so he went on to the country’s largest city, Yangon, where he participated in the protests and supported those who were leading the movement.
Before long, violence spread wide as the military arrested, attacked, and killed those supporting and leading the pro-democracy movement. It became more and more dangerous to stand against the coup. Saw shared that “many of my friend’s houses were burned by the military.”
Saw fled to Thailand temporarily so he could continue his remote, underground work fighting for his people’s freedom. The U.S. embassy encouraged him to resettle in the U.S. and supported the process. Saw Sar Kapaw’s wife, Yee Min, and their two-year-old son were finally able to join him in Thailand, ready for their journey to the U.S.
World Relief welcomed Saw and Yee Min to the U.S. on September 1, 2021 at Sea-Tac Airport. “First, we stayed in Auburn with a host family… they were very kind to us. We learned the American culture – how they eat, how they care for their children, how they spend their time.”
Saw’s family found a place of their own to live and he started a job at a hotel alongside all the hours he spent working online to support the movement in Burma. For the first 6 months, they felt rather isolated in their new lives. But slowly they began to settle in and build community.
One place they started to find community was at World Relief’s English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Saw and Yee Min meet with other classmates on Zoom twice a week and have self-guided lessons twice a week. “Even our son is taking classes. They have a family literacy class, so he has a chance to meet friends from Afghanistan and Ukraine” shared Saw.
The classes are safe places where refugees and immigrants coming from all ranges of skill levels can learn English. Saw emphasized how his class was practical and helpful for his family’s daily life; “for the beginners like us, Americans speak very fast. So until now, I didn’t understand what they are speaking. In World Relief’s ESL class they speak very slowly; they try to understand us. Sometimes they use body language so we can understand what they are saying”
Saw Kar Kapaw is strengthening his English skills and improving his vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure, not just for his daily life, but for the pursuit of justice. Saw plans to become certified as a paralegal in the U.S. so he can continue his work in the U.S. advocating for justice and fighting for democracy.
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This post was originally published on World Relief.