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Embracing the uncertainty

This World Refugee Month, we are highlighting one of our staff members, Paw Soemoo. Paw joined our team in 2022 when she discovered that her value aligns with World Relief’s mission. Here, Paw looks back on her life from childhood, to becoming a refugee, to now serving the community who shares a similar path with her.  

“We want the same freedom for our own country. Because of war and violent conflict, all our people are scattered all around the world,” Paw Soemoo sympathized and prayed for her people.  

Paw was born in Karen State, Myanmar, a country with the longest ongoing civil war.  At a very young age, Paw and her family had to flee their village twice due to the violence attack from the Myanmar army.

“The first time was in 1985, we fled to a village in Thailand. They (Myanmar army) invaded our homeland, attacked, dropped bombs, and burn our villages,” Paw shared.  

Even with nothing left, members of Paw’s village remained resilient, making their way back to their home when the attack and fire ceased.  

“After this first attack many of us went back, this is our home and a place that’s most known to us,” Paw stated. “We went back to rebuild everything that was burned down; houses, schools, churches, and hospitals,” she continued.  

Just four years after this initial invasion, Myanmar army made their way back into villages once again in the effort to vanish homes and lives and to drive out minor ethnic groups.

“We fled again in 1989 when the military invaded our village again. I was just 13 then, we fled to Thailand, and that’s when we became refugees,” Paw shared.  

Paw and her family lived in Thailand refugee camp for 20 years not knowing the possibilities that awaited them.  

The point of no return

In 2006, Paw’s family began the process of coming to the US. She shared that one of the main reasons to come to the US was the hope of healing her sister, who at the time had a serious medical condition.  

That same year, Paw and her family was granted the opportunity to come to the US. 

“We settled in Utica, New York, and I lived there for over 8 years,” she stated. “During my time here, I took ESL classes and worked,” Paw shared.  

During her resettlement in Utica, Paw also started a family of her own. She got married, had children and used her language skills to help her community members in taking them to appointments and interpreting.  

Paw resettled to the Quad Cities in 2018 to help her brother run a grocery store. Here, she continued to use her gift to help community members in transporting and interpreting when needed.  

“When we arrived, we had people who helped us with transportation and educating us on the new culture. So, I try to do the saame for new arrivals knowing how hard it is to start a new life in a new country,” Paw shared.

Gratitude worth expressing

Just years after resettling here, Paw crossed path with World Relief Quad Cities at a community event where she was interpreting. Paw was then introduced to the organization and started working shortly as a Health and Wellness Caseworker.  

“I’ve been here ever since. I like working here because I get to help families, new arriving families,” Paw shared.  

Paw expressed her gratitude for the opportunity she receives in the US. “We have lots of opportunities here and we thank the country for that and all who served the country. Because of their service, we can receive freedom,” she stated. 

It’s been nearly 20 years since Paw resettled to the US, but the yearning and longing of her homeland remain. 

“We have lots of difficulties, we’ve had to flee, even when we are in another country, we miss our country, our home.” 

As we look forward to celebrating World Refugee Day this month, we celebrate individuals like Paw whose resilience and hopefulness remains steadfast in challenging times!  


Learn more about opportunities to volunteer with refugees and other immigrants, or, fill out a volunteer application: 

Kler Soe is the Communications Specialist at World Relief Quad Cities. She joined the team after graduating from St. Ambrose University in May of 2023 with a degree in Public Relations and Strategic Communication. As a refugee herself, she hopes to bring awareness to World Relief’s work through stories. 

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