Mu Kpaw is one of the newest additions to the Liberty Lutheran Family of Services. He serves as a Refugee Social Services Case Manager/Job Developer at our Lutheran Congregational Services office in Allentown, a service of Liberty Lutheran and Lutheran Children and Family Services. There he helps refugee clients secure employment and work towards self-sufficiency. The 36-year old married father has endured a long, courageous journey to the US and feels honored to help other refugees start their new lives here.
“I am glad to be here in the U.S. and to be a citizen. I thank God for everything He has done for me and my family,” Mu says. “Here I look around and I see all different cultures, languages and feel like I am in the real world, the world God has created for humankind,” he added.
Originally from Burma, Mu’s parents sent him to him a refugee camp in Thailand at the age of 15 to avoid a civil war between ethnic groups.
“I remember back then I could hear the artillery fired by the Burmese army every day and at nights,” Mu says. “The school I attended there often closed due to the Burmese military attacks.”
The youngest of 13 children, Mu traveled to Mae La refugee camp with a sister and brother at the age of 15. They were among 50,000 refugees from Myanmar/Burma living at the camp
“I never thought I would end up living at the camp for years,” Mu says. “When I got there my parents were not by my side and I felt lonely. The food tasted different. The water did not taste the same. There were too many people and the camp did not smell so good.”
There was no electric and no running water at Mae La camp. They lived in a hut made of bamboo from the nearby forest and a roof that was made of leaves. The old bamboo house lasted a year before Mu had to build a new one himself. The roof of leaves lasted about two years on average, he recalls, and then it would need to be replaced again as well. They survived on rations of rice, yellow beans, fish paste, cooking oil, chili and salt that were distributed to refugees from the Thai government. Confined behind a barbed wire fence, Mu and the other refugees are unable to work legally in Thailand and not permitted to leave the camp at any time.
Despite the conditions, Mu worked hard to secure his future. He graduated high school at the camp and earned a Bachelor of Theology at the Kawthoolei Karen Bible School and College in Thailand. He remained at the camp for 14 years before immigrating to the US in 2007 with his wife and three children. They traveled from Bangkok airport in Thailand to JFK airport in New York City on a 17 hour direct flight. It was their first time in a plane.
“I am free,” Mu says of his first impression of the U.S. “I can find a job, work hard and support my family.”
But it wasn’t so simple. Two weeks after his arrival, Mu became seriously ill with meningitis. A doctor at the hospital told him he was lucky for seeking treatment when he did. Finding employee was very challenging, he says, but eventually he was hired at Lutron Electronics in the Lehigh Valley. He started on the assembly line and over the course of five years was promoted to various leadership positions within the company. He joined LCS in the fall of 2013.
“I love working with people, love to share my experiences, our differences, our situations,” he says. “I have a feeling that I can do something, make a difference and create changes for my fellow refugees.”
Liberty’s Lutheran Children and Family Services Refugee Resettlement Program is a local affiliate of the national Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which assists refugees and asylees through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State. These services are made available to hundreds of refugees each year in the five-county Southeast Pennsylvania area, Lancaster County and in the Lehigh Valley area.
Provided in collaboration with previously arrived relatives, co-sponsoring churches and organizations and individual volunteers, our refugee resettlement services are designed to create a smooth transition to life in the local community and to promote economic self-sufficiency.