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August 8, 2012

Refugee pursues citizenship, GED certificate

LOGANSPORT — In an upstairs study room at the Logansport library, a 26-year-old man from Burma and a retired social worker from just north of Walton go over spelling mistakes the man made in his last English homework assignment.

The man, Eh Say, is gradually piecing together a new life in the United States after escaping political unrest in his home country and spending about a decade in a refugee camp.

In halting English, Eh Say says he’s happy to be in the United States, living in Logansport with extended family, working second shift processing pork at Tyson Fresh Meats in Logansport and attending a small church of Christians who share his ethnic heritage. It’s a far different life from the one he left in southeast Asia.

Eh Say spent his early childhood with other Karen — an ethnic group making up about 7 percent of Burma’s population — in a farming village on a forested mountain in Burma. He wrote about his childhood for one of his recent homework assignments, in which he described how soldiers in the ruling military government ransacked his and neighbors’ homes and burned the village.

Amid fighting between rebelling Karen soldiers and the governing army, Eh Say and others in the village escaped to a refugee camp in neighboring Thailand in the mid-1990s. CIA World Factbook estimates indicate more than 450,000 Burmese nationals, mostly Karen, were still displaced as of last year.

Eh Say attended a school in the camp, achieving what he guessed to be the equivalent of 10 years’ Burmese education. However, he and other refugees were not free to leave the camp and could not gain employment.

Eh Say immigrated to the United States in 2007 and moved to live with his uncle’s family in Logansport a year later. He began trying to learn spoken English and enrolled in classes in English as a second language at Landmark Adult Learning Center, which has since closed. He had already learned to read some English.

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