What would you do if you were forced to leave your country and couldn't go home? For refugees in Washington state, that's more than a hypothetical question.
Erika Berg has spent the last three years collecting the stories of young refugees from Burma also known as Myanmar -- people who've lived that reality. They recorded their experience in drawings that were compiled into a book called “Forced to Flee: Visual Stories By Refugee Youth From Burma."
One of the refugees whose story was collected is Ta Kwe Say. He was just 12 years old when he was forced to flee Burma. His grandparents had been politically active in Burma and that meant their family wasn’t safe.
When his mother decided it was time to get out of Burma, she went through Thailand and told Ta to follow her.
His uncle smuggled him across the border, but “by the time I was in Thailand, she’d already left. So I stayed there with family friends,” said Ta. He lived as an undocumented child there for three years.
“I remember that I wanted to go to school, that’s one thing, and I wasn’t able to. And also I heard a lot of stories of people getting captured, get deported back to Burma,” he said. “It was scary.”
Eventually Ta did follow his mom to the U.S., and he was settled in Kent, Washington.
There are many stories like Ta’s in the refugee community in Washington. Berg said there's a reason she wanted refugee youth from Burma to tell those stories.
“I've seen that so often when refugees flee their native land they are fleeing divisions that exist there for survival, ethnic religious divisions, and they tend to recreate those here when they're resettled in the United States – unnecessarily,” she said.
But youth tend to mingle and connect via social media, she said, and “they end up being much more open to bridging the divide.”
So what did the experience do for Ta, now 23?
“It gives you a voice that can speak up, for causes that you care about and also share your experience about what it means to be a refugee coming into the U.S. and living here,” he said.
Berg said refugees she meets in workshops are focused on the important things in life.
“If you've been stripped of your home, your friends, family members, peace and freedom,” she said, “you can't help but be reminded, to remember what is most valuable, what we hold dearest.”
You can find out more about the book and Burma at http://burmavisionsforpeace.org/