Naw K'Neh Mei

I am a refugee from Burma. Before I fled to Thailand, I lived with my mother and sister in a small village nestled in the hills of Karen State. Karen State is located in Southeast Burma and is the homeland of our ethnic Karen people. I lived there peacefully throughout my childhood. When I was 14 my father died from diseased water. His stomach grew very big while the rest of his body became small. The government hospital was too far away and too expensive. In Burma, only the rich have access to health care.

I’ve lived in Thailand since 2000. I am happy here because there is electricity, clean water, latrines, and health care. Here I do not have to worry about forced labor. However I also miss home. I miss fresh natural vegetables. I miss the shade of our beautiful trees and the cool springs of Karen State. Most of all I miss my mother and sister.

I have only been able to return to visit my family once. It’s a dangerous journey and I could not stay for long. They work hard growing food in the communal fields and selling it in the markets. There is no school, so my sister has no opportunity for an education. Still, it was wonderful to see them. Wonderful to hear them say my name Naw K’Neh Mei, which mean “Wild Bee”.

Saw Moor'ra

I love art. I first learned to paint in a refugee camp. I’ve had several teachers and I spend a lot of time practicing. Painting is healing because it gives me an objective and goals. It gives me something to focus on. I paint my friends as well as famous people like Mother Teresa and Karen leaders. I make paintings about the Karen struggle so people outside our community can learn about our situation. Sometimes art can be more powerful than fighting. It is a non-violent way for me to show opposition to the Burmese military.

Before I came to Thailand I was a soldier in the Karen army. I joined the army out of rage because the Burmese soldiers burned down my home and killed my neighbors. I wanted to fight them so bad. However I was young and had little military training. After three years in the army I decided to come to Thailand and finish my high school education.

Last year I returned to Karen State to teach art to children. It was difficult because we had few resources. I brought some paints and we painted on paper and wood. It felt good to teach people and encourage them to think creatively.

Saw Eh T'mwee

I fled my homeland because my life was in danger. When the Burmese military first attacked my village they killed all of our animals, even our chickens. They forced us to build a military camp for them in our village. No one was paid for the labor or supplies we used to build their camp. They called it “volunteer labor”. One day they came and took my brother away. He was forced to travel with them to a nearby village. His job was to walk in front of the soldiers in case there were any landmines. My brother was lucky that day because no landmines exploded. Others have been less lucky.

I want to be a politician. If our people understand politics we can secure our human rights and achieve freedom. If we have representatives we can stand up to oppression and gain international support. I love the ideas of Gandhi and would like to learn more about other leaders like him. Unfortunately in Burma, if we try to protest non-violently we are killed, especially the ethnic minorities. Therefore we need soldiers to defend ourselves from the Burmese military. No one else protects our people from their constant attacks. Still I believe through politics we can make greater changes and work towards democracy.


I was just a few months old when Burmese soldiers first attacked my village. My parents put me in a rattan basket carrying me on their backs as they fled. Later we heard that the soldiers destroyed our home and burnt our village to the ground. My family built a new home in a new village where we lived peacefully until I was 17 years old. That year the soldiers came again. This time when we fled to the jungle we stayed there for a month. It was difficult living in the jungle because we did not have any shelter, cooking supplies or protection from malaria and other diseases. When it was safe we returned to the ruins of our village to rebuild.

Unfortunately we were not able to build a new school and I could not continue my education in the village. I came to Thailand where I could finish my primary education in the refugee camp. After I graduated I attended the Further Study Program, the refugee camp’s version of college. I then returned to Karen State to teach. I found a good job in a large school with 130 students and 13 teachers.

In 2007, Burmese soldiers came again. I fled for the third time. I am now 29 years old. I live in the refugee camp and spend my time playing soccer.

Paw Dah

I was born and raised in refugee camps. When my parents first fled Burma they lived in a refugee camp where they were never allowed to leave. There was no way for them to earn money. They moved to Mae La Oon camp, where 10,000 people live, in hope of finding work. I was born soon after they moved.

My parents took me to visit their village twice. The first time I was very young and the situation was not as bad as now. There were about ten houses in the village. People woke up early in the morning and worked the fields. One of my most shocking memories was seeing a five year old boy smoking a pipe!

In 2004 I visited the village again. The situation was much worse and I was very afraid. The Burmese military built a military base on the hill visible from every part of the village. There were only two or three houses left. The people who still lived there hid most of their belongings in the forest allowing them to flee quickly when the military attacked. They also buried things like blankets, clothing, pots and rice so the soldiers would not steal them.

I am so thankful for the security we have in Thailand. However, even here we are not free. We can rarely leave the refugee camps making it difficult for us to earn a living. Aid organizations support us but there are so many refugees and there is rarely enough to go around. What we really need is democracy in Burma.

Beau La Htoo

I came to Thailand in 1983 when I was two years old. We fled after my grandfather was killed by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the official name of the Burmese government. My grandfather was a Baptist missionary and worked with many different ethnic groups throughout Burma. The government killed him because they suspected he was a spy. I have never returned to Burma.

I’ve lived most of my life on the Thailand-Burma border. I work with Karen River Watch, an organization focused on the relationship between human rights and the environment. One of our biggest concerns is the hydroelectric dams being built in Karen State. When the Burmese government decides to build a dam the Karen people are forced to relocate immediately. They are not even allowed to take their belongings with them. They have to move to “relocation sites” which are very dangerous places to live. I don’t know if I will ever return to Karen State but I will continue to work hard for my people.

Saw Say Ler Wah Kyar

Everyone should have human rights. In Burma, the government took away our rights to live in peace, earn a living and raise our families. We have little health care, few schools and no safety. Like so many others, I fled Karen State when the military destroyed my village. They killed many people, even those working in the fields.

I have lived most of my life in a refugee camp. I want to learn about politics because I want to be able to protect my people. I pray for democracy in Burma and plan to return to my homeland. If we do not achieve democracy in Burma, I don’t know what I’ll do.

Gabriel Eh

The village where I was raised was surrounded by grasslands, hills and valleys. For generations my ancestors lived there peacefully, farming the fields and hunting in the forest. In 1998 the Burmese military attacked our village, burning it to the ground. We fled to the jungle for protection. The army buried landmines around our old village ensuring we would not return.

We built a new village about a days walk from the old one. Our new houses were built from the same materials as the old ones: bamboo and leaves. We do not build with metal or concrete. It was difficult to recreate a new village and there were many problems. Building a new education system was especially hard so those of us who could came to the refugee camp in Thailand to finish our schooling.

Sometimes foreigners ask me about my dreams for the future. I tell them that our situation is very difficult. We have no freedom in Burma or Thailand. When you have freedom you can have dreams for your own life. You can create goals and strategies to achieve those goals. Karen people have so few opportunities. We must work for freedom and democracy before we can dream for ourselves.

Pi Kwe

My name is Pi Kwi but my family calls me Topipi which means bird song in our Karen language. I was born on the Thailand-Burma border and moved to Huay Kaloke refugee camp when I was three years old. Over 6,000 people lived in the refugee camp until 1997 when the Burmese army crossed into Thailand and attacked our camp burning it to the ground. My family survived by hiding in the forest. After the Huay Kaloke attack, I moved to another refugee camp. My parents returned to Burma to take care of my grandparents.

I love to play the piano. Both my mother and grandmother play the piano very well. For many generations people in my family have played the piano and now I too am learning. It is our family heritage. One day I hope to help people in need, especially people with disabilities.

Eh Doh Soe

I am from a large village of over 800 people. We used to have wonderful concerts. We would build a stage in the center of the village and many people would sing. I sang religious and love songs. Many people would come to watch us perform.

In 2006, Burmese soldiers burned down my village. We fled into the jungle. Some people eventually went back to rebuild their homes but my family was too afraid. My parents moved to a new village and I came to the refugee camp. I still sing.