Finding refuge: Ni-Lar Way, Besa Paw, Christer-Say, Christer-Htoo

Nilar Christer Say Besa and Christer Htoo

Ni-Lar Way, Christer-Say, Besa Paw, and Christer-Htoo

This week we're sharing the stories of a handful of refugees who have found new homes in the Capital Region.

Ni-Lar Way, Besa Paw, and sisters Christer-Say and Christer-Htoo are Karen refugees whose families were driven from Burma/Myanmar to camps in Thailand.

Christer-Say and Christer-Htoo are twins. They lived in the same camp as Ni-Lar, Christer-Htoo's best friend. Ni-Lar and her family moved to Albany. Later, the sisters' parents were told they were going to the United States. They considered making North Carolina their home, but Christer-Htoo put her foot down.

"I know that my best friend is here," she remembers. "I said, mom, if you don't come to Albany I'm not going to go to America!"

Today all three girls are students at Bishop Maginn High School in Albany, along with Besa Paw, another Burmese girl who came from a different camp in Thailand.

Bishop Maginn allowed us to share a few minutes of the teen's school day to talk about their lives before and after coming to the US, and their hopes for the future.


My parents are from Karen, but I was born in Thailand. I lived in a refugee camp. As a kid it was fun but I don't know about adult. We had a lot of friends and we could just go out anytime we want. Just play as we want and study together. They have school, but only for younger.

Why did your parents want to come to the United States?

The war. I didn't ask them a lot. They thought that here education was better than there. I think it's more comfortable and nice here.

Before, in school, I didn't know 2 x 1 -- because they said it backwards so I was confused the way they said it, and I said, "I don't' know," and then he hit me and I almost cried. But he's the teacher, you know, so I don't want to show my tear in front of him. If you see people can do that and you think you can't do, it's so much pressure on you all the time.

What surprised you about Albany?

I thought the big buildings -- the tall building -- I thought we were going to live there. When they showed me my house I was surprised.

What do you like to do?

I like to play sports and learn stuff, but most is watch cartoons and hang out with my friends.

What do you hope for?

I haven't made up my mind yet, but I have a lot of hope to go to college after high school.

First, I wanted to become an FBI and then I think about it and I think I'm too short for FBI (laughs) -- too small. But I think about becoming a lawyer. Some people say I have a real nice voice so should I be a singer, but nooo -- I don't want paparazzi to follow me. So I'm going back to what I thought before -- FBI or lawyer.

Ni-Lar Way

My name is Ni-Lar Way. I came here at almost 10. My name is Burmese because my father and mother also grew up in Burma and same story, they got to move because they were kicked out because of the war. What they call me in Burmese name, but one time I ask my father he say it means a very value and precious thing.

What was it like in the camp?

I was a kid then, I don't really know much about adult problems. Just live. I was happy, but you don't get to wear clothes this nice. And food -- not a lot of food to eat -- and then the water sometime it got poisoned so you have to go to the river far away and get water.

But sometimes there is a lot of things going on, like some people said the soldier is going to come anytime. But I remember one time they said they wanted to come shoot us so we have to run. Back then I was so little. In my time it didn't happen often but we gotta be ready and keep our eyes open the whole time.

My sister has a heart problem. They don't have enough sponsor to fix her heart, so at first one of the American people call to sponsor us. They were in Australia, but my dad, his mom was still in Burma, and they ask us, "I want to adopt a child." But my mom won't give up my sister. But later we came to America. Second reason was to get a better education in life. My parents all they want to do is to give the best for their child.

What surprised you about Albany?

I came here in January so there was snow. Literally a lot of snow. And there we don't have snow --so I loved the snow. And I think snow, I think you can eat snow like ice cream, because there our ice cream is like ice. People had to tell us don't eat the snow.

What do you want people to know about being a refugee?

It's really hard to settle to a new place and to learn another language that you don't usually speak. I was like a deaf and mute person -- when the teacher talk to you, you know nothing. People just look at me and nod their head. It's hard to get the words that they speak and it's hard to move on. Sometimes you feel like you can not move on anymore. It's like you are down you can't do this. It's very much pressure.

Being here in Albany was really great and blessing. Everyone I know, they do the best they can to help us. It's hard to learn new things, but interesting and amazing at the same time.

We are really thankful for Maginn for accepting us. Everybody is welcoming.

When I first came and I had to take the test and it was so hard that I cry out loud, and there [in the camp] if you don't know it they will hit you. But here when I cry out loud they didn't speak any harsh word, but comfort me with their hugs and say that it's OK, you will learn. It's so great. It's a great life.

What do you hope for?

I hope that people like me would get good opportunity and if I became something big I will go help people that don't get opportunity like me and will give them a chance and an opportunity to know about other stuff in the world, what is going on. But when I first came to America and the teacher asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" -- I don't know anything at that time. But when I think about it I was like, "Know what? I wanna be a bus driver." (laughs) Because I don't know other areas -- I don't know doctor, yet, I don't know nurse, I don't know teacher, yet. But when I think back I laugh all the time about it.

But my hope is to give people a chance. Other people have a lot of talent and good stuff to share but don't have a chance to show and they can make a country better if they really have a chance and opportunity.


I am 16 years old and when I came to America I was 10 or 11.

What surprised you in America?

When I came here I thought I was going to be like a princess and wear a long dress and jump on sofa and sleep in a nice bed. (laughs)

What do you want to be when you grow up?

My mom want me to become a nurse. I was like, I'm not really good at science. And then I was like, I want to be come a teacher and like teach little kids. After that, if I got more money, I want to travel the world and help homeless and people who don't have money to pay and when they go to hospital they don't have any money... so I want to help them.


When I came here I thought this was really beautiful. Thailand is small and houses made of bamboo.

Here parent just work, then they pay for everything.

What surprised you about this place?

It's kind of like my sister. I thought we were going to be like princess, and every day I'm going to wear long dress and I was going to be beautiful. And then I come here and every day is snow and I cannot wear a dress.

What are you hoping for?

Before I think after I pass college I would like to be nurse -- and then I feel like you have to read a lot to be a nurse so I change my mind. Then I think I want to be an actor, because I'm watching movies and it's really cool -- but I think I don't think I can do and then I change my mind again. I want to be helper -- like help everybody.

My hope keeps changing. Sometimes I think I have a long way to go so I can still think when I'm older and older.

+ Finding refuge: Tafsela Hashimi
+ Finding refuge: Haeneypew Sey
+ Finding refuge: Amgad Abdalla
+ Finding Refuge: Niebiha


This was great! Thanks for these segments.

Loved reading about these girls- I hope they are successful in any path they choose.

Also, I'm glad I chose to read about them and about the vigil in VA first this morning before reading about anything negative.

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