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Ahmay Ya

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Ahmay Ya was born in Burma in 1987. Her father is a well-known Karen activist, and Ahmay was forced to hide her true identity while growing up. During her final year of university, the Burmese government discovered the truth and she was forced to flee the country. She lived in a Thai refugee camp for several years before coming to the United States as a refugee in 2009. She studied social work at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul and worked as a Ramsey County social worker. She is an advocate for the Karen community in the Twin Cities and founded Karen Human Services of America in 2014.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

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Ahmy Ya Transcription

Hi my name is Ahmay Ya. I am a Karen. Karen is a minority ethnic group from Burma. Minnesota is the majority, largest population with Karen from Burma and we have about 12,000 Karen refugees population and Minnesota is more like home for them. One of the reasons I choose Minnesota: to see my culture, my food, and getting all the resource and benefit I needed for the first time of my resettlement in this country, until I became independently engaged in this society.
A refugee can go through all these life changes adjusting to the new country without getting all these appropriate resource. It is very difficult and very hard for us. Sometimes people do not know the Karen, and they don’t understand the culture or the background to communicate and be able to understand the Karen people.
I came to the United States in 2009 and my life was very challenging. I was educated, born and raised in Burma. Then, the reason I left my country, Burma, is my father used to be a peacemaker for all ethnic minorities, leaders in Burma. So my life was in danger. So I have to come this country seek for the refugee immigrant status.
So I was secretly living in Burma for my entire life and I have a different name and I was born and raised under a different family because I was not able to tell my real parents’ name. I could be captured or tortured or physically or mentally abused or tortured if they found out I was the daughter of my father. I’ve been taught from my grandparents, aunt, and my parents not to told about my family history. That is very dangerous for my life to tell my story to people. So my life was very unusual.
I graduated from Burma with a social work degree and after my final years, then the Burmese military find out that I was the daughter of my father and my father was one of the most wanted people in the top ten list. So they tried to arrested me and tried to capture me but I was able to escape just in time. And I escaped from Burma to Thailand and the spy and people was searching with weapon[s] and I have my other friends who are a member of the peacemaking process so I was able to escape with other friends and we were hidden under a bed in one of the hotel bedrooms in the city in Thai-Burma border area. Then we were paying money to the hotel owner not to disclose any information about us. And we hear they were coming to search [for] us downstairs and I was very frightened. It was a very scary moment.
And we were very lucky. The next morning I- we have somebody to came [to] rescue us to Thailand. So my father sent a few mens to escort us, so this is how I was able to safely move to Thailand, to my parents. When I got to Thailand, my father introduced me with his friend called Dr. Cynthia Maung who is a Karen doctor who is currently providing free health care to immigrant refugees along Thai-Burma and border area. So I was doing all these volunteer work as a midwife, nurse educator, counselors at the clinic with Dr. Cynthia Maung.
First when I applied as a refugee immigrant in the refugees camp, I had many options to go to different countries and I realized that United States is the country who accepts more refugees from Burma. So I think United States would be a good options for me to start a new life.
My mission is to be educated in this country and I’m currently taking licensed clinical social work with Metropolitan State University, and I’m also a social worker at the Ramsey County serving Karen youth, refugees, Karen populations with their medical and mental health needs.
There is so much need that the Karens are struggling and there is no culturally appropriate service, does not exist for this community yet. So I have seven board members who are willing to establish the organization called KHSA: Karen Human Services of America. So, finally in 2014, we legally established [this] 501c3 non-profit organization for the Karen community.
I had a legacy to carry for my father. I always wanted to became something bigger than myself so I always do volunteer work in my lifetime.