Stories of Change

Seng Nu “Sandy” Pan and Ni Hluan Photo: Edwin Harris

There are 372,000 Internally Displaced and 810,000 Stateless Persons in Myanmar.

Source: UNHCR

New Life, New Friends

I visited Seng Nu “Sandy” Pan and Ni Hluan at their two-bedroom apartment near Duke University last week to talk about the changes in their lives since being resettled by CWS. Their apartment is sparsely decorated, but homey and personal nonetheless. They both greeted me with their usual energy and enthusiasm. A few months ago, they were both star pupils in my intermediate-level English class. Nowadays I do not see them a lot, so it was good to catch up and talk.

When I asked the two young women about their lives before coming to the United States, their eyes glazed over. The glimmer faded from their cheerful faces and the laughter bouncing off of their apartment walls froze mid-echo and fell to the ground. After a few long moments, they start to mention their “problems” and “troubles,” but chose not to go any deeper. It’s clear that these women have more on their minds than their difficult childhoods.

As teenagers, Sandy and Ni Hluan fled to Malaysia from war-torn Burma in search of safety and stability. In Malaysia, they worked long hours in restaurants. At the end of March 2014, after waiting for longer than four years, they were accepted to travel to the United States as refugees. The CWS office in Durham, North Carolina, welcomed them with a comfortable apartment, a warm meal and resources to help them start a new life in the United States. “Everyone at CWS was so polite,” Sandy said. Even though the two friends are happily employed—Sandy as a server in a restaurant and Ni Hluan as a sushi chef at Whole Foods—they both have bigger ambitions.

When we talked of their plans for the future, all the tension from speaking about the past melted away; they erupted with enthusiasm. Earlier this year, they both placed into Durham Technical Community College’s highest-level ESL classes. They hope to continue their education at Durham Tech as nursing students. “Going to college is the most important for us,” Sandy said.

I asked Sandy and Ni Hluan if they have any parting words, anything that they don’t want left unsaid. They fell silent for nearly a minute before Sandy spoke up: “I’m very happy to be here. This is my dream to be in another country.” Ni Hluan agreed. “New life. New transition. Really happy.”

Storyteller: Edwin Harris, United States