Introducing New Staff Members:
by Daphne Hall
Dr. Cassie Leymarie, Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator
Kimberli Render, Arts Coordinator
by Marcia Partin (Soe’s mentor and interviewer)
& Daphne Hall
Catching up with Soe Meh
Catching up with Soe Meh isn’t that easy, as her mentor Marcia Partin learned when she interviewed her by phone. Soe works full time, participates regularly in a women’s group, and supports her family at home. In order to complete her interview, Marcia had to wait for Soe to finish packing meals for her parents to take with them to their night shift jobs. In 2009, when Soe was 13 years old, her family came to the United States from the Thai refugee camp Ban Mai Nai Soi. Soe’s parents are Karenni people from the Kayah state in Myanmar/Burma. While in the camp, Soe learned to read and write in her second language, Burmese.
The camp was Soe’s home, the only life she knew, before resettling in Clarkston. Remembering the process of moving to Clarkston, she says, “To come to the USA is not easy. We have to pass all the interview[s] and health examination, which take about six months to five years. For others, [it] might be quick and [for some] it might be long waiting.” About her parents, who have now lived in the U.S. for eight years, she says, “My parents both are working hard and are both on the same night shift at a local plant – they feel comfortable there and also have their days free if they need to make appointments.” Her younger brother is doing well in high school, with plans to go to college, and her older sister Bae Meh lives with her husband and child in Stone Mountain. In addition, “My family is buying our first home and we will be moving to Comer in January.”
Soe attended GVP from February, 2010 until May, 2012. She attended high schools in Stone Mountain and Clarkston and graduated from Elizabeth Andrews High School in 2015. Then her family moved to Athens, where Soe is currently employed as a paraprofessional working with refugee children at Madison County Middle School and Comer Elementary. She explains, “I love working with children, and these children are from different countries, which I also enjoy.” She “would love to become a lead teacher,” and is exploring teacher-training programs at nearby post-secondary schools. “I hope to have my teacher degree in 4-5 years, and I would like to be a teacher in a middle school with 6-8th graders!”
In addition to her work as a paraprofessional, Soe is in a women’s group organized in Comer. Members are from different countries and get together twice a month to sell their woven cotton bags and scarves at the Athens Farmer’s Market. The photo with this article shows Soe at the Market with her loom. “We help each other with problems, have fun together, and sometimes have lunch together.”
Soe has clear memories of the challenges of being a refugee and of how attending GVP helped her and her family navigate those challenges. “There were many challenges to face in the new schools in America, and many things to learn—having to learn a new culture, and to learn to read, write, and speak a new language.” Especially difficult was learning about transportation: “As a family, you don’t know how to use buses and how to get around to doctor and other appointments.” However, surmounting those and similar obstacles was not enough for Soe Meh. “I am proud and happy to help people in need, to help them to understand appointments at the Health Department and how they can get aid.” She has also helped parents understand that it can be important—and even expected—for families to visit their children’s schools and attend parent-teacher meetings there.
In terms of her own schooling, Soe explained, “I liked many things about GVP: I got to meet people from different cultures, there were nice teachers and volunteers, it is in a good location close to our homes and not in a busy place, the classes are smaller, and it is easier for students to feel comfortable. Public school classrooms are large, and it is hard when you speak another language.”
Soe Meh knows that graduation, jobs, and new houses don’t come to a person just by wishing for them. For girls who want to continue their schooling or get jobs, she has this advice: “Work hard; keep asking questions. Don’t be afraid to ask – there is always an answer to any question. When you are in high school, you can get into an after-school program and I recommend that you also get into activities you are interested in, perhaps sports – these activities will help you in the future when you apply for college or a job and they ask what you are interested in and what activities you participated in.” Acknowledging the challenges of obtaining financial aid for college, she says, “I also recommend that you apply for college while you are in high school, while you have counselors to help you and to advise you about financial aid.”
Nonetheless, even while talking about how to get help and support for oneself, Soe reinforces her strongly held belief in helping others through the hard times of being new. “It is very important to help your family, friends, and neighbors who are learning all the new things that you have faced. Even little things will help them.”
Welcome our AmeriCorps Members:
by Daphne Hall
Kate Mull, School Support AmeriCorps Members
We are excited to start this partnership with NDMVA and AmeriCorps Network to host members at GVP. When you see Ani and Kate, welcome them to GVP and send them well wishes on their 11-month service!