From Burma to Willmar, MN

We are so thankful for the Karen people in Willmar.  We’re grateful for the good work they do at Brouwer Berries, and the blessing they are to the Willmar, MN area.  One of our employees, Hsa, took the time to share her story: 

Born in Burma

My name is Hsa Kee Lar.  I remember when my parents moved out of Burma when I was six years old. There was a war going on so that’s why they moved to Thailand.  I speak Karen. I lived in Thailand for 9 years and I would say living in Thailand was very difficult.

Arriving in Thailand Refugee Camp

When we arrived in Thailand my parents had to build a house. They needed help building a house, so my dad called his friend to come help us. People in Mae La Oon refugee camp were really nice to us. A lot of people knew me, but I did not know them. I am the oldest child, so I had to help my parents whenever they needed help.

Nearly Drowning

One memory that stands out to me to this day is when my brother told me to go buy food for him. That day was very rainy, but I still went and get the food for him. On my
way to the store, I had to cross a street, but due to the monsoon season the street was heavily flooded and slippery. I remember crossing the road and all of the sudden I got drawn into the river. I thought I was going to die since the river was rapid and I was small. I was very scared but while slipping into the river, I managed to grab onto a root of a tree. One of the aunties saw me and screamed for help. Fortunately, a man working close to there heard her, so he rushed to find me and get me out of the river. She also notified my parents that a girl had slipped into the river. My parents were very worried about me because they thought it was very likely to be me. My arms were very tired since the water kept pulling me and I knew letting go wouldn’t be the most ideal option but my arms were getting very tired. Fortunately, the uncle looked around the river and found me holding onto the tree root in time. He swam into the river to save me and pulled me back onto the land. Being a kid at that time, I remember the first thing that came to mind was, “What am I going to do?” I lost all the food that I had bought for my siblings. The uncle brought me back home, where my parents thanked him for saving me. My parents told our siblings that if it was flooded, don’t go out of the house because it is dangerous. I was really happy that I got to see my parents and I am alive today. Thank God that he saved me and I am still alive today


Life in the Refugee Camp

A few months later, my grandmother came to live with us. She was old, so I helped her with the stuff that she needed. In Thailand, the government gave us food rations every month. Each month it was different food, and sometimes it wasn’t enough. When we didn’t have enough, we went to buy it from the store. One time, my grandma told me to go buy her an onion and I did not hear her well so I went to the store and I bought chips for myself. I went back home and she asked me, “Where is the onion?” I told her I bought chips. She told me, “I told you to go buy an onion.” I apologized to her that I did not hear her well.

Our family was so poor. The only person that worked was my dad. He helped our
family and supported our family. My dad worked really hard to buy food and clothes for us. When we did not have enough food for our family, we had to find some plants to eat in the forest. My mom and I went to the forest to find bamboo and other vegetables. We lived in that house for about two years and we moved to different places. We built a new home. That year my grandma moved back to Burma.

Then my grandpa came to live with us. He taught me many things about instruments. My grandpa knew how to play some instruments. A few months later, he had health problems so he had to go to the hospital. The hospital in Thailand is way different from America. They don’t help you much and the doctors are not so nice. Each day my grandpa’s pain got worse and they thought that he wouldn’t make it. They sent him to a big hospital. The people in that hospital tried to help but they couldn’t, so they called my dad. All the sudden my grandpa passed away. I was so sad I cried all day. I really miss my grandpa.

We moved to different home (in the camp) and this is the last place that we lived in Thailand. When we arrived at that house I was really happy, because I was old enough to go to school. 

School in the Camp

When school was about to start, my parents went to my school and registered me and they paid for my school. I was really excited to go to school. I made some friends that were really nice to me. I’m so glad that I made friends! I came back home and my parents asked me, “How was your day?” I said it was fine. I went back to school another day and my teacher told me to go home and study for the vocabulary and that I needed to remember it. So, I went home but I did not study. 

I came back to school and my teacher called my name and I went up to her and she said, “Say the vocabulary words.” I did not remember it so she hit me with the stake and it was so painful. I came back home and told my parents that my teacher hit me. 

My parents said, “You learned your lesson by not studying.” My dad told me if I passed all my classes than he would give me one dollar. I was so happy and I worked really hard. By the end of the year I passed and I was in the first place. My dad gave me the money that he promised me. I went to go buy new clothes and shoes. 

Moving to America

When I finished my school year I was 12 years old. My parents told me that we would go
to America. I was really excited to go to America. A week later, we got ready and we came to the United States. 

I love living in America because we have good food and nice clothes. America has good opportunity and education. I am so glad that I came to America and learned a new language. I am really happy living in United States.

***Hsa Lee Kar graduated from Willmar Senior High this spring, and now attends Ridgewater College.  

***Meet Hsa and other members of the Karen community this holiday weekend at the Sweet December Open House:

1 thought on “From Burma to Willmar, MN”

  1. That’s sounds sad, I know what it feel having a hard time in your own country and have to move place to place and yeah America have a lot of opportunities for a better life…


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