Please take some time to visit Hill Country Hill Triber's website to find out
more about the hope they are bringing to refugee families in Texas.
Meh is one of our most artistic weavers at Hill Country Hill Tribers. She is a Burmese refugee living in Austin, a member of the Karenni hill tribe. In 1996, the Burmese Army launched a massive village relocation plan aimed at bringing the population under military control and eliminating ethnic resistance. At least 3,000 ethnic villages, including Meh’s, have been destroyed since 1996, displacing or killing over one million people.
When the Burmese Army came to her village, Meh’s extended family fled across the border into Thailand, across 25 miles thick with jungle. Meh had already lost her husband and her oldest daughter, and was fleeing with her five small children. But Meh Mo’s sister, Koe was in a much worse condition.
At eight months pregnant, Koe went into labor in the middle of the jungle. While the rest of the family raced on, Koe, her husband and sister Meh, found a refuge of sorts, a village that had already been destroyed by the Burmese army. Meh remembers their frantic search for anything to boil water in so she could clean the newborn baby since the Burmese army busted out the bottoms of the cooking pots. In an abandoned hut in the ransacked village, Koe gave birth to a tiny girl named Shay, now a fourteen-year-old high school student.
Koe weaving on her backstrap loom
Two days later, Koe was up running through the jungle again. The family was reunited in a make-shift refugee camp in Thailand, a no-man’s-land they waited in for fourteen years. Unable to work because of their refugee status in Thailand, Meh pushed her family to apply to come to the States. Most of their family moved to Austin in 2009. Two of their brothers are living in Thailand and, through legal issues, will never be reunited with the rest of their family. Their father just died a few months ago of cancer. The brothers could not come to the funeral. We sent pictures of the family to their brothers who are living illegally in Thailand. A friend of mine tracked them down and took this picture of them holding photos of their sisters (we cropped their faces to conceal their identity). The family will not see each other again in this life.
Meh and Koe's brother and sister-in-law in Thailand, holding pictures of their sisters
Growing up in their tiny village in Burma, Meh stayed on their rice farm while her 8 younger sisters and brothers all went to a larger city to be educated. She learned to weave the traditional cloth, clothes and bags that women in her village had been making for generations. Meh perfected her craft; her weaving is exquisite and intricate. All of her sisters weave well.
The sisters in their traditional clothing at a weaving demonstration:
Oo, Boe, Koe, and Meh
But Meh cannot speak English and is not literate in her own language; her employment options are limited. The agencies who brought Meh and the other refugees to Austin are fierce and amazing. Their creative and continuous support of the refugee community has literally saved lives. Refugees come to Austin to give their children a future. Meh is blessed to have a family that supports each other, so she is not as destitute as some of the other women we know, but she and other women like her are struggling to make it in their new homes.
In addition to selling the products Meh, her sisters, and the other HCHT artisans make, we also teach them basic English and other life skills to help them adjust to a new life in the US. Other economic development models we’ve seen help women become self-sustaining in their own country—helping them learn about a new culture and new homeland is an extra difficulty facing the artisans we work with every day.
The difficulty is that Meh and some of the other artisans have a hard time making it to our regular HCHT meetings, so we have a new Communications Director who is going to their homes to assess and meet the needs of our refugee artisans. You can learn more about Kelsi and the new English-on-Wheels program here. Meeting the daily needs of our artisans is a big part of what we do—the refugee agencies we partner with are amazing, but their commitments end after 4-6 months, leaving many families without intense help before they’re ready to be on their own feet. We work with agencies to help identify and work around gaps in their system. Economic and educational development is critical to their survival here.
Refugees need you. There are several ways you can help with refugees like Meh and her sisters. We have information on our website about refugee resources both in Austin and around the world. Almost every large city in the United States has a sizable refugee population. Even a simple Google search could help you locate specific refugee agencies in your area. The refugee agencies we work with in Austin have ways to volunteer that are common—teaching ESL, adopting a new family, or having your church become involved with specific families or communities in crisis. If you find resources in your city, could you share them in the comments section to help other people connect with refugees where they live?
And, of course, you can always buy HCHT products. Next week we’ll have a giveaway to help you win one of our beautiful new necklaces. Spreading the word about HCHT is something you can do to support Meh and our other refugee artisans.
Caring for the Poor While Living in the Good ol' U-S of A?
Who Are the Poor?
Looking for the Poor
Hi, My Name is Heather and I'm a Modern Day Slave Owner
First, The Purging
The Better World Shopping Guide
More Really Great Shopping Resources
Running Hard After Redemption
Shop for Clean Clothes
Guest Post, Wrestling with Poverty in the US, part one
Guest Post, Wrestling with Poverty in the US, part two
Guest Post, Wrestling with Poverty in the US, part three
Refugees, Part 1
Somalian Refugees: Guest Post from Portland, Oregon
Refugees from Burma living in Texas: Guest Post, part one