From Mae La Refugee Camp to Salt Lake City, Japan… and Back

In early August, 18 young Karen and Karenni teenage refugees who had resettled to the Salt Lake City in the US, returned to the Mae La refugee camps on Thai border where they were born. The boys were on a trip to attend a World Scout Jamboree in Yamaguchi, Japan and to Thailand and Burma to visit their birthplace.

The Karenni and Karen boy scouts were excited to cross the border crossing at Mae Sot to Myawaddy, then on to Hpa-an, Loikaw and Rangoon(Yangon).

Shwe Yo Lay, 16, one of the returning scouts was born in Mae La and was excited to go back to visit his old home and to see family members he had left behind when he resettled to the US. He talked to Karen News about his return.

My name is Hay Soe. My family and close friends call me Shwe Yo Lay. I was born in Mae La refugee camp and lived there for eight years. In 2007, my family immigrated to the United States and we settled there. Now eight years later, I had the opportunity to visit my home, Mae La.

I was looking forward to meeting my relatives and seeing the place I grew up in. Many things have changed about the camp, but I was able to recognize everything like it was yesterday.

I felt a special feeling when I went back to Mae La. It felt like home and it brought back so many emotions and memories from my childhood. I felt lucky and blessed.

I met up with my aunt and uncle and I felt more than happy. A feeling so special I can’t think of words to describe it. My heart was beating fast. Talking with my aunt and uncle was special and even though they give me a gift.

The age of the boys in our troop ranged from 14 to 18. This trip has greatly affected everybody because seeing our country was a wonderful and we’ve learned so much about the environment and the children over in Mae La and Hpa-an.

It really touched our hearts and I think we have all grown and matured on this trip.

Most of the boys go to school and some go to college. We’re all students and we all have different electives at our school. I personally sing and study Latin for my electives but it varies for every boy. Some are interested in joining the military and others are interested in becoming police and engineers.

We all are going to different schools from all over the Salt Lake valley.(East High, West High, Highland, Cottonwood, Olympus, Granger, and Hunter High School).

My aunt and uncle have community positions in Mae La and had to go to meeting. I talked with them and the chief at the camp and I learned so many things about my home. The things they said influenced me to have a desire to one day, come back and help the refugees like I once was. Having the opportunity to come back to my home is the best thing that has happened to me.

It’s very hard to pick a highlight of the trip but I think we all would agree that Mae La and Hpa-an were highlights. We had an amazing soccer game and met the best kind of friends there is in this world. This trip was definitely the best times of our lives.

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