I always wondered what life was like outside of Mae La Refugee Camp. When my family was getting resettled to the United States, we jumped for joy. We envisioned Heaven. However, since we were resettled, life in America was nothing like we imagined. It is challenging. Life in a refugee camp was hard, but life in America is also hard in its own way.
A new place, new culture, new people, new EVERYTHING. Every day felt like we were drowning, felt like we were getting left behind. It’s funny how we escape the refugee camp yet we couldn’t escape feeling helpless. When I started school, I got bullied. I failed every single subject. I made my teacher cry. Had my America experience been just that, the trajectory of my life would be grim. But it wasn’t just that. I met amazing humans.
I met humans who made me fall in love with learning, taught me how to read and write, treated us like friends and families though we look nothing like them. I met humans who held my hand and made America feel like home. I started going to Hser Ner Moo Community Center to get help with homework and improve my English. I started going to scouts and doing service. The service and example of these amazing humans inspired me to do the same because their kindness gave me hope.
The gift of service is a blessing for both the person receiving it and the person giving it. It might just change your life. It changed mine.
I volunteered with Youthlinc in their Real Life and Service Year programs. I got to work with low-income and refugee students at Hser Ner Moo Community Center. I may have not known how to answer all their homework problems, but I know being there for them means a whole lot. I remember how it feels to be different and an outcast, so I know being there for someone could turn their whole world downside up.
I made a choice going forward that I will choose service and friendship. Because of this choice, I was fortunate to be selected as a finalist for the Youthlinc Young Humanitarian Award. The following year, I was honored to sit on the interview panel and was inspired by the service of next cohort of young humanitarians. Fast forward a few more years, and now that I am overseeing the award, I know I will have lots to smile about because of the amazing young humanitarians in our community.
Parents and other adults should encourage the youth to volunteer because it is a transformative experience. According to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering service improve physical and mental health, provide a sense of purpose and teaches valuable skills, and nurture new and existing relationships. It was so much more than just that for me. The gift of service is a blessing for both the person receiving it and the person giving it. It might just change your life. It changed mine.
If you are making a difference in your community or you know amazing people who are, the Youthlinc Utah’s Young Humanitarian Award is the largest service scholarship in Utah. Thanks to the generous support of the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, a total of $32,000 will be awarded in college scholarships to the 2023 finalists. I encourage you to apply for the Young Humanitarian Award because amazing humans should be recognized and celebrated. The application deadline is March 1st, 2023 and all the details are at www.youthlinc.org/yha.
Wishing you all the love, all the peace, and all the kindness. - Hay Soe
Hay Soe is a Karen refugee from Burma who grew up in a Thai refugee camp and immigrated to US through a refugee resettlement program. He is a recent graduate from the University of Utah and majored in in philosophy and entrepreneurship. He has been with Youthlinc for the past several years, as a Young Humanitarian Award finalist in 2020, an afterschool program intern, a Service Year volunteer, and now as a staff member. He is a big dreamer!