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Impact  >  Student Story

Lal Thang Mawi 

Lal Thang Mawi fled Thailand when police there began raiding homes in search of Burmese refugees. Lal had moved to Thailand to provide a better life for her two children. “My people were very poor. I do not have an education, only primary school. There was no work and very little to eat,” she explains. “I had two children, so I went with a friend to Thailand, where I stayed as a refugee.”  Lal worked in a children’s nursery at Mae Tao Clinic. The Clinic provided free health care to Burmese migrant workers, economic refugees, and political refugees. She then applied for asylum in the United States.



Lal came to the Durham Literacy Center in 2008 shortly after arriving in the United States.  She attended ESOL classes four nights per week to improve her reading and writing skills. In 2009, she graduated from the ESOL program and became one of the first ESOL students to transition into our new STAR reading classes, which are designed to help students succeed in GED-level study. She is meeting with DLC tutors to improve her basic math skills, improve her reading skills, and learn American history. She also meets with DLC staff to learn the vocabulary she will need to succeed in a Pharmacy Tech program after she earns her GED diploma.



With the assistance of DLC staff, Lal found a permanent full-time job with benefits at UNC Hospitals, obtained her first driver’s license, and purchased a Habitat for Humanity home. Students from the DLC's Teen Career Academy worked with Lal and other DLC community members to complete renovations on the home. 



In 2010, Lal shared some of her experiences at the DLC's  Leaders in Literacy Breakfast, where she also presented flowers to Mary Whaley Paul, the DLC's founder. Video highlights from this event appear to the left. 

In November 2011, Lal was awarded the DLC’s Charles C. Winstead’s Student Leadership Award for helping to raise awareness about the Durham Literacy Center and for sharing what she has learned with other members of Durham's growing Burmese community. (See the video player below for a short film of her acceptance speech.)  Lal works with young Burmese moms who lack the child care required to attend classes at the Durham Literacy Center, teaching them how to sound out and spell basic words. 



“I want to be a translator for my people, to help them to have good lives here,” she says. “I want to work in a nursery school because I want to learn how to take care of the children, and I want to teach my people.  I want to share all that I have learned here. This is our home now. My family can live freely, and we can support ourselves. There is no need for fear here. I am very thankful."