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Catawba Student Says New Year Celebration Binds Karen People to Their History

February 08, 2016

Category: Events, Sport & Health Sciences, Students


thar16a.jpgCatawba student Thar Thwai spent the first 13 years of his life in a Karen refugee camp in Thailand.  Now as a junior studying Sports Management, he continues his strong ties to his Karen community in North Carolina and believes in the importance of teaching the next generation about the Karen history.

Thwai remembers hearing stories his parents told about fleeing the military junta in Burma when he was a small child. Thwai and his family came to the United States through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees program, a program that helps families from refugee camps abroad find homes in the U.S.

His family first moved to Missouri, then California, before finally settling in Carrboro, North Carolina.  Family friends in Carrboro had encouraged his parents to move to the area, and they helped them find housing and jobs when they arrived. The Triangle area in North Carolina is host to four of the nation’s refugee and immigrant resettlement areas. Through this immigration resettlement program and state funding, refugees are given help adjusting to life in America. They learn simple tasks such as adjusting a thermostat in their house to complex tasks such as navigating the language barrier.

Thwai started playing soccer at a young age in the refugee camp and he continued playing for Carrboro High School where he was a three-year starter for that high school’s team. He was all-conference, all-region, and all-state.

His love of soccer brought him to Catawba, where he enjoys playing on the college team.  He dreams of managing a sports team after graduating, but he adds, “I want to create a stronger Karen community for children.”

Many refugee children, like Thwai, have the talent and the passion to play soccer, but they lack the funding needed for transportation to practices, games, and becoming members of a club league. Thwai one day hopes to organize a youth soccer league for Karen refugee children, always emphasizing to them the importance of learning their history, the struggles and fears of their grandparents, and keeping their cultural traditions alive.  

thar16b.jpgThe Karen community is a close-knit family from different cultures and languages within the Karen people and their New Year celebration marks the culmination of the yearly rice harvest. The annual event is shared through different Karen cultural groups, providing a cultural tradition they all have in common. The 2016 New Year celebration was one that Thwai participated in in Carrboro.

“I think it’s important to gather together as a community.  We share culture and history, and it’s important to keep that going, especially for the younger generation.” Thwai says. That is the reason he joins his family and friends to celebrate the New Year with traditional dances, songs, and food.  Dancers dress in traditional blue and gold costumes and brightly embroidered dresses while musicians play colorful drums. 

This celebration is a tradition of the Karen people and a tradition that Thwai hopes to ensure will always be remembered by future generations.