In the winter of 2009, a single mother with a toddler child (who we will refer to as Somu) arrived in Bowling Green as one of the first refugees from the Karenni state in Burma. She was a member of the Kayan tribe. This group is most well known for their unique custom of their women who wear brass coils around their necks. The tribe has been one of the most transgressed groups in Burma. They were forced to live and roam in the jungles be persecuted by burning their villages and planting land mines in the parameter of which they lived. Those who escape to Thailand are more often than not forced to live in villages outside of the refugee camps. The Thai government uses this group of people as a tourist attraction. There is little opportunity for self-improvement and even a smaller change for the refugees to actual leave the country forced to stay by Thai officials.
Somu had to cut off her brass coils in order to take advantage of her refugee status and board a plan for the United States. She left her mother and other family members not so much to better her life, but to insure better opportunities for her son. She said, -I want my son to grow up free. ,'When arriving, she spoke limited English, but was fluent in Karenni and Burmese. After attending ESL classes' everyday at the International Center, and on the weekends at partnering organizations, her English skill improved dramatically over a period of six months.
Project Leap takes each refugee and immigrant to a different level. It is a totally unique experience for each individual.
It was not long until Sornu began interpreting for the International Center, and then landed a job for a health care provider and educational institute. She is now attending school with the hopes of receiving a degree in the next few years. Shortly before she departed Thailand, a couple who have an independent film company started documenting the issues in the aforementioned paragraphs. And, they have followed Somu to Bowling Green and are now completing the final phase of the documentary which highlights Somu and her struggle to overcome oppression in Burma and Thailand, to making a new successful start in Bowling Green.
Project Leap takes each refugee and immigrant to a different level. It is a totally unique experience for each individual. A success story like Somu is not an everyday event. Others success might be learning to tell the difference for the High to Low setting on their stove. Other success stories include learning to write and read their name for the first time in any language. But all who go through the program leave far greater educated and informed than when they entered it.
Somu's dream is to finish college and advocate for justice for her tribe left behind in Burma and Thailand. She wants to bring about peace and advancement for her people just like has been given to her and her son here in Bowling Green.