Student Portrait

“It’s hard to beat someone who never gives up.” It was a sentence on a t-shirt worn by a man in front of my bicycle at a traffic light—and it made me realize how far I’ve come to achieve my dreams.

My name is Nora Htoo. My mother took my brother and me to Umphiem Refugee Camp in Thailand after my father passed away. In the camp, I had to work and support my mom and brother. Despite this, I never considered giving up on my goal to study in a university.

Although opportunities to continue my education were limited, I kept finding a way to pursue my dream. After three years working in the camp, my mother graduated from the Bible school, giving me a chance to leave the camp and study in a migrant school.

At the time, I did not know anything about migrant education and did not have any funding to study in a university. I decided to go to a migrant school to study even though others discouraged me from doing so.

I studied twelfth grade and then applied to study in the GED program at Bridging Educational Access to Migrants (BEAM) in Chiang Mai. Although no one expected that I would have a chance to study at BEAM, the school accepted me, and my dreams began to come true.

It is very risky for an illegal migrant to live in a big city like Chiang Mai. There is a risk of getting arrested and being deported due to a lack of legal documentation allowing me to live and travel in Thailand. However, nothing could stop me from doing what I wanted. With faith in God, I studied very hard to prepare myself for the GED exam. Ultimately, I passed the GED with high scores, especially in Mathematics.

 About Nora Htoo

  • Age: 28
  • Ethnicity: Karen
  • Country: Myanmar

 School & Program

  • Mae Fah Luang University
  • Bachelor’s, Public Health
  • 2nd Year in Program

Goals & Dreams

  • Become a health educator

 Loan Details

  • Loan Amount: $4,825
  • Amount Left To Fund: $4,625
  • Contract Duration: 12 years
  • Status: Prefunded by Zomia
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What Others Are Saying About Nora Htoo

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Following completion of the GED program, I was offered an internship with Partners Relief and Development (PRAD) and Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand (PPAT) to work with a medical team. As a result of working with a professional medical team, I realized that I wanted to become a health educator.

I applied to study Nursing Science at Chiang Mai University. Despite being accepted, I struggled due to my inability to communicate in Thai, as lectures given in the program are mostly in Thai. Refusing to quit, I tried to move to a different program. Unfortunately, my donor would not agree to continue funding my studies, and I had to stop studying at the university.

My dream was shattered and I was completely dejected. Eventually, I went back to the refugee camp since I had nowhere else to go. Nonetheless, I worked to stay strong and rise above the difficult circumstances in my life. Later, I interned at Karen Human Right Group (KHRG), which educates people in the villages about human rights violations, listens to their stories, and turns their observations into reports so the world will come to know their situations. I learned a lot from this organization.

Despite so many obstacles, I kept dreaming of becoming a health educator. One day, I would like to work as a health educator in a remote area. I love the countryside since my family used to live in a rural area. People in the countryside have no knowledge about how to take care of their health. With health education, they will be able to live healthier and happier lives. Steve Jobs once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I completely agree with his statement.

At one point, I tried to go back to Yangon to work in the city. But my mother worried that I would have problems since I was used to living in a refugee camp. Because I have overcome so many challenges in my life already, I am not afraid of anything. Still, I did not want my old mother to worry about me. Even in Thailand, I was denied work opportunities with some organizations because they could not provide me with a work permit to live and work legally in Thailand. So I kept applying for scholarships to continue my university education.

By the grace of God, I was finally able to enroll in the Public Health program at Mae Fah Luang University. I really miss my people and my country. I dream of traveling in rural areas and providing the health education needed by the people there. After I graduate, I will return to my country and join an organization focused on improving the health of people in rural areas.

Written by Nora Htoo with editing assistance from Zomia’s volunteer editors.

Nora Htoo

Nora Htoo

“After I graduate, I will return to my country and join an organization focused on improving the health of people in rural areas.”

Nora Htoo

Nora Htoo

“Despite so many obstacles, I kept dreaming of becoming a health educator.”

Q&A With Nora Htoo

Survey Fun

What is your favorite memory?
My first day of school in kindergarten—both of my parents took me to school
How would your friends describe you?
Simple yet creative
What is the one thing that isn’t taught in school but should be?
Hand crafting
What is/was your favorite subject in school?
Mathematics
What skill or ability do you most wish you had (but lack today)?
Playing drum with a band
If you could do anything you wanted now, what would it be?
I just want enough money to study in university.
Where would you most like to travel?
Pyin Oo Lwin, a hill-town in Myanmar where I had a lot of beautiful memories with my family
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Rice with fish paste, chilli powder, and curry prepared by my mother
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
A remote place in Myanmar

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