Student Portrait

My name is T’Ler Wah. I am Karen and was born in Tamo Klo Village near Hpa’an, Myanmar. I am currently doing a bachelor’s degree in social science at Chiang Mai University.

My life has been a journey involving many twists and turns. At two years old, I was separated from my parents when our village was attacked and burned down by Burmese soldiers. A Karen soldier took me to an orphanage in Mae La Refugee Camp across the border in Thailand, where I stayed until my father found me when I was five and took me back to their new village in Bago, Myanmar.

But I was unhappy there because I was treated differently from my siblings. I had to do many household chores and gather firewood before and after school. I felt so hurt being left behind to look after the pigs and chickens when the others went to Kawkreit for my brother’s wedding. It felt like they didn’t consider me a real son.

Soon after, a team from a school in Mae La Camp came to our village for vacation children’s school. The team leader, Teacher William, rescued me from my sad life when he asked my parents’ permission to take me back to Mae La in Thailand so I could go continue my middle school education. I was so happy to be allowed to go with him.

In Mae La, I lived in Teacher William’s house and began grade 7, but people couldn’t understand my Karen and I couldn’t read or write. My classmates called me “Burmese boy” and threw stones at me. I decided not to turn backward and worked even harder. By the end of the year, I earned position 3 in school, and I felt so happy because my classmates stopped bullying me.

One day during the holiday period after I finished grade 10, Teacher William brought a friend to visit us. He told me, “My son died two months ago, but I don’t want to throw away his documents. Do you want to become a Thai citizen?” It was such a strange thing to happen to me. One day, I was a refugee in a camp and the next day, I was a Thai citizen. I still visit these wonderful people whenever I can.

 About T’Ler Wah

  • Age: 26
  • Ethnicity: Karen
  • Country: Thailand

 School & Program

  • Chiang Mai University
  • Bachelor’s, Social Science
  • Graduated

Goals & Dreams

  • Work in the area of educational development
  • Travel to Norway

 Loan Details

  • Loan Amount: $2,625
  • Amount Left To Fund: $0
  • Contract Duration: 11 years
  • Status: Repaid in Full


What Others Are Saying About T'Ler Wah

In June that year, I moved to Thoo Mweh Khee (TMK) Post-10 School and studied there for two years. I improved my English and Thai, and also learned teaching, farming, and community development skills. I graduated from TMK in May 2013 and started my working life.

My first job was with Partners Relief & Development Farm, Chiang Mai, where I had previously done my high school internship. After two months, a pastor from Mae Tan called me to work as a social worker in their Compassion program. He also enrolled me in a course to improve my Thai. I taught children English and Karen and helped with other social work for just over twelve months.

During the 2014 summer holiday, a TMK volunteer helped me find a summer job at a hotel in Chiang Mai. I used half of my pay for Teacher William’s airfare back to his college in Manila so he could continue his doctoral studies. Later, I returned to Mae Tan for a while before I was called to High School 3, Mae La, to teach English and Geography.

When that year ended, my TMK teacher encouraged me to move back to Chiang Mai to study for the General Educational Development (GED) exam at BEAM so I could reach my dream to attend university. But I like to work, so I supported myself by working part-time as a coffee maker in a Chiang Mai guesthouse while also studying at BEAM.

I was fortunate to receive a Child’s Dream scholarship to study at Chiang Mai University, but unfortunately at the beginning of my 3rd year, my grades dropped and I failed to meet their requirements so lost the scholarship. Fortunate once again, funding from my old school came to the rescue, and I learned to live on much less. This is the story of the twists and turns of my journey so far.

My favorite subjects are those related to development, as they will be helpful for my future career: subjects such as Development Theories and Practice, Economics and Development, Gender and Development, and Poverty and Health. These courses have given me immense knowledge about what communities need and the bottom-up approach to development.

There are many problems in my country, and I am preparing myself to address them, specifically those problems related to young people returning to Burma without possibility of joining the mainstream education. I have lived on both sides of the border and know the way of life in both countries. I had a difficult childhood in Burma and then lived in a refugee camp and migrant school in Thailand.

My education and experience until now have taught me how important educational development and capacity building programs are. In another year, I will graduate with the right degree to join a community-based organization such as Karen Education and Culture Development. Not all has been happy, but not all has been bad. All my experience makes me the confident person I am today.

Written by T’Ler Wah with editing assistance from Zomia’s volunteer editors.

T'Ler Wah

T'Ler Wah

“I am particularly concerned for the people from refugee camps repatriating to Karen State, and that their educational qualifications will not be accepted.”

Q&A With T'Ler Wah

Survey Fun

What is your favorite memory?
First time swimming in a pool
How would your friends describe you?
Small and funny
What is the one thing that isn’t taught in school but should be?
How to adjust our life from school to work life
What is/was your favorite subject in school?
Development-related subjects
What skill or ability do you most wish you had (but lack today)?
Management skills
If you could do anything you wanted now, what would it be?
Work in the field of education development
Where would you most like to travel?
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Beef curry with bean soup
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I never buy lottery tickets, but my friends and I sometimes dream we could start a fund like Zomia to help young people from refugee areas get access to higher education.