The Washington Times-Herald

Local News

May 24, 2013

Refugee overcomes barriers to graduate WHS

WASHINGTON — Seh Reh, like many who has come to Washington as a Burmese refugee, found life in his new home daunting. The language was so intimidating that he dropped out of high school in 2010.

About a year later, he went back to Washington High School because he wanted to finish his education. Saturday, he will be the first in his family to graduate with a high school diploma.

“I am so blessed,” Reh, 20, said. “I know right now that I am so happy.”

To get there, it took a lot of work. But it was something that he wanted to do.

“I wanted to get my high school diploma,” Reh said in halting English.

Paula Counsil, English Language Learning teacher at WHS, said all of the motivation came from him, but she knew it was not going to be easy. “He still had 14 credits to gain,” Counsil said.

Reh is a refugee from Burma or the country now known as Myanmar. He had settled in Thailand before moving to Indiana in 2011 with his brother and sister. Reh’s parents were already in Washington, working at the Perdue processing plant.

For Reh, like the refugees who are now in Washington and like the explosion in the city’s Hispanic population in the late 1990s, the barrier of language was a high fence to climb.

“Seh actually has no background,” Counsil said. “It was difficult for him, just common ordinary things students have. He’s not really lived in conditions that we really see here in America.”

Obviously because the economic conditions in the former military-controlled republic were so bad, Reh said school was an afterthought.

“In Burma, we go to school every day but we don’t feel like students,” Reh said. “We feel like... we had to eat. “When we get a classroom teacher, we don’t care because we didn’t have any food.”

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