A father of eight, Klaw Mu ardently says that he would give up anything but chewing betel nuts. He gives an innocent smile with his strained teeth and red lips from chewing betel nuts with slaked lime and betel leaves to reaffirm that he meant it. When he was told that chewing betel nuts will not feed his family and, as a father, he bears the responsibility of providing for his family, he gives another innocent smile and goes into a deep thinking. Klaw Mu and his wife Du Way never thought that they will need to work to provide for their family because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provided for them in the Refugee camp. “We always thought that the UNCHR will provide for us throughout our lives,” says Klaw Mu. Influenced by deeply rooted cultural values and their strong belief system, they found joy in having as many children as they could. Out of the twelve children they had, eight survived. “Family planning is a sin”, they said.
Klaw Mu and Du Way never went to school and don’t speak a word of English. They also don’t have any formal work experience. When the MCC Employment Counselor explained that employment is the only way to becoming self –sufficient and told them that they need to adapt to this change, they were bewildered! However, after a thorough employment orientation and explaining to them the many benefits of employment, Klaw Mu was every excited to seek employment and become self-sufficient at the earliest possible moment. Thus, despite a very generous public assistance package available for families in Hennepin County, Klaw Mu and his family chose to enroll in the Match Grant Employment program through MCC Refugee Services. “If Match Grant program helps me find job, I want to work right away”, Klaw Mu said.
After three months in Match Grant, Klaw Mu started working at a Recycling company. When he received his first pay check, he was stunned. “I never believed that I would be earning money from work; I feel more secured and started to know the tastes of having my own income. In Thailand I was never allowed seek employment or own any property”. Working at a recycling company Klaw Mu was only making $9.00 an hour. He said he needed to look for a better paying job. Minnesota Council of Churches’ Refugee Employment Services worked together with Klaw Mu on job upgrades. Through MCC’s relationship with employers, Klaw Mu was able to get a better job. Now he is working at a Turkey Processing plant and makes a living wage of $11.47 an hour with benefits. It’s a huge success for someone who doesn’t have formal education and previous work experience. It’s a story worth sharing.
The strong relationships, that the Refugee Services of the Minnesota Council of Churches maintains with local employers, led Klaw Mu towards getting a job at the earliest. MCC has an Employer Advisory Committee (EAC), that meets every quarter. It is considered a national best practice, and it offers a platform for professional development and networking for Human Resource personnel and employers. EAC also serves as a platform for refugees to tell their stories of courage, resilience and hope. It imparts awareness about who refugees are and creates an ambassador of the employer who advocates on behalf of refugees and asks other employers, in their network, to hire refugees in their company.
By Chhimi W.