Two Garinger High graduates are determined to lend a hand in Myanmar, also known as Burma, a country with less than one physician for every 1,000 people and a life expectancy of 65 years.
Cing Za Lun and Mow Win, both refugees from Burma, have clawed themselves through the public education system in Charlotte, fighting to learn as much as they can, so they can one day travel back to their home country and aid the sick.
Cing Za Lun (Julia)
Cing Za Lun Julia grew up in a small village in west Burma.
Her widowed mother worked to support the family after Julias father died from an asthma attack. The areas lack of accessible medical facilities contributes to otherwise preventable deaths, Julia said.
After witnessing the pain her father endured and the strength her mother had to keep the family afloat, Julia said she one day wanted to help the sick and their families.
I want to know everything, Julia said about medicine.
Following the death of her father, Julias family fled to a refugee camp in Malaysia before traveling about 9,000 miles to Charlotte. They left to escape the persecution of Christians in Burma and to seek a more prosperous future, she said.
But the transition to the U.S. proved to be difficult. First on the list of changes a new name.
Julia received her American name from a mentor at church. Its much easier to pronounce, she said, smiling.
Julia immersed herself into American culture when she arrived in September 2009 at age 17. She started school and joined a church youth group.
But more than once, she cried herself to sleep, frustrated with her homework, she said. She often struggled to compose a written sentence in English. So to calm herself down, she listened to worship songs on YouTube.
Her daily routine helps comfort her, she said. Everyday, Julia does her homework, reads the Bible, prays, then sings worship songs she loves to sing.
God help me in school, Julia said about the days she struggled with schoolwork, which happened frequently in the beginning. God can do everything. ... I dont want to stop after high school.
Slowly, she began to feel more comfortable with her surroundings.
Her sophomore year, she led the choir at Providence Baptist Church and she became a translator for other refugees. When she isnt studying or going to church, the teen volunteers at The Cypress of Charlotte, a continuing-care retirement community.
At first, she was very quiet and timid, said Sarah Blackwell, one of Julias mentors at church. But she has a complete heart of gold and she will do anything for the people around her.
Because of her diligence, Julia recently received the fifth annual Debbie Antshel Memorial CPCC Scholarship.
In her scholarship application, she wrote: I would like to be a nurse and help my patients understand their medical problems. After I work at a hospital and gain experience, I would like to work with the elderly and help with end of life care. ... I would also like to go back to the refugee camp I left... or to a poor country like Burma, and volunteer to help people who are sick.
Mow Win (Moe)
Even as a tiny 7-year-old, Moe knew what she wanted to do as an adult help people.
As she sat in a medical clinic in Burma, waiting to be treated for a fever, she decided she wanted to become a doctor. Moe watched a female doctor, just down the hall, speak to a man diagnosed with AIDS. She was kind, Moe said, smiling at the man, telling him he would have more days to live.
His concerned expression dissolved and a smile washed over his tired face, Moe said. The doctor had a contagious spirit.
That smile inspired me. She gave him hope, Moe said. One day I want to help people like that.
But the path to receive the education necessary to become a doctor hasnt been easy for Moe. She first had to escape Burma with her mother and sisters at age 7. Her dad led the way to Thailand a few months earlier so he could establish a home for his family.
She recalls a bumpy truck ride to illegally cross the border into Thailand, the minimal amount of rice and beans she received, and the constant thirst.
I was too little to understand, but (I knew) my parents didnt like the Burmese government, Moe said.
Rather than fleeing to a refugee camp where Moe said girls are often treated poorly, her family lived under the radar in Thailand. This meant Moe couldnt attend school. She stopped going after the second grade. In her last math class, she had mastered addition and subtraction, but just started learning division.
Moes family then bounced from Thailand to Malaysia before making the decision to move to the United States in 2009. Moe, then 17, still dreamed of pursuing a career as a doctor.
After arriving in Charlotte, the family faced challenges of a new culture, finding a home and learning English. For Moe, that meant entering the education system again, this time on a 10th-grade level at Myers Park High.
She is an extremely responsible student, said Gloria Lawing, Moes mentor. She really has a social responsibility because she wants to go back to Burma to help people.
With persistence, Moe tackled her schoolwork, often staying up all night to translate biology and English books into Burmese so she could understand. But she remained confident, she said even when she transferred to Garinger High and had to start over on a ninth-grade level.
And her hard work paid off: She graduated from Garinger in June as the salutatorian with a 4.19 GPA. Moe is now about to attend Salem University, where she received a $56,000 scholarship, and plans to study medicine.
Although shes never spent a night away from home, Moe said she is thrilled to start a new adventure and plans to visit Charlotte often. About college, she said, I can do it.