Paw Ray, Educator-Activist
Naw Paw Ray [in center wearing beanie] with 1st and 2nd Graders at MUSE Elementary. Kids are, left to right: Sam Harcourt-Roland, Samuel Gordon, Josie Jennings, Sofia DeLory, Cassidy DuToit, Lauren Dawson, Luna Harcourt-Roland, Ryan McGurk, Ely Carroll. In back row teachers Erin Terzieff and Elena Perez.
It’s not so often that you get to meet a person living in a situation - and with a level of courage - that you can barely relate to. Such is the case with Burmese educator Naw Paw Ray on whom I wrote an article for the Topanga Messenger published this month. CLICK HERE to read the article which is titled “Naw Paw Ray, Prize-Winning Burmese Educator, Visits Topanga.” It is an article for a local paper, with a local focus, but the real issue is much, much larger.
“I would like to say that education is the key to everything. A country, a community, grows up with the children it has educated. Without education our countries and our communities might fail. So I would like to say education is the most important. Please spread the word about our situation and let us all work together to try and make a better thing - something is better than nothing.” - Naw Paw Ray
Paw Ray escaped Burma after her native village was burnt to the ground by a regime with one of the worst human rights records on the planet. She sought refuge to Thailand, joining a massive Burmese diaspora, and has devoted her life to helping the tens of thousands of children that this process has left stranded. Her mission is not only to protect these kids from almost unimaginable fates in the worlds of sex slavery and human trafficking, but also, by educating them, to save the country where she was born. She is an activist of the deepest kind, living with a level of self-sacrifce and dedication that brings to mind figures such as Mother Theresa, Harriet Tubman or Clara Barton. Starting with a single school and 25 children, the organization she founded, the Burmese Migrant Workers Education Committee, has grown (in just 10 years) to include 55 schools, and protects and educates over 10,000 children. Paw Ray has already been named an Ashoka Fellow and some say she is on track to win a Nobel Prize. One gets the feeling that work like this work can’t remain beneath the radar for long.
I interviewed Paw Ray in a sweltering office at MUSE Elementary in Topanga Canyon. We sat on the floor. Her English is careful, and slow, but by the end of the interview everyone in the room was in tears. Some of that interview is in the article I wrote, but a lot is not. I would like one day to be able to tell a fuller story and can only hope that, when I do, there will be more light at the end of Burma’s long, very dark, tunnel, than there is today.
Thanks to the fearless Erin Terzieff, who runs the MUSE Global Program, for her help and inspiration on this piece.
Paw Ray being interviewed by a television crew in Topanga Canyon. May there be many more!