“I hoped my daughter would be free from difficult and troubling times”: Mee Mee’s story as a refugee Mom

May 11, 2012

Originally published by UMCOR. See the original post here. 

UMCOR and Prosperity Candle collaborate to change women's lives, after becoming refugees from Burma

Hope in Times of Crisis: A Mother’s Day Story

By Judith Santiago*

Mee Mee heard that the soldiers were coming.  She took hold of her son and frantically joined the rest of the villagers who were running toward the Thai-Burmese border, where the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was located. Her husband was in another village running in the opposite direction, Mee later learned.  After the soldiers’ pursuit ended, Mee returned home to her small village in Koechi, Burma.

During 1997-2000, Mee and thousands like her lived under the constant threat of violence from Burmese soldiers. Many people would take temporary refuge in the jungle, and return home to their village after soldiers left the area, just to do it all over again days later.  About once a week, Mee and others would be on the move to avoid capture, rape, or death by soldiers.

During one incident, Mee’s husband ran ahead of his wife to secure food for his family. Her husband was spotted by soldiers and shot. The bullet shattered a portion of his ribcage, leaving him severely wounded and in distress as he journeyed toward the jungle with his family for safety.

For three months, Mee’s husband hid and moved the family with an exasperating wound at his side. He received no medical care, except for Mee’s tending.

“I was afraid to return to Burma,” Mee said through an interpreter. “I feared dying. I cried and cried every day,” she continued.

Mee’s husband eventually drew enough strength to walk five days toward a small village in Thailand where they learned the location of a hospital and a refugee camp.  When Mee and her husband finally arrived at the hospital, he underwent immediate surgery and later recovered.

Symbol of Hope

Life in the jungle for those fleeing Burmese soldiers was indeed terrifying and difficult. Makeshift bamboo tents with only roof and floor coverings became suitable temporary dwellings. Many women including Mee gave birth to children in the jungle.  Mee’s then six-year-old son assisted in the delivery of his sister named Eh Ku Hser. Her name means love – cold – sweet. “Cold” in Burmese culture means so as to not pass through the fire of life, as heat represents troubled times.

“I hoped my daughter would be free from difficult and troubling times,” said Mee. “I did not want her to go through what I had experienced,” she continued.

For Mee, the birth of her daughter in the midst of darkness, torment and fear, was a symbol of hope for a new life to come. Hope in times of crisis, the very premise of the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s (UMCOR) newly co-branded UMCOR-Prosperity Candle, is also the essence of that which candles shed light upon.

UMCOR and Prosperity Candle partner to offer hope to women refugees from Burma as they rebuild their lives with fair trade candles

A New Beginning

With the help of UNHCR, hope for a new life did indeed materialize for Mee and her family when they resettled in West Springfield, Massachusetts.  There, Mee met Moo Kho Paw, another woman who emigrated from Burma, and who was working at Prosperity Candle in Florence.  The organization helps refugee women who have escaped areas of conflict rebuild their lives through the art of candle making.  Moo Kho recommended that Mee join the organization, and Mee gladly accepted.

“I was excited to be out of the house,” said Mee, “I was raised to believe that because I was a woman, my role was to remain at home and raise my family,” she continued.  “While many Burmese women want to do more for themselves, they are often encouraged to remain homemakers.”

Today, Mee has plans to go into the candle-making business for herself and support her five children, but she expressed the need to learn English first.

“In the Thai refugee camp, we had education, but it was not so good,” said Mee.  “When I was a child, I wanted to go to school, but I was told to stay home because I was a woman.  Now, I have hopes for my daughters to go to college and become doctors or policewomen,” continued Mee.

Mee has struck an even balance in her life that she wishes others would have found—a simple, happy life where work, caring for family members and freedom of choice all have their place.

Support Refugee Women in the US

Share this Mother’s Day story with your loved ones. And, when you purchase handmade candles by Mee, Moo Kho, and Naw, another Burmese refugee woman working at  Prosperity Candle , know you are helping to support their livelihood as they rebuild their lives and those of their family members in the US.

Ten percent of each  UMCOR-Prosperity Candle  you buy goes to support poverty-alleviation programs through  UMCOR’s World Hunger and Poverty program, UMCOR Advance #982920 .

*Judith Santiago is the Media Communications Associate for UMCOR.

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Unique soy blend fair trade candles handcrafted by women artisans candles at Prosperity Candle

Amber & Bergamot

Warm and inviting, amber and bergamot combined with subtle notes of
geranium, black cardamom, sandalwood and eucalyptus.

Cedar & Cardamom

Cedar infused with cardamom, lily and spice with seductive
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Deeply restful chamomile and fresh sage combine in this soothing herbal,
creating an atmosphere of calm and well-being.

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Wonderfully complex, grapefruit blended with lily, peony, geranium
and rose, with base notes of amber and musk.

Jasmine & Cypress

Crisp notes of jasmine and cypress blended with nectarine, black currant,
pink peppercorn and bergamot for a uniquely alluring scent.

Orange Blossom

Fragrant orange blossoms mingle with water lily, iris and clementine leaves above
a base note of vetiver to create this delightfully elegant floral.

Pacific Ocean

Clean and buoyant, fresh ocean air atop a joyful blend of freesia,
water lilies, lotus and tuberose for a truly uplifting experience.

Sandalwood & Oakmoss

The warmth of sandalwood blended with Baltic oakmoss, a touch of amber,
and hint of patchouli give rise to this gentle wood scent.

Seasonal Holiday Scents

Blue Fir & Spice - Fragrant blue fir pine needles combined with cedarwood, bright citrus and a touch of spice evoke the spirit of the holidays.

Chai Tea - Warm and uplifting, green tea mixed with peppermint leaves, spices and hints of lemon and amber remind you of the best coffeehouse chai.


Completely fragrance-free.
Perfect for centerpieces, dinner candles and those who prefer no scent.

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