Story by Julia DiGiacomo
For former AmeriCorps RISE Member Kar Meh, empowering immigrants and refugees with EMBARC Waterloo has become a family endeavor. After successfully completing her AmeriCorps term in 2020, she encouraged her two younger siblings to join the IT Navigator Program as volunteers. Now the family works together to improve the prospects of refugees from Burma in Waterloo.
Kar inspired her 14-year-old brother Klaw Reh and 16-year-old sister Su Meh to follow in her footsteps after volunteering with EMBARC throughout high school as both a youth navigator and RISE member. Kar is also signed up to mentor volunteers for the IT Navigator Program.
“My sister definitely motivated me to join,” Klaw said. “She told me it was a great opportunity.”
Klaw and Su now assist refugees learning to use computers and the internet through the IT Navigator Program. As Youth Technology Navigators, they joined a secondary cohort of student volunteers. After extensive training sessions, they teach basic technology skills needed for modern life in the U.S. to peers and their community.
Su said she and her brother also are currently creating videos on topics such as the U.S. educational and grading systems so that refugee parents can stay involved in their children’s education. Klaw and Su’s bilingual English and Karenni skills have been critical for connecting with and educating clients.
“Most of the Burmese students’ parents have little to no knowledge on these things because of the language barrier,” Su said. “Our goal is to educate them on these topics.”
As just a middle schooler, Klaw is the youngest volunteer with the IT Navigator Program. He said working with his older sister Su has made the experience a lot easier, since she understands him and helps build off of his suggestions for projects.
Kar Meh made her own significant impact on clients at EMBARC Waterloo before her younger siblings’ joined the effort. During her AmeriCorps term as a senior in high school, she primarily worked with youth and interpreted for clients at Waterloo Community Schools before the pandemic hit. Afterwards, she refocused her energy on distributing food supplies for families in need. Kar helped order food, package supplies, reach out to partners, and connect with communities.
Kar’s exemplary work as well as Su’s own past experiences with EMBARC led West High School Student Su to get involved too.
“One of the reasons why I joined this program is because it gives me the opportunity to give back to the community, especially the Burmese community since I’m very interested in it,” Su said. “Knowing I’m helping out others from the same background as me empowers me a lot.”