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Worthington ESL students get work published

Maung Ngo and Kah Po, holding the “Routes” and “Journeys” books, respectively, had their writings and artwork published in the 25th anniversary books filled with compilations of Adult Basic Education students from across Minnesota. The two are joined by fellow authors published in this year’s copy of “Journeys,” including Omar Than (from left), Thuy Nguyen, William Omot and Gerardo Martinez. All are students in Worthington District 518’s ABE program. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Two natives of Burma who spent part of their life running through the jungles of their homeland due to government conflict, and ultimately finding protection in a refugee camp in Thailand, have had their stories and artwork published.

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Their work appears in “Routes,” a book commemorating the 25th anniversary of “Journeys,” an annual publication of works recognizing students in Adult Basic Education programs across Minnesota. Both books are published by the Minnesota Literacy Council.

Maung Ngo, who moved to Worthington in 2010 after a brief stay in St. Paul, penned “My First Day in America” and “Terrible and Surprise Countries.” He shares the story of his life in Burma, how the group of Karen people tried to bring freedom to their country and how they battled the government for those democratic rights.

“The Army tried to find us in the jungles and near the borders,” he wrote. “We didn’t have any place to run. Some of our leaders made an agreement with some of the leaders from Thailand, so we could live in Thailand. Next they found a way to get some support from the other countries. Then we became refugees. But many ethnic groups stayed to fight the governor to get a free country.”

Ngo’s stories fill three pages in “Routes,” complemented by two pencil drawings sketched by Kah Po, a classmate of Ngo’s in District 518’s Adult Basic Education program at the West Learning Center in Worthington.

Po, who shared similar experiences during his life in Burma and a refugee camp in Thailand, had two drawings published — one featuring skyscrapers with a large American flag waving in the wind, and the second depicting life in Burma with machine guns over a typical campsite and human skulls and bones lying on the ground.

From more than 450 submissions, Ngo and Po were among just 40 individuals to get their works selected for inclusion in “Routes.” Ngo worked with experienced mentor and published writer Robert Hybben, a professor at a Twin Cities-area college, for several months to hone his writing skills and complete his stories that compare life in Burma and Thailand to life in America.

“I don’t have my words to describe the United States because there’s no need to talk about freedom,” Ngo wrote. “There’s really enough freedom for everyone. … It’s a very different life than when I lived in my country. I can go anywhere. I can do anything. No one bothers each other.”

Ngo, 32, has been a student in the ABE program in District 518 for the past two years, and just earned his U.S. Citizenship during a ceremony June 27 in Rochester. He works full-time on the night shift at the JBS pork processing facility in Worthington, and is married with two children.

Po, who came to the United States six years ago, has attended ABE classes for the past year and a half. He is working toward earning his U.S. Citizenship, currently awaiting his interview.

The 30-year-old said he learned to draw and practiced his artwork while living in the refugee camp in Thailand. In addition to having his artwork published in “Routes,” Po was one of 16 students in District 518’s ABE program to have stories published in the 2014 edition of “Journeys,” an anthology of works compiled from submissions all across the state.

All 16 of the students are in Diane Andersen’s adult ESL classes at the West Learning Center.

“It means a lot to me,” she said of the number of students selected for inclusion in “Journeys.” “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to write for a journal like this. It really encourages them in their writing to continue to write and to write well so they can be published.”

Many of the stories in “Journeys” share visions of life in the writer’s home country before coming to America.

“It’s wonderful that they can have this book and … read (about) ESL adult students from all over Minnesota,” Andersen said. “I think it’s very valuable for them to read about other people’s life experiences here in the U.S. after coming from another country.”

Both Po and Ngo said they were excited to have their works selected for inclusion in both “Journeys” and “Routes.” They received copies of both books, while those students who had their work selected for inclusion in “Journeys” received a copy of that book.

“It’s a wonderful incentive for them to keep writing and keep trying to get published,” said Andersen, an ESL teacher at the West Learning Center for the past two years.

In addition to the student recognitions, the Minnesota Literacy Council honored Randy Peterson of Worthington with a Volunteer Service Award for volunteering more than 1,000 hours to tutor students in the Adult Basic Education program, including Citizenship and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. The Chandler Christian Reformed Church was also recognized for honorable mention for the 2014 Community Partnership Award. The award recognizes those who have positively influenced adult literacy in Minnesota. The church hosts adult ESL classes weekly, providing childcare, volunteer tutors and snacks for families who attend.

All of the published ABE students, along with the literacy volunteers, will be recognized during District 518 Community Education’s 2014 Volunteer Recognition Party at 12:45 p.m. Thursday. The event will be led by Literacy Volunteer Coordinator Justin Stevenson.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Bunjter may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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