Joan was born in 1998 in Myanmar. “The military dictatorship and social instability made it impossible to live there,” said Joan.
Joan’s older cousin took her and her brother and fled to Malaysia in 2009. They waited for two years to be granted refugee status.
While living in the refugee camp, Joan spent time with volunteers from Scotland, Australia, and the United States. She picked up little bits of English and found an English classic books for children and used a dictionary to translate all the words she did not understand.
Refugee in America
In July 2011, Joan, her cousin, and brother were brought to Arizona. They were all minors and placed with Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Minor Program (UMP). This program places refugee children into foster homes and helps them acclimate to life in America.
Joan was placed in seventh grade in an ESL class because of the language barrier. She excelled quickly and advanced into mainstream classes. “I love learning and reading, especially learning English,” said Joan.
Teen Motivated to Excellence
Clairette Clinger was Joan’s first case manager, “I saw the motivation and initiatives Joan had for learning from the beginning. When she arrived in June, school was out of session. Joan was not happy that she could not attend school right away. The program provided students with workbooks in English and math and both Joan and her cousin, who were placed in the same foster home, showed their eagerness to learn. They went through the books with ease and great enthusiasm. Not long after she entered seventh grade, Joan was ready to be out of ESL.”
Joan’s love of learning would lead to success. After a few weeks of mainstream classes, she was moved into honors classes.
When Joan moved into high school, she became part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. The IB program is a highly respected, inquiry-based approach to education that strives to bring a global or intercultural perspective to education.
In addition to being an impressive student, Joan is also a talented artist and athlete. “I have been taking art classes since seventh grade, and I have had my artworks exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum and at Shemar Art Center and Museum. Recently, I entered a contest at the Young Authors of Arizona and won a gold, silver, and honorary mention for three of my artworks under the Arizona Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards.”
She plays tennis on her high school team. School and extracurricular activities take up a lot of time. “The IB program requires tremendous commitment and at the same time, it expects students to be well-rounded. Excelling in academics is not enough, I also need to be active and participate in extracurricular activities. Usually, I am at school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. but during tennis season, I don't get home until 7 or 8 p.m.,” said Joan.
She also finds time for friends by going "to the park and playing tennis with friends and riding my bike around the neighborhood." Joan says she finds comfort and peace in prayer and attending church.
Volunteering is also a priority. She has volunteered with her school to do tutoring, projects for the Aloha Festival in Tempe and at Feed My Starving Children, and helped distribute food in the community.
Family and Future
As Joan approached 18 years old, she became eligible to be in the Independent Living (IL) program that is part of the UMP. The IL program transitions students out of foster care and allows them to live independently. “UMP tries to reunify family members whenever possible. When Joan was ready for independent living, she joined her brother in his two bedroom apartment after his roommate moved out of Arizona,” said Clinger. “Joan has always demonstrated responsibility and accountability in her behavior.”
Joan just graduated from high school in May and has her sights set on college. She has been awarded a full-ride scholarship to Georgetown University where she plans to major in culture and politics or international politics at the School of Foreign Service. She wants to become a diplomat.
After college, Joan can see herself interning or working at an embassy or a human rights organization.
“I’m very grateful for Catholic Charities and its entire staff,” said Joan. “What is great about the Catholic Charities is its indiscriminate care and support for people, especially minors, of all diverse groups. From the kindness the people of Catholic Charities have shown me, I learned to be kinder and more accepting and welcoming of others who are different from me. To show my gratitude, I would also like to pay it forward by volunteering to tutor UMP kids to learn English and with their school work this summer.”
Learn more about the Unaccompanied Minor Program and how to support this imporant work.