With summer break fast approaching, some students are slowing down a bit.
Not City Heights resident Saw Paw Kay. He is ending the school year with a bang, racking up three major awards for his community engagement and academic excellence. The sophomore at e3 Civic High was awarded an Honorary Certificate for the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, a scholarship from the American Civil Liberties Union to attend the weeklong Summer Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C., and a fall semester study with the School of Ethics and Global Leadership, also in Washington, D.C.
“We are so proud of Saw Paw,” said Dr. Helen V. Griffith, executive director of e3 Civic High, a public charter school located in the San Diego Central Library Downtown. “Our scholars apply their coursework through active engagement in the community and Saw Paw really embodies this value.”
Saw Paw is a Karen refugee from the Mae La refugee camp located between the borders of Myanmar and Thailand. The young teen talked about what his people went through.
“My Karen people were forced to flee from their original home country, Myanmar, due to one of today’s longest civil wars that involved corrupt Burmese soldiers who mass genocide my people,” he said.
The City Heights teen is being recognized with the Princeton Prize in Race Relations for a project he launched in his community. “A Taste of Culture” is a monthly event in which members of the multi-cultural City Heights community gather to learn about a specific region of the world and sample its cuisine from a mother-son cooking team in the neighborhood. Saw Paw brought his mother on board to help with the inaugural event: A Taste of Karen, his ethnic background.
“Most people have never heard of the Karen people, who live in Southeast Asia, in the mountains of Burma. This was a way of raising awareness about my culture by sharing our history, food, and journey to the United States,” he said. “I learned a lot from my mom, too. People were really moved and started comparing our food and culture to their own people.”
Saw Paw spent the first five years of his life in a refugee camp in Thailand after his family fled from Burmese violence against the Karen people, a persecuted ethnic minority in the country renamed Myanmar.
Saw Paw oversaw four more cooking events featuring the food and culture of mother-son teams from Mexico, Syria, Ethiopia, and Somalia. “This was a way to bring people together to learn each other’s stories in a safe environment and to share great food.”
Saw Paw’s two scholarships to the prestigious summer and fall programs in Washington, D.C. were awarded for the scholar’s academic performance and community engagement. He says he looks forward to learning more about political activism to help shape public policy and foster positive foreign relations. “These programs will help change me so I can bring positive change to the world.”