Surviving War and Turmoil: Theva’s Journey from Laos to Learn English

By: Irma Jaime, AmeriCorps Tutor, Literacy Action of Central Arkansas

When Theva was 18 years old, she came to the United States from Laos, a country in the midst of war and political change. When Theva arrived, she didn’t know any English. Soon, she learned how to speak English. For many years, Theva wanted to learn how to read and write English, but never had the time. Making a life in her new country and then raising a family took priority. Now that Theva’s family is grown up, she finally has time to accomplish her goal. Theva is eager to finally realize her goal of learning how to read and write English.

As a young girl in Laos, she remembers how daily life was affected by the Vietnam War and the changes in the government. She remembers bombings in Laos. As a young girl, she was scared and did not understand what was happening. Then when the government changed hands, people were being arrested for minor non-compliance. She recalls when her father was tied up and arrested. Eventually, he was released.

After Theva’s father was arrested and released, her family knew they had to leave Laos for their safety. The journey for Theva from Laos to the United States included a couple of years at a camp, waiting for sponsorship, and then finally Little Rock. Even though life in Laos was affected by war, Theva was sad to leave her home. But at 16 years old, she left Laos with her family. Theva and her family spent two years in a camp in the Philippines, waiting for sponsorship. Each family member needed to be sponsored. Because of the size of Theva’s family, Theva was split up from her family. Theva went to Little Rock, where she had an uncle. The rest of her family (her father, mother, and sisters) went to Oregon. At 18 years old, Theva arrived in Little Rock, not knowing English. A few months after arriving in Little Rock, she met and then married her husband. They made a life for themselves, worked jobs, built their house, had children, and raised their family.

Theva had an English tutor once, when her daughter was young. But then her young daughter needed her attention. So, Theva stopped being tutored and concentrated on her family. Now, with her family grown up, Theva has the time to finally realize her goal of reading and writing English. Theva and I have been working together for just a few months. Since her first language does not use the English alphabet, we started with writing the alphabet. She is learning quickly and is motivated and eager to learn. She is always early to class. It’s amazing to see learning from the very basics, the alphabet!