We write this tribute in honor of our dearest Paw Boh Htoo, community leader, fellow coworker, friend and beacon of hope. Paw Htoo was dedicated to helping others and volunteered her time to support the needs of those around her. She was excited to share her Karen culture with the younger generation and anyone else who wanted to know. She was passionate about her community, her family and her work. With a smile on her face, Paw Htoo brought light to every situation.
Paw Boh Htoo was born and raised in Burma in a small village. When she was 12 years old, she moved away from her family and lived with her great aunt until she was 16 years old. In 2004, she moved to a Thai refugee camp by herself to finish high school. She got married right after she graduated from high school and started to learn how to weave traditional Karen clothes.
In the refugee camp, she worked with the Karen Women’s Organization and Karen Youth Organization for six years. For the Karen Women’s Organization, she advocated for refugee women through education, support and encouragement and promoted their access to freedom and equality.
In 2011, she came to the United States and studied English at Roseville Adult Learning Center for three years. In 2013, she began working as an on-call interpreter for a clinic in St. Paul and she started working as a doula for Everyday Miracles. Through her work she touched the lives of many. Moses Moe, Paw Htoo’s manager at KOM, said, “I used to work with Paw Htoo before when she was a doula and I was an interpreter. She was passionate about caring for each of her patients.”
In the years that followed, Paw Htoo continued to work hard and give back to her community. In 2016, she served as a board member for her children’s school, Sejong Academy. At the same time, she was working and pursuing her associate’s degree in human services from Century College. She later changed her degree to legal interpreting and translating.
Paw Htoo had said that she often came to KOM whenever she needed help reading mail or finding a job. So when she started as our Weaving Coordinator in March of 2017, she said she was happy that she could give back to her community.
Paw Htoo was very passionate about her work with the weaving group (Karen Weaving Circle). She was so proud of each of the women in the group and eager to share the traditional art with everyone. She had many ideas and plans for what the weavers could do – including events, activities, classes in the local high schools, and more – and she always followed through. Peter Rachleff, Co-Executive Director of the East Side Freedom Library where the weaving circle met each week, said, “Paw Htoo was like a ray of sunshine in here. The comfort with which she moved back and forth between cultures gave me great hope for what’s possible.”
She went above and beyond in all that she did. Whenever the weavers needed help with something outside of weaving, like making phone calls or taking them to Ramsey County, she always helped. Thara (Mr.) Moses Moe said, “She always had a plan. She was independent, and didn’t need a lot of direction from me. She also had a plan for the weaving project. She planned to go back to the Karen villages and camps to do research about traditional weaving, make a video and write a book.”
Besides the weaving circle, Paw Htoo volunteered her time to help other staff with after-hour activities, projects, events and any kind of help that was needed. Laymu Paw, a KOM staff member and friend of Paw Htoo, said, “She was not the kind of person who would just sit at home, she wanted to go out and do things, and explore new places. She was always there for anyone who needed her.” Another friend and coworker, Sarmoo Kwee, said, “We called her Mrs. Yes, because no matter what we asked her to help with, she would always say yes. She was a strong, confident and well-respected woman who shared everything with everyone.”
Paw Htoo was going to school and working three jobs to support her immediate family and her family in Burma and Thailand. She had very high aspirations for herself and wanted to use her skills to help the community. At Century College, where she was pursuing her degree, she was named student of the year in 2017.
She was a wonderful mother to her two children and a role model for them. She taught her kids how to build community relationships and brought them with to as many community events as she could. In the summer, whenever she had free time, she took her kids outside to State Parks and other places.
Paw Htoo set a positive example for her kids, and all of us, as a compassionate leader. Morrison Johnny, a program manager at KOM, said of her, “She was not afraid to talk and speak out. She was brave and outspoken.” Other staff added, “She said what needed to be said and stood up for what was right. She was kind and gentle, but at the same time assertive and took responsibility.”
It was very important to her for people to know that she was Karen. She loved her culture and wanted others to know about it too.
Moo Moo Paw Htoo, friend and coworker of Paw Boh Htoo, wanted to say, “I admire her for her hard work and independence.” Chrit Hen, another KOM staff member, remembered how Paw Htoo had cooked pa k’pao all day long for KOM’s summer fundraiser this past July and never took a break.
We will always remember her for who she was, and for everything that she did for us and for the community. She knew when to be serious and when to be light hearted. We will deeply miss her and her smile, which was always so genuine just as she was. As Laymu Paw said, “Paw Boh Htoo was beautiful, inside and out.”
Paw Boh Htoo passed away on November 7, 2017 and is survived by her husband and two children.
To support Paw Boh Htoo’s family, please donate by following this link: https://www.youcaring.com/familyofpawbohhtoo-1005846