Woman pays it forward in nonprofit that helped her as a refugee in Minnesota

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Moo Ra Paw considers herself lucky.

“We never speak English where we live in the refugee camp,” she says. “So it was very tough for us.”
Now 27, she and her family fled from Burma in 2005, in the midst of a civil war.

After seven years in a refugee camp in Thailand, they arrived in Minnesota — uprooting everything they had known — to start over.

“It is hard,” Moo said quietly. “Very hard for us.”

Now living in the metro, Moo says a caseworker connected her family to MORE.

The St. Paul nonprofit is a lifeline for new arrivals to the metro.
“We provide refugees and immigrants with education and support,” explains Cathy Rucci, MORE’s executive director. “They can take what they learn here, and get the resources that they need.”
She says during the last three decades, the group has provided support for tens of thousands of refugees — between 400 and 500 people a year.

“For someone to have refugee status to come into the United States, they have to have gone through some sort of trauma,” Rucci explains. “Resettlement is very traumatic for people, so they’re getting a double whammy. We really talk about MORE being this soft landing that we want to provide for them.”

MORE sets up English language classes for adults, lessons in computer skills and sessions on workforce preparation.

Moo says the language instruction was especially helpful to her family.

“They helped my parents here like come and learning, and start living our life all over again,” she explains.

“My dad used to come to school here, where he got help.”

MORE uses a separate building to pass along donated clothing and household items.

There’s also a food distribution availability every Friday.

“We have a group of volunteers that goes over to Whole Foods, picks up their close to date foods, we get a lot of produce,” Rucci explains. “We bring them here to MORE and we just distribute them out to new Americans.”

She says the group has worked with 7000 members of the Karen community — Burmese immigrants.

They’ve also assisted others from Afghanistan, Somalia and a few from Ukraine.

Minnesota’s Ukrainian community now estimates about 150 people have arrived since the Russian invasion began in late February.

“That’s one of our strengths, we aren’t tied to any specific group, or culture, or country,” Rucci says. “We’ll just welcome people from Ukraine, or Russia, just like we would anyone else.”

This Saturday, MORE’s 11th annual ‘Run for Refugees’ 5K will be held at Lake Phalen in St. Paul.

The fundraiser will include runners from diverse backgrounds.

“Their parents might have been refugees that came here, or they might have been children,” Rucci says. “They could be the next generation.”

The race begins at 9:30 a.m. — with registration at 8:30 a.m.

Rucci says the family-friendly event costs $35, with kids under 18 free.

As for Moo — she is now a program coordinator for MORE — paying it forward by helping other new arrivals.

She, her husband Eh, and their seven-month-old daughter Lydia are now settled in Maplewood.  

“Yeah — feel so proud to work here as a program coordinator,” Moo exclaims. “Very proud to be here.”

Details about MORE can be found here.