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Mosaic artist gathers with child refugees to make art

	Shee Moo Paw (top right), 9, Eh Mwee (top left), 11, May Noe (bottom right), 9, and Ehkhay Juelah, 9 are Burma refugee children from the province of Karen. They make mosaic tiles inspired by the colors in their native culture at Carrboro Elementary on Wednesday.

Shee Moo Paw (top right), 9, Eh Mwee (top left), 11, May Noe (bottom right), 9, and Ehkhay Juelah, 9 are Burma refugee children from the province of Karen. They make mosaic tiles inspired by the colors in their native culture at Carrboro Elementary on Wednesday.

Robots, flowers, soccer balls and even a zombie evolved from tiny pieces of tile into colorful mosaics Wednesday as child refugees from Burma gathered to make art.

The mosaics were created at Carrboro Elementary School by more than 30 students of the Karen School — which allows refugees from the Karen province of Burma to meet twice a week after school to learn their native language.

The students, ages kindergarten through eighth grade, learn to read and write in Karen while their parents take ESL or citizenship classes. The program is free to students in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system.

“These students are a persecuted ethnic minority from a country that the UN has determined is a war-torn nation,” said Karen Aldridge, the social worker for Frank Porter Graham Elementary School.

The CHCCS system began receiving refugees from Burma several years ago. More than 75 students were integrated into the school system three years ago, but numbers have since slowed, Aldridge said.

“Families have started to spread out to other areas as their fortunes improved,” she said.

Aldridge said many of the students who participate in the program were born in Thai refugee camps.

Karen refugees often have to apply for admittance into other countries to leave the camps. Sometimes, families are separated in the process.

“When their number comes up, they say, ‘This country is available, can you go?’” said Kerry Sherrill, the social worker at Carrboro Elementary School.

During the event, mosaic artist Jeannette Brossart taught students about patterns by displaying her own artwork alongside pictures of Karen mosaics.

The event was co-hosted by Kidzu Children’s Museum.

The museum is located in University Square, but plans to move to Wallace Plaza and use mosaics collected at several community events in designing their new space.

“These mosaics are raw, creative material that we will be able to integrate in designing the new museum,” said Cathy Maris, the education and grants director of Kidzu.

Organizers of the event encouraged students to be creative in using patterns and images when making their mosaic. Several students hid their names within a pattern of tiles.

Eh Kaw Hso, a nine-year-old student at Frank Porter Graham, said he loves art and is happy no one is allowed to copy his idea.

“I wanted to make an American flag but now I’m making a zombie stabbing something,” Hso said.

Lah Htoo Boh, a senior at Carrboro High School and Burmese immigrant, teaches the younger students at the Karen School.

Boh, who moved to the area in 2007, reads stories to the students and teaches them the alphabet.

“Here, teachers don’t hate students,” Boh said of the differences between schools in Burma and America.

A sense of community was evident at the event, with parents and volunteers talking while the children finished their art and played together.

“It is important to keep their cultural heritage up,” Sherrill said. “We want them to keep the good things in both worlds.”

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Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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