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Bringing health home

Lalrin Pari’s dream to improve health care in Burma

Sophomore Lalrin Pari never planned to move as far away as the United States. (Photo provided by Lalrin Pari)

Sophomore Lalrin Pari never planned to move as far away as the United States. (Photo provided by Lalrin Pari)

By Becca Robb | Echo 

She arrived in America seven years ago with $50 and a dream to improve health care in her village of Khampat, Burma. Now, 23-year-old Lalrin Pari has a full-ride scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is a sophomore studying public health at Taylor University.

As a child, Pari recalls her friend becoming very sick: Her friend’s parents pleaded with doctors at a private hospital to treat their son, promising they’d pay afterwards. The doctors declined, and Pari’s friend died.

“If it seems like we have money . . . (the doctors) will really take care of us,” Pari said. “It just makes me feel sick. Everyone has a right to live, to enjoy this world.”

Her village’s health care system was broken. And Pari wanted to do something about it. But she knew she’d never find opportunities, such as becoming a doctor, in her village.

So Pari moved to Malaysia to find work when she was 14. After four months working at a factory making printed circuit boards for phones, she applied as a refugee. Moving to America was never part of her life dream, but her older sister and brother-in-law had already begun a refugee application, so she joined their case. After 20 months of interviews, caseworkers granted Pari and her two relatives residency in America, sending them to Boston.

“I’m so lucky,” Pari said about only waiting 20 months. “Because many people are there for ten years.” Burmese people are not a small minority among recent refugees in America. They made up 15 percent of refugees (12,327 people) who moved to the United States in 2016, according to Pew Research.

Sixteen-year-old Pari didn’t know anyone at her new high school in Boston. She jumped into history and biology classes, but she only knew her ABCs and a couple English phrases, like “Good morning” and “How are you?”

Photo of Lalrin Pari

Lalrin Pari graduated from Lafayette High School in Buffalo, New York (Photo provided by Lalrin Pari)

Even though her teachers tried to explain lessons to her, Pari knew so little English that she was often lost in her classes. Yet, she persisted.

“Everything was just a new world for me. Everything,” she said. “(But) I wasn’t afraid when I was at school. I just talked, and it just came out!”

After four months, Pari moved in with a relative in Buffalo, New York. Even though her English was improving, she knew she could never afford to go to college and her education would end after high school. Then she found out a fellow classmate won the Gates Millennium Scholarship, earning a full-ride education from an undergraduate to a doctorate degree.

Pari decided to apply for the scholarship. For help, she turned to 26-year-old Marissa Felser, her mentor and an English as a Second Language teacher in Buffalo, New York.

The application was tedious, especially for someone still learning English—it required in-depth essays, recommendation letters and dozens of revisions. Pari wrote about her passion for health education and preventative care, sharing her desire to work for a global health organization. Felser visited Pari on Sunday afternoons to revise her writings together. The process took over a year.

“She’s a fighter,” Felser said. “She always impresses me.” 

Lalrin and Marissa Felser in Lalrin’s dorm at Jamestown Community College. (Photo provided by Marissa Felser)

Lalrin Pari and Marissa Felser in Pari’s dorm at Jamestown Community College. (Photo provided by Marissa Felser

As she worked on her application, Pari made a promise to God: she would read the entire Bible before the scholarship results came in. If God wanted her to go to college, she would get the scholarship, she thought to herself.

After seven months of waiting for the results, Pari continued reading through her Bible as her commitment to God. She still had four chapters left. Then, on a sunny, 85-degree day, Pari checked her mailbox and found a large envelope.

Pari pulled out the envelope and ripped it open—it was the acceptance letter. She began crying and praying. Even before she fulfilled her promise to read through the Bible, Pari had received the good news—she could go to the school of her choice for free.

A couple days later, her high school played “Happy” by Pharrell Williams over the speaker system and kids danced in the hallway to celebrate Pari’s scholarship.

Worn out from a challenging school year, Pari didn’t have time to study for the SAT or write college application essays. She chose to attend Jamestown Community College in New York for two years, then she and a relative moved to Indiana and Pari began studying at Taylor.

It was really hard to stay strong,” Pari said. “(But) I’m still dreaming.”

One day, Pari hopes to return to her village in Burma. She wants to improve people’s health care so they don’t have to endure sickness or die because they don’t have enough money. Pari said she might like to begin a hospital there.


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