Karen (Burmese) youth people people created an online forum to talk about how and why to vote in 2020. (Screenshot via Facebook.) Young refugees leading the charge on election education.
Karen (Burmese) youth people people created an online forum to talk about how and why to vote in 2020. (Screenshot via Facebook.)

A young Chapel Hill woman wanted to empower her Burmese refugee community, so she launched a grassroots effort with friends to get out the vote for the 2020 election.

When 24-year-old Rosy Moo moved to Chapel Hill with her family 13 years ago, she finally had a place she could call home.

A member of a community of Karen refugees—a group of Sino-Tibetan-language-speaking people originally from Myanmar (Burma) who arrived in Thai refugee camps to escape persecution—Moo understood the feeling of being caught between two worlds.

“All of these Karen people are refugees from Burma, and when they were in refugee camps, they don’t have an identity,” she says. “They don’t belong in Burma, and they don’t belong in Thailand, either—they’re in a refugee camp with no country.”

As of 2018, an estimated 75,000 Karen refugees had resettled in the United States including in North Carolina.

But now that Moo and her fellow Karen people have become citizens of the United States, they finally feel that missing sense of belonging. And that’s why voting is so important to her. 

“It’s such an amazing feeling, because I feel like I finally belong to a country,” she says. “I have a voice; I have a say.”

Getting Information Out There

This election, Moo decided to help others in her community make their voices heard, too. She and some of her college-aged friends recorded a Karen-language podcast on Facebook to explain the importance of voting to members of their community, and Moo began offering rides to the polls for early voting.

“A lot of them are American citizens, but don’t know how to vote, haven’t voted before, or don’t know how to register,” she says. “I help them register at the poll, and they’re voting for the first time.”

Moo says some in her community feel uncomfortable voting, and she wanted to empower them to have a say in the political process.

“One reason why I really wanted to do this is in our Karen community, when it comes to voting, the church is really involved, and the pastor will pressure the people to vote for a certain person,” she says. “If they don’t agree with their pastor, they’re afraid to go vote.”

READ MORE: Cardinal Votes: Your Guide to Voting in North Carolina in 2020

Moo says that’s why it’s important to her to remain impartial—she simply wants to help others learn how to vote and do the research on which candidates most fit their beliefs.

“This is one of the most important elections to vote,” she says. “And I see within the last four years that a lot of Karen people have become citizens. I like to educate them on voting and why it’s important to share your voice and what you believe in.”

And no matter who they decide to vote for, Moo is just happy to help her fellow Karen citizens exercise their rights in the country that has become their home.

“I love to encourage people to go vote,” she says. “I know politics is a hard topic to talk about, and you have to think carefully.”

“Don’t vote for someone because your friends and family told you to vote for them—vote for the person who is right for you. Really think before you vote.”

Rosy Moo of Chapel Hill
Rosy Moo, 24, is working to educate her Burmese (Karen) refugee community how to vote and why it’s important (photo courtesy of Moo).