In August, I celebrated the end of my first year of service with the National Corporation for Community Service as well as my one year anniversary working with Coalition for Refugees from Burma and this beautiful community. I commemorated this occasion by returning to the Annual Karen Wrist Tying Ceremony, the same ceremony I had met the community one year prior. When I walked into the Jefferson Community Center I was no longer surrounded by strangers. The students and families I have worked with for the last year smiled warmly and waved as I took my seat beside a lovely young mother named Doh Doh Paw. Her son has been working with an In-Home Tutor that I placed him with many months ago.
The youth led portion of the ceremony was just winding down when I arrived and youth were inviting the broader community up to the long white table where community elders sat at the front of the gymnasium.
I stood from my seat and walked toward a community elder who I have grown very fond of in my year with CRB and NCCS. I worked closely with her eldest son during his senior year of high school. He graduated last spring and now attends a community college where he takes ESL classes to improve his English. She smiled as she saw me take a place at the end of her line. I waited anxiously as she performed the wrist tying rights for her daughter and granddaughter.
When it was my turn, I stood with my right hand outstretched to her, open for the sweets and blessings she would bestow upon me for the New Year in the community. I was silent and reflexive as she spoke softly in Karen. I thought back to all I had accomplished in my year of service, all of the students that graduated high school, the youth who had improved their English reading and speaking, and the parents who had gained the confidence to meet their children’s teachers for the first time. I also thought to the future, the challenges I would face working with newly arrived families struggling to understand a new education system, the triumphs of High School Proficiency Exams passed, and finally to families smiling at their children’s graduation from high school. As Annie finished tying the simple red string around my wrist I felt newly fortified to complete my second year of service supporting this community and my country.
The string Annie tied recently fell off. I shed the tattered red thread like a snake does its skin. At first I was devastated, I thought all of the magic Annie had spun with her Karen prayer would disappear but then I realized “No matter what the future may bring I know these amazing young women and women have changed my life and that will never leave me.”