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Ta Lah Aeet

What do you eat when the money runs out? For Ta Lah Aeet, Mu Tah and their family it’s rice and fermented fish paste for their family of 5. They know how to make simple meals that will get them through for now.

Mu Tah and her husband, Ta Lah Aeet, grew up in Burma. Ta Lah Aeet wasn’t able to go to school so he went to work on a farm. In Burma there’s no free education, so lower income families cannot afford primary school.

During this time there were three fighting factions in Burma. Ta Lah Aeet would have to go out looking for food for his family in the midst of a civil war. “You never knew when the shooting would start,” he recalls. It was during one of these searches he hit a land-mine with his hand when cutting down some bamboo. The mine went off and he lost his arm.

Their family escaped to Thailand as refugees, only to leave a war-torn land for the confines of a refugee camp. They survived on a little bit of rice, oil and beans. They had a child in the camp – but couldn’t even get a birth certificate. The Thai government came to the refugees and asked who wants to go to America. Mu Tah and her husband jumped at the chance to give their children a brighter future.

They were happy to arrive here in Milwaukee, but they faced new challenges. Refugee families only receive 8 months of FoodShare before they are expected to provide food on their own. However, it’s not easy learning a new culture and language while searching for a job. Ta Lah Aeet is competing for jobs against other refugees, only they have the advantage of having two arms. His disability puts him at the bottom of the pile when new jobs come up.

“It’s really tough seeing refugees that are newer to America get jobs before I do, even though I’m doing all I can. I want to be able to provide for my family.” Ta Lah Aeet

Winter is tough for them. Without a car they have long walks to the bus stop, which makes the normal weekly errands cold and arduous. For now they get disability insurance, but it’s not enough. Money runs out every month. They live simply. The parents sleep in the living room, on the floor, while the children get the bedroom. They’ve learned how to make simple meals and drink lots of water to keep their bellies full. Ta Lah Aeet takes his citizenship test soon. If he doesn’t pass, the disability insurance money will stop, and there will be nothing left to keep them going.

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