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Niang Muang, 21

Really, Really Hard

To Sabbath School teachers: This story is for Sabbath, September 25.

By Andrew McChesney


he first day of school was hard for Niang. Really, really hard.

The 9-year-old girl had arrived in the United States only a month earlier from her homeland of Myanmar. Her parents were refugees. She didn’t know English, and she didn’t have any friends. Making matters worse, the school year had begun long ago, and her first day of school was in November.

“Hello, what’s your name?” a girl asked her.

Niang shook her head.

“No,” she said.

“Oh,” said the girl, confused. “Where are you from?”

Niang shook her head again.

“No,” she said.

Later a boy came up to her.

“Hi, what’s your name?” he asked.

“No,” Niang said, shaking her head.

The boy didn’t understand.

“Where are you from?” he said.

“No,” Niang said, shaking her head again.

Niang was not trying to be rude. She just didn’t understand what the children were asking.

Because she didn’t know English, she sat quietly all morning in class. At lunchtime, she followed the other children to the cafeteria. The 25 fourth graders always sat together at their assigned tables. Teacher watched to make sure they behaved.

Niang looked at the food being served in the cafeteria: nacho cheese and shredded beef; mini-pizzas; chicken nuggets. The food was very strange to her. She was used to eating mustard leaves, potatoes leaves, watercress, brown beans, and orange lentils.

After tasting the strange food, she returned to the classroom and sat quietly until school ended for the day.

At home, she prayed to God for help. “Dear God, please help me survive another day of school,” she said. “Help me not to get in trouble with the teacher. Keep me safe as I walk to school. Amen.”

Many things at school confused Niang. She didn’t know where anything was, and she couldn’t ask for directions because she couldn’t speak English. When Teacher gave her a multiple-choice test, she didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t understand the questions, and she didn’t know how to fill out the answers. She randomly circled answers.

Sometimes Teacher got angry. Several children would start talking at the same time, and the noise grew loud in the classroom. Teacher didn’t like that.

“Be quiet everybody!” she would snap.

The children would quiet down for a moment but then forgot. The talking would grow loud again.

“Shut up!” Teacher would shout.

Again the room was quiet for a while, but then the talking would start. Teacher could not take it anymore.

“Everyone is on silent lunch except Niang!” she would yell.

The classroom would get really quiet. The punishment meant that no one could talk during lunch in the cafeteria except Niang. Niang realized that Teacher was being nice to her because she never spoke in class. She decided that it would be better to keep quiet all the time than to be yelled at by Teacher.

At home, she anxiously prayed every day, “Dear God, please help me survive another day of school. Help me not to get in trouble with the teacher, and keep me safe as I walk to school.”

Fourth grade was tough for Niang. But fifth grade was better. She knew her way around the school, so she didn’t have to ask for directions. She began to speak English and to make friends.

“What’s your name?” a girl asked.

“My name is Niang,” Niang replied with a shy smile.

She understood the question!

“Oh, where are you from?” the girl said.
“I am from Burma, which is also called Myanmar,” Niang said.

The girl nodded her head. She had heard of the country. Several other refugee children from Myanmar also studied at their school.

“Oh, OK,” she said. “Do you want to play?”

Niang felt happy. She was beginning to fit in. She felt even happier in seventh grade. She was able to transfer from the public school to a Seventh-day Adventist school thanks to money from a Thirteenth Sabbath Offering to help refugees in the United States and Canada. She was glad to study with kind teachers who never yelled.

She thanked God in her daily prayers. “Dear God, thank You so much for helping me learn this new language and for taking care of me and for helping us overcome struggles little by little,” she prayed.

Part of the Thirteenth Sabbath Offering this quarter will help more children refugees like Niang study at Adventist schools. Thank you for planning a generous offering.