A Christmas Miracle (or ‘Ready The Kleenex, Again’)

Would you promise not to hate me if I told you that I have The Best Job in The Land? Maybe The Best Job Ever? True, I earn approximately $2, work in a dicey neighborhood and occasionally open my desk drawer to find cockroaches. But you guys? The currency I get paid in is ‘Faith in Humanity.’


And that plus a dollar will buy you a bag of chips, but its exchange rate is even better than the pound.I teach ESL (English as a Second Language) to Southeast Asian refugees, most of whom are KaRen. The KaRen are the largest ethnic minority in Burma (Myanmar) who have unsuccessfully tried to lead insurgencies against Burma’s junta. You may remember the junta as those charmers who wouldn’t let the U.N. in to provide aide after the cyclone in 2008? The junta have been engaged in systematic genocide for the last 25 years, forcing the KaRen to flea to Thai refugee camps along the border.

The refugee camps are no-man’s-land shantytowns, now in their second decade of existence despite being designed to last six months. The KaRen who inhabit them aren’t considered citizens of any country – neither Burma nor Thailand will claim them.
So my students were understandably happy to put this life behind them and start over in St. Paul, Minnesota – even if it meant navigating five connecting flights while 7 months pregnant, with a toddler in tow, as one of my students did. The non-profit I work for found her an apartment, a pre-school and placed her in my class where we immediately bonded over a shared love of Pictionary and Want Want rice crackers.

Sometime this summer, my student announced (with a laugh and a shout) that she was sad and that she wanted to die. Her husband, it seems, was stuck in Thailand. Because people that aren’t citizens of any country? Their marriage liscences aren’t recognized by the American government. So while my student lived the life of a single mother in America, her husband was living out his life in a thatched hut, wondering about the daughter he’d never met.
So we introduced my student to an immigration lawyer and set to work building a case that this very amaturish-looking marriage certificate (which appeared to be from a MicroSoft Word certificate template) was, in fact, legit. Photos and letters were scanned, awkward questions answered and a few tears were shed.

She sent it off with a whisper and a prayer (literally) and proceeded to hear nothing. Followed by some more nothing. And then a phone call from the lawyer saying that they hadn’t heard anything.

But today, at 8 a.m. she burst into my office to joyfully shove in my face one very official document. There were exactly three sentences typed on it, the last one stating that her marriage certificate had been deemed legal and binding, and that her husband could begin the process of applying for an American visa.

I had to busy myself with my desk drawer so she couldn’t see me stifling the weepiness when she crowed “Maybe Christmas next year, my whole family will be together!”

P.S. If you’re looking for a charity to donate to this holiday season, may I be so bold as to suggest the non-profit I work for? We do some pretty cool stuff.

Welcome to Yes & Yes!

Want to spend your time, money, and energy on purpose? I'll show you how.

You might also like…

3 Pieces Of Mentor Wisdom + Their Unlikely Sources

3 Pieces Of Mentor Wisdom + Their Unlikely Sources

This post is brought to you by career-improving wisdom, accidental mentors the world over, the letter F, and the Forté Foundation. What do you picture when you picture a mentor? For a long time, I pictured someone a couple of decades into their career, beckoning me to...

read more
4 Career Change Tips I Wish Someone Had Told Me

4 Career Change Tips I Wish Someone Had Told Me

This post is brought to you by a job you actually like, a decent paycheck, the letter F, and The Forté Foundation.  I knew it was time to change careers when I found a cockroach floating in my coffee cup. At the time, I was working as an ESL teacher at a non-profit. I...

read more


  1. Kate

    That is so awesome. I hope she gets her Christmas wish, no one deserves to be separated from their loved ones and the story of the KaRen people is devastating. I'm going to do a bit more research on this as I really don't know a lot, but thanks for sharing such a wonderful story. Your job kicks arse.

  2. Leia

    Sarah, I am pretty much bawling after reading that. I am so, so happy for your student and her family. Bangladesh, where I'm from, shares a border with Burma and we have lots of refugees who come in as well, who are called the Rohingas. They aren't recognised by any government either, and the Bangladeshi government's official stance is, "We can't even feed our own people, why should we feed yours?"

    It's pretty awful, but we do have lots of wonderful people (like you!) who work for nonprofits and help them out.

    Thank you for making the world a better place! And I hope to join you once I'm done with my studies, too! 🙂

  3. Erin

    Oh my god… I need a tissue.
    That's absolutely incredible Sarah.

  4. Darcie

    mission accomplished. again. because now you've made me cry at my desk twice.

  5. Ms Constantine

    :'] O Sarah. You are amazing, thanks so much for sharing this story with its beautiful ending. It bought happy tears to my eyes.

  6. Jessika

    Oh that's just so marvellous! And yeah there did go some kleenex!!
    I hope the visa process goes very fast and smoothly for the husband!

  7. Erin

    Rewarding work = The Best.

  8. Lizzie K

    thanks for sharing this Sarah, a great story 🙂

  9. Nora

    This is so touching. Keep up the great work.

  10. MP

    Beautiful. And exactly the kind of story you want to hear about this time of year. I truly, truly hope that the rest of their story has the same kind of happy ending.

  11. Anonymous

    you, my friend, are an inspiration.
    might i suggest you write a (sure-to-be-multi-post) blog entry (heck, maybe a book!) of how you got from point a (which i'd define as 6 months post-undergrad… i.e. where i'm at right now ha ha) to point b (generally rocking at life)?! i think it'd be a great manual for the rest of us(/me). HA!
    in summation: LOVE YOUR BLOG! and i'm looking for a kleenex.

  12. Z

    Wow. Thank you for the story, Sarah!

  13. M

    Such an awesome story… Thanks so much for sharing, trtuly inspirational! xo

  14. Hammy

    That must be such a rewarding job!
    I hope things work out for your student, she sounds like a very brave lady indeed.

  15. Scribbles

    Amazing story Sarah – it's amazing how much students can open up to you when you are in a position of teacher. I think it is fantastic that she was so happy – hopefully you get to meet hubby some day too!

  16. love, S

    *sobs and pulls out 1/2 a dozen tissues out of her tissue box*… God bless them 🙂

  17. Michelle

    Wow, incredible story! It must be so rewarding to do what you do day in and day out!

    On another happy note, I was absolutely overjoyed to receive my calendar today! Thanks so much! It is stunning… Looking forward to 2010 so I can display it proudly!!

  18. eleanor

    Amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    I just started working with refugee foster youth. Faith in humanity is really the best kind of compensation.

  19. Chelsea

    This post made me happy.

    I'm going to school for counseling and people always tell me I'm never going to make money or be happy.

    Stories like this are what make me know that it will be worth it!!!

  20. Luinae

    This story makes me feel like piece by piece, bit by bit, we can piece this world back together again.

    And that makes me happy.

  21. Miss Peregrin

    This is the best Christmas story I've heard this year! When I'm no longer a struggling student, I'm keeping your organisation in mind for donations. I can't wait until I can afford to help. 🙂

  22. Jacque

    Thank you so much for sharing this story with us! It is so sweet and inspiring to hear about your student's struggle!! It sounds like you really do have the best job ever!! What an opportunity to touch the lives of others!!

  23. Reyna

    I maybe got both teary eyed and determined to be more involved. Thank you.

  24. Farmer Jo

    Wonderful story! I also teach ESL (but with children) and I have to say it is the most fulfilling job in the world. Thank you for the beautiful story!

  25. DaniellaBella

    I work with newcomers to Canada to help them get the skills they need to find employment. I work with a lot of Karen people and there is just something about them. They have had lives that are so difficult and yet they remain (for the most part) so hopeful. Their community oriented gentleness inspires me and it just makes my day when their smiles light up their faces and brighten the room! People are good. Things will work out…
    Beautiful story.

Pin It on Pinterest