Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Survivor

Ree Reh the Survivor

Ree Reh's story starts way back way back in Burma . I however can't do it justice. It is a story that he will have to tell someday. But violence is not foreign to Ree Reh remembers growing up in fear, and ultimately running away from the Burmese army. At a young age his mother was taken away from him, killed by the Burmese Army. His father would later remarry and they would make a new life in a refugee camp in Thailand and then latter on come to America in hope of the American dream. Though he has had challenges through all this one of his hardest memories might be the day he woke up, after being badly beaten by a group of Burmese teens, realizing that he could no longer hear.

 Ree Reh entered my life a few years ago I meet him at church. I saw him said hello and asked his name. Quickly a lady turned to me and said "He can't hear you he is deaf and dumb". I turned and looked back at Ree Reh he then pointed to his ear and shook his head. I know no harm was meant in what she said and I know that is the correct term however I couldn't help but think "He may be deaf but he is no dummy". I just smiled at Ree Reh and he smiled back. That was a start of what would become a long and beautiful friendship.

 I had worked with Refugees for some time by then and knew that English was a huge communication barrier for them. I then started to think about him. His communication barrier isn't just with his community it is with his family. Many in the Karen/ Karinni community who have a deaf family member claim they speak Burmese sign. However in reality their sign is minimal at best and mostly deaf individuals learn to use motions that are universal in order to speak. This is good however there are so many thoughts and ideas that simply require language to express. ( the link below tells more about deaf in Burma it is also good to note that Ree Reh is not from a part of Burma where education would be available to a deaf individual)

Despite the major communication barrier, I am amazed at the ability of those in the deaf community to get their message across and communicate. Ree Reh has built friendships despite the barrier of communication. And for sure he doesn't let his disability get in the way with the things that he loves, mainly sports and girls. He participates in every sport that is available to him and does so really quite well. He is a phenomenal athlete and isn't shy to come up and introduce himself to new girls using his cell phone for communication when necessary.

This is a story taken from Ree Reh's own words. It should be noted that my sign language isn't the best so there might be some errors in the interpretations.  Also when reading one should remember this took place in one of the coldest nights in January with temperatures around 1 degree F. Lastly I'm still not sure how to do this translation in proper English or weather to do it more like Ree Reh might say it in English being that he is just learning it; so I did a combination of both.
 Gee: So tell me what happened?
Ree Reh: I was walking home from basket ball around 11 o'clock, I was almost home when 2 big guys approached me. They started yelling at me and I thought they wanted to use my cell phone. So I handed it to them. They took it and made a phone call and when they finished I put my hand out to take the phone back but they started yelling at me and getting closer then they started pushing me until I fell then they started punching and kicking me. They were big guys and there was two of them I could do nothing. When I tried to get up I saw the one put on brass knuckles I tried to block the blows but he ended up punching me in the face. They just keep punching me and kicking me for a while I don't even know how long.
Gee: Where you conscious the whole time? Did you pass out?
Ree Reh: I don't remember maybe I passed out. After they pulled me bye my legs and dragged me over to the river. ( He lifts his shirt exposing large scars that run down his back) Then they throw me in the water.
Gee: Do you remember how they threw you in?
Ree Reh: Yeah one grabbed my arms and one grabbed my legs the swung me and then threw me in. The water cold, hard to swim I swim away from the men. I pull myself out of the water and out on the snow. I walked back and still see them men standing close by the entrance to the apartment so I go home a different way. I must jump fences. I arrive at home wet cold, tired. When my mom see me she cry and cry. We run to the hospital I slept for 2 days they feed me with a tube because I sleep.
Gee: Why did they do it?
Ree Reh: I don't know. They yell at me but I don't know what they say.

The event happened on Friday and I found out about it on Saturday. His brother told me that Ree Reh was beat up and that he was at the hospital. I was unable to make it down on Saturday to see him however Sunday, during church, I escaped to go visit my friend. He had just been let out to go home. I knocked on the door and when up to his bed room. He was asleep and I didn't want to wake him. However his brother came in and turned to me and said "no he will want to see you" so he nudged him and Ree Reh got up. When he turned to me I saw his head all swollen and how he was barely recognizable I was shocked I felt tears swelling up in my eyes but I suppressed them. I then said "Hey Ree Reh, hows it go'n?" Which given the circumstances was a dumb thing to ask but given he is deaf and can't hear me even dumber. After the initial shock we just talked a little bit and I decided that him coming home from the hospital was worthy of celebration so we went out for ice cream.

Later,  I got to think about how it would be to have grown up in fear then to be put in a "safe place" only to once again be encountered with that you ran from. I thought in horror of what it would be like to wait up for your son and then to see him come back bloody, wet and beaten. This lead me to think of what would motivate a person to beat ruthlessly a child who is deaf. Was it racism? Was it the fact that he was deaf? Or was it just because he was walking bye and the guys wanted to beat someone? But more my question is what will become of it? Will justice be served or will this just be looked over because here a helpless deaf refugee kid is the victim and he doesn’t have enough “voice” for the police to do anything about it?  

 I also realized that this happened in the middle of the street around 11-12 pm was there really no one who saw? I know the streets not to be heavily trafficked but really no one? As I thought about the song " The A Team" by Ed Sheeran. And I realized that as the song says that maybe it was just "too cold outside for angels to fly".

So often in school I have studied about social issues that occur throughout the world. There seems  to be so much injustice in  Uganda, Burma, Mexico and the list goes on. But if I do nothing to stop the injustices down the street from me can I even say that I care about the problems happening across the world.

Ree Reh soon after the accident gave a report to the police, however has heard nothing of it sense, the family is concerned that nothing was done but more they are concerned for a second attack or retaliation for going to the police. Ree Reh on the other hand recovered remarkably fast. At first we were concerned because as his eye healed  he couldn't see from it. However with time he has regained his vision.

During the week after I was busy with school and pushed the event to the back of my mind. Friday though I went and saw "Ocean Heaven" A movie about a father, who being diagnosed with a terminal illness, must prepare his autistic son to live on his own. The movie was touching and I cried during several parts. At one part the father drops off his son at an institution that will care for the son, once the son is alone he suddenly realizes the absence of his son and how much he means to him. At this point I realized that I almost lost Ree Reh. It seems we all to often we take advantage of those who are close to us by thinking that they will always be there. It isn't until that is threatened do we realize how much they mean to us.
As I left the theater I was determined to do something I want Ree Reh to be independent I want him to have the tools so that he can follow his dreams.

Ree Reh's journey has just began, the rest of it he will have to tell.


  1. What a story. My goodness, poor Ree Reh! It makes me so sad to think this happened almost literally in my own back yard. I can hardly imagine people being so cruel. Thanks for sharing this story. It's an eye opener for me. Makes me think that I need to be doing more around here.

    Thanks, Andrew

    I love the title of your blog, too.

  2. Andrew, thank you so much for sharing Ree Reh's story! It's one that most definitely needs to be shared! Sending prayers and best wishes his way from South Dakota!

  3. Amazing story loved it, well written