Miriam speaks 5 languages. At only 16 years-old, she supports her mother who is not fluent in English, and takes the bus or walks to get around, as the family does not own a car. Miriam is Burmese, but she doesn’t remember much from Burma. Her family was forced to flee the country to India when Miriam was very young; as Christians, they -along with other religious minorities- were subject to persecution by Buddhist nationalists. Eventually, Miriam, her mother and her two sisters were able to immigrate to the US in 2013 as refugees.
From Burma to San Diego:
The first few months were difficult. Miriam could already read and write in English, but maintaining a spoken conversation was challenging. So was making friends: “I was very introverted. I was always the kid in the back, never really socializing. I was overwhelmed by the language and the culture. I felt like an alien. I would tell myself: Why would anyone be friends with me? I was very homesick at first. The other kids at school didn’t have much patience for my broken English.”
Things changed when Miriam’s sister, who was attending Crawford high school, joined Outdoor Outreach’s Adventure Club. Miriam was able to participate in a kayaking trip.
“I had never done any water activity before. In one day, I kayaked, SUPed, and surfed, which was incredible. Beyond that, people were talking to me. People were nice. They were kind. They were listening. They cared. They made me feel like I was finally home. I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of the program. I went on every weekend trip I could, spent some overnights in Joshua Tree… and kept coming back, over and over.”
Joining the Leadership Program:
Miriam joined Outdoor Outreach’s Leadership Program this summer. “I am very excited about the opportunity to become an instructor in training. A lot of Outdoor Outreach’s program participants are immigrants. Some of them have not been in the country for more than 6 months. As an immigrant myself, it’s very easy for me to relate to them. I know first hand what Outdoor Outreach can do for them, and it’s wonderful to be able to share that. I love showing our participants the power of the Outdoors; that in the Outdoors, we are all welcome, and can all have fun together.”
Miriam’s 8-week intensive training will end soon. Reflecting on the past few weeks, Miriam says she’s seen herself grow in ways she didn’t think were possible. “Learning all these outdoor skills has been amazing. I love that we, the Leadership participants, all have different stories, different struggles, but all share this great passion for the Outdoors. It really does create a family. I’m very passionate about this idea that no matter where we come from, we all have that in common. It feels very connected. It’s a very safe space; I no longer feel afraid to make mistakes and challenge myself. If I stumble, I know there is an entire support system to catch me. And that gives me an incredible freedom. The freedom to do things at my own level, and to try new and scary things.”
“I come from a culture where it is not common to see women do the same things as men”:
Miriam will be going back to high school for her senior year in a few weeks, and will serve as an instructor-in-training throughout the year. This will also help support her family financially. Moving forward, Miriam says she wants to continue to help youth get outside, and make the Outdoors accessible for everyone. It’s also important for her to make other girls feel empowered; “I come from a culture where it is not common to see women do the same things as men. Women don’t really spend time outdoors. Through the Leadership Program, I’ve become much more independent. I’ve let go of so many fears and self-doubts. I no longer feel like I need to please or impress anyone. I’m just myself and that is OK. Every girl should feel that way. I used to think the Outdoors was for guys. But there is no such divide. All that matters is what I want to do. I now know that if I want to do it, I can do it. And I am so grateful to Outdoor Outreach for that.”
Miriam will be speaking at Outdoor Outreach’s Lead the Way event on September 8th, and will share more about her story and experience with Outdoor Outreach. Hosted by Leadership participants, the event will recognize leaders in San Diego and beyond who are helping to improve access to green space areas for urban and diverse youth. If you haven’t purchased your ticket already, click here to learn more.
Each year, Outdoor Outreach selects teens from the Adventure Club and Partner Programs to join an intensive 8-week training that provides them with the skills necessary to instruct and mentor the next generation of program participants. After they’ve completed this Leadership Program, the “Leads” become paid instructors in training. 4 Leads will be graduating from the program this year; by 2020, Outdoor Outreach’s goal is to allow 30 Leads to graduate from the program each year.