St. Johnsbury Academy Refugee

JOHNST. JOHNSBURY- Bouakateh John Sayarath is a teacher and coach at St. Johnsbury Academy but what people might not know is that he is a refugee.

Sayarath grew up in Laos, which at the time was going through a civil war. During the war, he was separated from his family while fleeing his village.

"My father died when I was four years old, so I was separated from my family, and I ended up in an orphanage in Vientiane, the capital of Laos," Sayarath said.

Even through a childhood of struggles, Sayarath found a way to stay positive and look ahead in his life. "I became a very very good student because I realized it's a good opportunity for people of my background to make something of my life."

In 1974 he was kicked from the orphanage because of communist forces taking over the country. Left with with no place to go, Sayarath fled the country to a refugee camp in Thailand. His experiences in the refugee camp were rough-- being alone and working from sunrise to sunset.

"I didn't have any money, I didn't know anybody, so it was very, very tough," Sayarath said. "I felt like I had no hope, and I got scared because I thought that was the end of my life."

With help from an American couple from New York and a doctor, Sayarath was able to make his way to the United States in 1976. Once he got into the country, he felt safe and at home. "When I first arrived in [America] I was so happy. I remember being very happy that I finally made it here."

With the change of Presidents and Executive Orders, the process for a refugee trying to get into America has become complex. Not only is the actual process of arrving in this country going to be difficult for refugees, but they also have to worry about being welcomed by society. Vermont House Representative, Scott Beck feels that refugees need to be welcomed into this country after enduring a long, difficult journey.

"Community members in my opinion, should welcome refugees who have made it through a very long and exhaustive process before they are allowed to emigrate to the United States," Beck said. 

With the current rise in debates over whether or not the United States should welcome refugees within its borders, international students are hesitant to come back to the country to further their education. Dr. Sayarath explained the downside to international students no longer studing in the United States.

"It would not be good, the school they would lose a certain income from it, especially for the students who can pay for their educations," Sayarath said. "Also, we would lose the different culture in our communities. We have many different cultures here, which I believe is a good thing and we would lose that richness."

Dr. Sayarath enjoys teaching youngsters in not only science and tennis, but in certain aspects of life as well. Sayarath explained how he cares for all of the young students in the Northeast Kingdom. Representative Beck says that Dr. Sayarath definitely has an impact on his students.

"He's making them more aware that people follow very different paths in life, and not all of them are easy," Beck said. "I hope that John's experiences lead to our youth being more open and welcoming to refugees."


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