- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) - Me Meh wants to help people in the Bowling Green area who speak Karenni, one of the three languages in which she is fluent.

“I feel like they need me,” the Burma native said.

Meh also can speak Burmese and English and interprets Burmese for local people.

Meh is an interpreter for the Gateway to Educational Opportunities Center in the Warren County Public Schools and has been helpful in working with refugee families from southeast Asia, said Joyce Johnson, staff support specialist for the GEO Center.

Karenni covers nine groups of people who speak different languages and dialects in Kayah State and Myanmar, or Burma, according to karennirefugees.com. The Kentucky Office for Refugees in Louisville lists Burma as one of the top five countries of origin for refugees settling in the state. Others are Cuba, Somalia, Iraq and Bhutan.

“She wants to support her family so her dad doesn’t have to work,” Johnson said.

The 21-year-old Warren County woman came to the United States from Thailand. She was born in Burma in 1992 and is the daughter of Plee Meh and Sen Reh. Meh enrolled as a freshman at Bowling Green High School, then attended Warren Central High School, where she was able to graduate in 2013 because of a change by the county board of education to the compulsory age policy in the spring of last year.

The compulsory age policy sets at what age students must leave school regardless of whether they graduate. The county school district last year adjusted its policy to allow Meh to graduate from Warren Central at age 21.

There are discussions in Frankfort to raise the overall compulsory school attendance age to 23 years old. Immigrants may enter high school at age 18, 19 or beyond.

Meh turned 21 just a few months before graduation and is pursuing an associate’s degree in nursing at Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College.

Working as an interpreter, she travels to schools, hospitals and doctors’ offices.

“I like to help people. It is difficult for people who cannot speak English,” Meh said.

An interpretation session can last from a couple of hours to four or five hours. “A lot of questions have to be asked” of the people she works with, Meh said.

Meh recently attended Refugee Advocacy Day at the Kentucky General Assembly. She met with state Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, state Reps. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, and Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. The legislature has considered a bill that would increase the compulsory age for public education to 23.

Skip Cleavinger, director of English as a Second Language programs in Warren County Public Schools, said 323 immigrants enrolled in the WCPS this school year, with 29 students this past week. Cleavinger said there are more than 1,400 ESL students in the county school district.

“Education is important to me,” Meh said. “I am grateful to the schools for extending the compulsory age.”

She supports the idea of increasing the compulsory age. “A lot of people go to school too late. There is not a lot of opportunity for them” to get employment, she said.

If Meh had not been able to graduate from Warren Central, she would have had to pursue a graduate equivalency degree in adult basic education, Johnson said.

Meh has twin brothers, Bea Reh and Pray Reh, who attend the fourth grade at Lost River Elementary School, and a 13-year-old sister, Pleh Reh, who attends the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville.

She likes to play volleyball and participates in Karenni National Day activities each June. She said it is important to remember her culture.

“It’s important for the new generation not to forget their culture,” she said.

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