Thai refugee camp to homeownership

Tyler Clarke
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Former Myanmar refugees of the country’s Karen minority, Haenay and Roseline Htoo and their four children, Eh Ray Sa, Hset Eh Pla, Shellda and Justify, are the latest Habitat for Humanity Prince Albert family -- a placement recognized at a press function t City Hall on Friday. 

From a Thai refugee camp to Prince Albert homeowners, the Htoo family has come a long way in seven years.


On Friday, the community celebrated the family’s achievements, during which it was revealed that the family of six will move into the organization’s latest house, at 1870 13th St. W., later this year.

“I can honestly say, they are tremendous workers,” Habitat for Humanity Prince Albert president Morris Sawchuk said. “When they got selected, they committed to the program -- they have all committed their hours.”

Not only have they committed the 500 volunteer hours required of them, they’ve gone above and beyond and have clocked in at least another 50, with more to come as their house takes shape.

“I know that they will be at the house, they will help -- that’s just the way they are,” Sawchuk said. “They are tremendous.”

Wesley United Church brought the family to Prince Albert about seven years ago, saving them from more time at a Thai refugee camp where family patriarch Haenay Htoo worked as a riverboat hand.

Haenay came to the camp in 1991, while family matriarch Roseline and their four children, Eh Ray Sa, Hset Eh Pla, Shellda and Justify had been there their entire lives.

The family is of the persecuted Karen people, an ethnic minority in Myanmar (previously called Burma) who were expelled when British rule ended more than 50 years ago.

Prince Albert YWCA English and a second language instructor Barbara Cathcart helped teach the family basic English skills -- hard work she said has paid off for the family.

Hard work and dedication highlight various facets of the family’s lives, with Haenay’s employer calling him “a very dedicated employee -- very conscientious of his work.”

“They are a very wonderful addition to the community,” Greenland Waste Disposal Ltd. manager Diane Herzog concluded, noting that Haenay has been a welcome addition to their staff, as a truck driver.

I know that they will be at the house, they will help -- that’s just the way they are ... They are tremendous. Morris Sawchuk

Ground will break on the refugee family’s home in May, Sawchuk said, noting that of the three families chosen to receive Habitat for Humanity homes this year, all three are Karen refugees.

“The co-operation we’ve received from them has been excellent,” Sawchuk said. “They’ve just been chomping on the bit to reach their hours.”

The Htoo family’s home at 1870 13th St. W. is a first for the local Habitat for Humanity organization, Sawchuk said, noting that the build will be done primarily by female volunteers.

Organized primarily by Deloitte partners Valerie Watson and Barb Hogeweide, more volunteers are needed to make the female-run effort a success.

“I think it gives women an opportunity to demonstrate what we can do together, in sort of a less traditional role,” Hogeweide said.

“It allows women to get together and build a house, which gives back to the community which is really important,” Watson added.

Also aiding Habitat for Humanity Prince Albert’s latest build is the provincial government, who are providing $50,000 toward the project through the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation.

Habitat for Humanity provides families with interest-free mortgage payments, which are set at affordable rates.

More information about volunteering with the organization can be found on Habitat for Humanity’s official website, online at 

Organizations: Habitat for Humanity, Wesley United Church, Prince Albert Greenland Waste Disposal Saskatchewan Housing

Geographic location: Myanmar

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