By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published May 16, 2019
ATLANTA—Bae Na Dae Ta, a sophomore at Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, is the winner of the national 2019 “Lessons from Anne” essay competition.
The Anne Frank essay contest is a collaboration between Jesuit Refugee Services/USA and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Jesuit Schools Network, Educate Magis and America Media.
This year’s contest honors the 11 lives lost and six injured in the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to its website, Jesuit Refugee Services/USA works to “build a more inclusive world which welcomes those of different religious, racial, social and political backgrounds.”
The competition is open to high school students enrolled in Jesuit Schools Network and Educate Magis schools. There were two awards presented—one for the essay and another for video. JRS/USA hopes this competition will “raise awareness and conversation around the need to build inclusive communities and how Jesuit-educated students can lead the effort.”
Many have shared kind words about Dae Ta’s essay, including her friends from St. Peter Claver School, Decatur, where she graduated.
“It makes me happy that other people can hear my story and be touched by it,” she said.
In her essay, Dae Ta talks about growing up in refugee camps on the border of Myanmar and Thailand before moving to the United States at a young age. When she arrived in America, she did not speak any English. However, with the help of an African American student in second grade, she began to learn the language and felt part of the community.
She writes, “I became comfortable in the group of friends I had, even though we all came from different cultural backgrounds.”
As her essay continues, Dae Ta encourages readers to work together and not let stereotypes divide us. She writes, “We can learn so much about the world and the people around us if we just go out of our way to get to know each other.”
In addition to opportunities, Cristo Rey has provided Dae Ta with a community of her peers, she explained.
“There are many of us who are immigrants” at Cristo Rey, she said. “I feel that I am not alone because there are other students who share similar stories as me.”
Tammie Pogue, Dae Ta’s English teacher, describes her as an excellent student.
“Bae Na is a shining example of the initiative that we encourage in our students,” said Pogue. “Her essay is a reminder of the resilience of so many of our students.”
Dr. Diane Bush, principal of Cristo Rey, describes her as hard working, kind and caring.
“She is one of the most conscientious and diligent students we have,” said Bush.
Dae Ta is involved in many extracurricular activities at Cristo Rey, including volleyball, Beta Club and campus ministry. Recently, she was inducted into the National Honor Society. She is a member of Corpus Christi Church, Stone Mountain.
Dae Ta hopes her essay inspires people to help refugees, especially during World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20.
“I hope people remember that there are many refugees that are out there and to help them in any way they can,” she said.
The winning essay by Bae Na Dae Ta:
I grew up in refugee camps along the border between Myanmar and Thailand before my family and I moved to America in 2009. Growing up in a small village, I was used to hanging out with people of the same ethnic background as mine. My friends and I spoke the same language, ate the same cultural food, and shared the same perspective on life in general. I was never taught English before I came to America, so the language barrier kept me from making friends when I started school here. I felt isolated and lonely.
My whole life changed when an African American student from my class talked to me. She introduced me to her friends and helped me understand certain subjects and words. I started learning to read and write in English little by little through that friend and books. I became comfortable in the group of friends I had, even though we all shared different cultural backgrounds.
Even though I am different from the rest of my classmates, I felt a sense of belonging when they took the time to help me feel welcomed. Because of them, this new strange place which I was not familiar with became a new home. The small acts of kindness I received from them changed my whole outlook.
Millions of refugees struggle to make their new place a home because they feel like they don’t belong. This feeling of isolation comes from not having the ability to communicate in the new language. If we just take the time to notice those who are left unheard, we can change someone’s whole life.
It’s the smallest things like talking to someone you wouldn’t normally talk to that prevent us from forming barriers against each other. We often base our assumptions on stereotypes. This kind of mindset holds us back from really getting to know one another. It drives us further from each other rather than bringing us together. We need each other. As 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 has put it, “There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit, and so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, Slaves or free people. We were given the same Spirit to drink. So the body is not made of just one part. It has many parts.”
We would get so much more done if we all just learn to work together. We were all created with the same dignity. This idea that one is better than another builds hatred in us towards one another. It drives us apart until we decide we want nothing to do with them. The purpose of being different is to share what we have with those who might not have what we have. We can learn so much about the world and the people around us if we just go out of our way to get to know each other. If every one of us were all the same, what good would come out of it? Our differences should bring us together to work for the greater good, not divide us.
As we learn to live together and care for one another, we are called to walk side by side with the oppressed, the abandoned and those who are shunned by everyone else. This means standing up for someone who is being bullied because he/ she doesn’t fit in with the others. It means eating with the girl who sits alone during lunch while everyone else ignores her. When we shut others out because they are different from us, we are rejecting God’s call to love those around us. Without realizing, we are rejecting Imago Dei because each one of us were created in God’s image and likeness. We must learn to live together because,” For whomever does not love their brothers and sisters, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” 1 John 4:20.
My personal favorite quote by Anne Frank is “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before beginning to improve the world.” This quote stuck out to me because it reminds me of how young people today, including myself, respond to hatred and unfair treatments when we see one. We are held back from standing up for what we know is right because we fear that we might become the target. We all have the ability to love because we were created to love and be loved. Fear should not keep us from fulfilling our very purpose to love one another. We should not continue to let hatred rule when we have love within all of us. Changes start with us today.