Meet Shi Paw
Shi Paw is a Karen wife and mother who lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Shi Paw learned to weave at age twelve in her village of Ku Day, Burma. Her mother and older sister taught her. The same year that she learned to weave, she and her family were forced by the Burmese army to flee their village to another village in Burma. Her loom was left behind, but another loom was built in the new village. The Burmese Army burned this village and she was forced to flee again, leaving her loom behind. In 1997, at age 30, she fled Burma permanently, leaving her loom and walking through the jungle for ten days. She arrived at Mae La Oo Refugee Camp in Thailand and remained there until 2011.
At Mae La Oo Camp, Shi Paw obtained another loom and supported her family by weaving and selling her textiles. Shi Paw had seven children and she was able to pay for her children’s education by selling her textiles when she lived in Refugee camp.
In 2011, Shi Paw and her husband and four children were granted refugee status and were relocated to St. Paul. She left her loom frame behind but brought the shuttles and spindles with her. Shi Paw worked with Sue Johnston, KOM, Roseville Adult Learning Center, and other Karen refugees in Minnesota to begin offering weaving classes as a pilot project. The group has grown rapidly with many Karen women eager to learn from her. Shi Paw has successfully sold many of her textiles to Karen and non-Karen customers in Minnesota and had some of her weavings featured in an art installation in Saint Paul City Council member Amy Brendmoen’s office in 2014.
Shi Paw states: “Weaving is our heritage. Back home there were no opportunities. Now that we are in the U.S. we have opportunities to start our own business. We must keep the knowledge of weaving with us and teach it to the younger generation so that we do not lose our heritage.”