‘I know she’s watching us and smiling down at us’


courtesy of the Karen Organization of Minnesota • Paw Boh Htoo was the weaving coordinator at the Karen Organization of Minnesota and worked with the Karen Weaving Circle at the East Side Freedom Library. She was killed Nov. 7 while trying to help a neighbor during a domestic violence situation.

Marjorie Otto/Review • The Karen Weaving Circle celebrated Paw Boh Htoo’s life during a Nov. 29 ceremony at the East Side Freedom Library. The event, which had been planned months before Htoo’s death, wrapped up another year of weaving at the library. Visitors had the chance to purchase items made by the circle and watch weaving demonstrations.

Karen Weaving Circle grieves death of friend

 

Paw Boh Htoo left a legacy of a big heart in the few months she worked with the Karen Weaving Circle, before she died in early November. 

Htoo was killed Nov.7, stabbed to death while trying to help a woman during a domestic violence situation. 

The man who allegedly admitted to killing her, 61-year-old Htoo Day, was charged Nov. 9 with one count of second-degree intentional murder and faces up to 40 years in prison. His next appearance in court is Feb. 1.

Htoo was 29 years old when she died and left behind two children and her husband.

The Karen Weaving Circle and staff from the Karen Organization of Minnesota celebrated her life and her passion for traditional Karen weaving during an event at the East Side Freedom Library on Nov. 29.

Though the event had been planned months before Htoo’s death as a way to celebrate another year of weaving, the Karen Organization of Minnesota was unsure whether it should be held. However, the weavers who Htoo inspired felt it was important to honor her passion by holding the event. 

 

Known for her smiles

Everyone who worked with Htoo said they miss her smile and that she would always help anyone who needed it.

Rosie Say, one of the founding members of the Karen Weaving Circle, described Htoo, through the help of a translator, as positive, energetic and someone who “[gave] people hope.”

Not only was Htoo the weaving circle project coordinator, she was also going to school to get an associates degree in legal interpreting and translating. She worked multiple jobs to help support her family in Minnesota, as well as family back in Burma and Thailand. She also volunteered and was involved in church and community. 

“I admire her for what she had done,” said Hta Thi Yu Moo, the Karen Organization’s youth coordinator. “We miss her and miss working with her.”

Passing on the tradition of Karen weaving to her children was important to Htoo, so whenever her kids were not in school, she would bring them to the Karen Weaving Circle. “She was a great mother to her children,” Say said. 

Htoo weaved and was partially finished with a shirt she planned to enter into next year’s Minnesota State Fair. Say said she is going to ask Htoo’s aunt to finish the project and they still plan to show it at the fair.

Htoo was also making plans to return to Thailand and Burma to document and research the tradition of Karen weaving. It is unknown at this time if someone else will continue that project. 

“She had such a strong passion for her culture,” said Alexis Walstad, co-executive director for the Karen Organization of Minnesota. 

“She was really excited and had new ideas for the [weaving] program,” Walstad said. “The women here really respected her a lot.”

 

A lifetime of energy

According to a biography written by the Karen Organization, Htoo was born in Burma on Dec. 9, 1987 and grew up in a small village there. She moved away to live with her great aunt until she was 16 years old. 

In 2004 she moved to a refugee camp in Thailand by herself to finish high school. She got married after high school and began learning the tradition of Karen weaving. 

During that time many Karen people, an ethnic group in Burma,  which is also known as Myanmar, were fleeing the country due to political persecution.

While in the refugee camp, Htoo worked with the Karen Women’s Organization and the Karen Youth Organization.

In 2011, Htoo moved to the United States and studied English at the Roseville Learning Center. After three years she began working as an on-call interpreter and as a doula for Everyday Miracles.

The biography says Htoo would often come to the Karen Organization of Minnesota when she needed help reading something. When Htoo was hired as the weaving coordinator in March of this year, she was glad to be able to give back to an organization that helped her so many times.  

 

Weaving continues

While the event was billed as a “closing celebration” of the Karen Weaving Circle, it was only closing out the year — the circle will start back up after the beginning of the new year. 

The event also highlighted the weaving projects created by youth who are being taught by their elders in the weaving circle. 

Over the past few years, the Karen Organization has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board for Karen elders to teach traditional weaving at Humboldt and Harding high schools in St. Paul, during the school year.

Walstad said the Karen Organization has just received another grant to continue the youth education program next year.

The basement at East Side Freedom Library was full during the Nov. 29 event, with people purchasing shirts, scarves and bags created by the women and learning about the life and passion of Htoo.

“I hope that her goodness, [humility] and full heart will be here with us,” Moo said. “I know she’s watching us and smiling down at us.”


 

– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

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