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Celebrating 10 Years with Exodus: Yaza Swe


Meet Yaza Swe. Yaza has recently been promoted to Manager of Employment Program, and he has been at Exodus for 10 years. As the Manager of Employment, Yaza works with employers around the city who are hiring, addresses barriers to employment, helps clients find jobs and supervises the employment team.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

My full name is Yaza Tint Swe. My old friends in Burma would recognize me by my full name. I am a father of three: Akari, Wizza and Shweyi. I had three brothers and one sister: but one passed away in India and one in the U.S. All of my immediate family live in Indianapolis, my sister’s in Burma. We have about 25 in the extended family in Indy, including two baby grandnieces, and we have no pets (yet).

In my free time, I enjoy watching Manchester United games then debate with other fans. I also enjoy IPA and small-brewery beers. I would walk in a park with my family, go on roadtrips, go to my kids’ activities and watch shows with my family. I volunteer at a Buddhist community and have served on the board of a couple of nonprofits.

My family was largely connected to Burma’s pro-democracy movements that started in 1988. Some of us were detained and imprisoned by the Burmese junta due to our political activities. Some of us exiled ourselves to India in the early 1990’s to avoid imprisonment and further restrictions, while some were intimidated by the military junta to close our businesses, give up houses and land, and deprive us of educational opportunities. I had wanted to be a medical doctor like my father was but my dreams were shattered when my family had to flee to India about when I was about to apply for my eligible medical school in Burma. Well, that ship has sailed.

In India, life was challenging as a refugee. I didn’t know what a refugee meant but learned to survive as one. However my life was better than most of my friends and fellow refugees. I was able to go to school and gained a degree in IT in New Delhi. My family was then heavily involved in the pro-democracy movements of Burma. They were campaigning, public demonstrations, newsletters, email listserv, seminars, boycotting, helping political prisoners’ families, publishing and translating books to advance the causes. Meanwhile I became a computer and English teacher for refugees in a UNHCR program. I then opened my own computer school to teach entry-level computer and web operations.

While in India, after years of tries, I won a refugee scholarship to study in the U.S. and I went to Ball State in 2003. Then coincided with the economic depression, I worked at a warehouse for 3 years and for a staffing agency. I reconnected with the friends from the scholarship program; two of them were working at Exodus.

2. What languages do you speak?

I speak, read and write Burmese aka Myanmar, as a native and fluently. I should understand quite a bit of the Zomi language but I don’t think I do, and I know survival Hindi. One day I hope to write and publish translated books.

3. How did you hear about Exodus and what made you want to work here?

I learned about Exodus from my brother who also was then a client of Exodus. Our mutual friend was then working at Exodus and was planning to move back to Thailand. I did volunteer work in the community with interpreting and advocating, so it was natural for me to be interested in the work of Exodus. I tried my luck by emailing the then director. They called me back for an interview and I got the job in 2010. I enjoyed helping others and I felt that it was an easy job for me. I started as an employment specialist and still consider myself being in that role.

4. What would you say are your greatest accomplishments over the years?

I coordinated the transportation program, translated materials, educated employers about refugees, advocated for the new arrivals, participated in refugee conferences, attended countless trainings, wrote hundreds of thousands of casenote entries, and have listened to hundreds of incredible refugee stories. Yet the greatest accomplishment would be to be able to listen and understand the clients’ stories and their journeys more. The staff evolves to be a better team each day and aims to be the best, I believe. To be able to continue to assist others by being part of the true humanitarian program itself is the great achievement. 

5. What are some of your fondest Exodus memories over the past 10 years?

Many. Greeting smiling clients at the office lobby; Setting up housing out on a snowy or sweaty day; Learning a new word in client’s language; Driving daylong trips to Washington, IN; Walking through a turkey farm in Tipton, IN. Driving monitoring auditors to a Greenfield loft factory and to recycling plants in Carmel. Trips to a cold storage warehouse in Shelbyville. Knowing all the names of warehouse and temp agencies in Plainfield, at least I used to. Demonstrating hands-on to clients for a cleaning company, the hotel housekeeping, restaurant’s kitchen prepping, sorting recyclables, laundromat work, fruit packaging plants, food processing plants, and other warehouse works. It’s very enjoyable and they are very fond memories. Not to mention the staff pitch-ins, holiday parties, retreats, and staff’s wellness walks.

6. Describe what Exodus means to you.

It was a job, then it became a place to learn, share and grow. I have made friends, met wonderful current and former colleagues who have beautiful souls. I am lucky to witness the courage and resilience of clients. I am just honored to be part of the journey. Personally through the U.S. refugee program, my family and friends have regained hope and future that was not possible before.