They came to Albert Lea from wartorn lands.


     Albert Lea, Minnesota, is home to an estimated 350 refugees from both South Sudan and Burma. They find employment, connections and a safe haven in Albert Lea.


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Dabang Gach, pictured with his son Keat Ruot, 5, fled South Sudan when he was 15 due to the civil war. He, along with many others, traveled on foot to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Gach said it’s important to him that his children know their history and know what their parents experienced to give them a life in the United States.

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The younger children tend to sit on the floor towards the front of the trailer during Sunday worship services for the Karen community, due to a lack of chair space and so that they can keep each other occupied. 

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Sudanese children, especially those in the Nuer tribe, are generally raised to be independent and self-sufficient. It’s common for children to help take care of their younger siblings, like the girl pictured is taking care of her younger brother during a Sudanese worship service.

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Pah Mu sits in a trailer used for Sunday worship services in the local Karen community. Many of her people, referred to as Karen, fled Burma to refugee camps in Thailand before making it to the United States.

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Simon Dup is one of an estimated 350 refugees from South Sudan and Burma currently living in Albert Lea.

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There are an estimated 350 refugees from South Sudan and Burma currently living in Albert Lea.

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Members of the local South Sudanese community sing during a Sunday worship service at First Presbyterian Church. The service is completely in Nuer, the language of the Sudanese tribe of the same name.

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There typically aren’t enough Bibles to go around at the Karen Sunday worship services, so members are usually seen sharing.

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Karen children play in a community trailer while their parents work on adjustments to the space. Kasee Yar said that the younger children in the local Karen community are fluent in both English and Karen, but can’t read or write in the Karen language as they have no one to teach them.

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Junup Ruot, 3, sits on his father’s lap as Dabang Gach describes the opportunities he didn’t have growing up that he hopes his children will as they grow up in Albert Lea. Most of Gach’s childhood was spent fleeing conflict in South Sudan or in an Ethiopian refugee camp. He didn’t have access to schooling as a child, and clean water and food were scarce at times.

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Members of the local Karen community attend a Sunday worship service in a Stoney Creek Estates trailer July 13, 2014. About 75 people attend the service each week, and Tha Htaw hopes to take down a wall within the trailer to provide more room.

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Dabang Gach came to the United States from an Ethiopian refugee camp in 1989. He first lived in Washington, D.C., then Omaha and Phoenix, before moving to Albert Lea in 2010.

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Wah Paw acts as an interpreter for many in the local Karen community. Paw learned English and learned how to read and write while in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to the United States and is now a success coach within the Albert Lea schools.

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Dabang Gach’s cousin, Kwahon Mach, sometimes helps Gach look after his children. It’s common in the Albert Lea Sudanese refugee community to help out other families.

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Pah Mu speaks during a Karen Sunday worship service July 17, 2014. Mu had a paste made from tree bark on her face to keep her cool and to protect her skin from the sun, she said through an interpreter.

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Dabang Gach’s son Keat Ruot, 5, holds his father’s hands as Gach recounts what life was like in South Sudan before coming to the United States as a refugee.

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Tok Stoo works in the community garden outside a trailer that the local Karen community uses for meetings and worship services. The community grows onions, lettuce and other vegetables in the shared space. 

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A child plays with his mother during a Sunday Sudanese worship service at First Presbyterian Church.

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Seeking Refuge

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