Mawi Golden, a young refugee from Burma, graduated from Riverside High School Wednesday after much hard work and dedication.
Mawi -- pronounced like 'joy' -- moved to Durham four years ago through a program known as World Relief.
World Relief hosts Good Neighbor Teams for resettled refugees to help them transition to their life in the United States. A Good Neighbor Team is a group of people who come together and help refugees progress toward sustainability and self-sufficiency.
Franklin and Martha Golden took Mawi under their wings when she moved to the U.S., and Golden said she is fortunate to be with them.
"I'm so blessed to be here with them," Mawi said.
Franklin Golden said they feel just as blessed to have her.
"We fell in love with her when we met her," Franklin said. "Of course, when we met her we had no idea that one day she would call us 'mom' and 'dad' and we would call her 'daughter.' But it happened."
Mawi's graduation means so much more when you look at where she has been.
"I don't know the particulars of why Mawi and her family were selected as refugees," Franklin said. "But for decades, the political climate has been awful. It hasn't always been a safe place for people."
After her formal education ended when she was 10, Mawi left Burma and moved to Malaysia, where she spent much of her time cleaning houses. In December, the Goldens made a trip to Mawi's birthplace in Burma, seeing her father and mother for the first time since she was 10 years old.
"I think about them often," Mawi said. "My parents -- my other parents."
Franklin said he and his wife were very moved by the hospitality of the community in Burma.
"Perhaps the most touching moment," Franklin said, "was when her biological father stood up in a worship service and said, 'I'm glad I lived to see this day. Mawi has four parents. They're all here and we thank God.'"
From a place where education stopped by age 10 to becoming an American high school graduate, Mawi presses on with the same drive that brought her here.
"We want to be having a better life," Mawi said, "and having a lot of opportunity to do stuff."
Mawi is headed to a program at UNC-Charlotte in the fall to improve her English and get ready for college. She one day wants to teach English.
Franklin said he thinks her perseverance will continue.
"She's worked for everything she has," Franklin said. "And she'll keep working hard as she goes on to what's next."
World Relief is expecting a major increase in refugee arrivals this coming July through September, which is typical during the summer months. There are hundreds of refugees in Durham who need people to help them as they begin their lives in the U.S.
World Relief is hosting a party on June 14 to celebrate World Refugee Day. It'll be at Oak Creek Village apartments from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. More than 500 people are expected to attend.
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Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.
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