Stories

Refugee Family Gives Son the Gift of Reading With Imagination Library

Four-year-old Layeh Wonna may be too young to read on his own, but he loves looking at the illustrations in the books he receives each month through United Way’s Imagination Library. As his mother, Mi Cho, turns the pages, he points at the pictures. “What is this?” he asks her. “What is this?”

Layeh’s family immigrated to the United States six years ago. His father, Nai Wonna, and Mi Cho left their home in Burma in 2007, living for three years in a Malaysian refugee camp, where Layeh’s brother, Sao Wonna, was born. In 2010, upon being granted asylum in the U.S., the family moved first to Georgia and then to Ohio. Layeh is the first member of his family to be born in the U.S.

Though Nai and Mi Cho had many reasons for leaving their home country — for decades, Burma has been racked by civil war — among them was the hope that their children would be well-educated. To that end, Nai and Mi Cho say they want to make sure their children can read and write very well, so that one day, Layeh and Sao can pursue whatever careers they choose.

United Way’s Imagination Library is helping them achieve this goal. The program provides children with one free book every month from birth to age five. Open to all children in Summit County, it is part of United Way’s efforts to expand education so that every child has a fair shot at a stable and successful life.

For Nai, who is an assembly worker at Steere Enterprises, this is a great relief. Each month, he contributes what he can to United Way. It is important, he says, to give back to the community. And in turn, United Way is giving back to his family. Layeh has been receiving books from Imagination Library for two years now. Since moving to Ohio, Mi Cho has been taking English as a Second Language (ELS) courses. When she reads with Layeh, she gets to practice her English too.

As of September 2016, more than 70,000 books have been distributed to more than 9,000 children through United Way of Summit County’s Imagination Library. Because a quality education is a cornerstone for success in life, United Way is dedicated to helping children unlock their full potential through investments in early education and beyond.