On the other side of the world from where he was born, Eh Tha Say found the right place to build his future.

In southeastern Burma, between the Irrawaddy River and the Thai border, civil war and genocide have been raging for 70 years. The war is the result of the Karen people’s desire to create an independent nation. The genocide is the Burmese army’s response to that desire. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled across the border into Thailand, where tens of thousands live in refugee camps today. Some have immigrated to the United States. Among those who have become Americans are the family of Eh Tha Say, a young man who came here when he was nine years old, graduated from Chapel Hill High School in June, and is currently working to become a master automotive technician at Chapel Hill Tire.

“Sure, I miss Burma,” says Eh, “because it’s where I’m from. But I wouldn’t trade America for it. Here, you have an opportunity to become what you want. There? No.” He shrugs and his face brightens into a smile that fills the room.

“I fell in love with fixing cars when I was about 10 years old,” he says, “Watching our family and friends work on theirs. It’s just fun to figure out what’s wrong, fix it, and bring the machine back to life. I signed up for the auto mechanic’s class in my sophomore year of high school. My teacher got me a job here last December, and I love it. It’s like a family. Everyone feels valued. We all help each other and work together as a team to take care of the customer. Now that I’m finished with high school, I’m going to work here full time, get my associate’s degree in Automotive Systems Technology from Alamance Community College, and work to become a master technician with Chapel Hill Tire.”

The feelings of affection are mutual. “We love Eh,” says Matthew McDonald, service advisor at the Woodcroft Shopping Center store where Eh works. “It’s not just that he works hard, he’s fun to work with. It’s just great being around him.”

“We service cars,” says Marc Pons, co-owner of Chapel Hill Tire with his brother, Britt. “But we serve people – our customers and each other. It’s great that we get to use our talents to help people take care of their cars, but we’re really grateful that we get to create a place where people take care of each other, where someone can start just helping out in the shop, or working a register, and if they focus on taking great care of our customers, work their way into a very good living as a master technician or a store manager. That five day a week opportunity to serve people is really the most rewarding part of what we do.”

~This article is written by special guest contributor, David Blair of Emisare.