A TOUGH BEGINNING

EX­TRA Johnny Romah came here from Viet­nam with no school­ing, like in­creas­ing num­bers of refugees from poor coun­tries

Vancouver Sun - - Westcoast - BY DARAH HANSEN VAN­COU­VER SUN

Johnny Romah was 17 on his very first day of school. A mem­ber of the Mon­tag­nard — or moun­tain — peo­ple of Viet­nam, Romah ar­rived in Van­cou­ver in 2005 af­ter an ex­haust­ing year spent in a refugee camp in Cam­bo­dia.

He’d fled his im­pov­er­ished vil­lage at the age of 16, fear­ing ar­rest — even death — at the hands of Viet­namese gov­ern­ment forces, which have long been in bru­tal con­flict with the coun­try’s in­dige­nous peo­ple.

In halt­ing English, which still, at times, sounds for­eign and jum­bled to the Cana­dian ear, Romah tells a har­row­ing tale of walk­ing for days, bare­foot and fright­ened, through waist-high wa­ter and hos­tile jun­gle be­fore reach­ing the refugee camp.

He ar­rived in Canada with no friends or fam­ily and no English. He spoke Jarai, the lan­guage of his moun­tain tribe, and self-taught Viet­namese — enough to make a few dol­lars dig­ging trenches or clear­ing rocks at constructi­on sites and help put food in the hun­gry bel­lies of his lit­tle brother and sis­ter.

JENELLE SCH­NEI­DER/VAN­COU­VER SUN

Johnny Romah, 20, ar­rived in Van­cou­ver from Viet­nam at age of 16 not know­ing how to read or write in any lan­guage. He’s at the begin­ner level of ESL but his teach­ers say he has great po­ten­tial.

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