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