Tukwila refugee family learning to live without their mother but with community’s help

On Dec. 2, Ciin Nuam was cooking dinner early in the afternoon in preparation for her children’s return home from school. Six-months pregnant, she collapsed; Zam Khap, who was getting ready for work, heard her fall. The King County Medical Examiner's Office determined she died of heart disease.

The Zam Khap family was split apart for about 10 years, before finally being reunited and moving to Tukwila nine months ago.

He had spent eight years in a refugee camp in Malaysia and then 2 1/2 years in the United States, while his wife Ciin Nuam and their six children remained behind in Burma.

Once in Tukwila, the six children enrolled in school, two at Foster, two at Showalter and two at Cascade View. He’s a general worker at a seafood factory.

On Dec. 2, Ciin Nuam was cooking dinner early in the afternoon in preparation for her children’s return home from school. Six-months pregnant, she collapsed; Zam Khap, who was getting ready for work, heard her fall.

He doesn’t know how to communicate with 911, explained Ohnmar, the Burmese liaison for the Tukwila School district, who has been working with the family. Church groups and the Burmese community at large are helping, too.

He tried to call friends to help. Despite language barriers, emergency help was summoned. Ciin Nuam’s baby survived, treated at the Swedish Hospital neo-natal unit, and is reported to be doing well.

The King County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Ciin Nuam, 42, died of heart disease. Her death was ruled natural.

Ohnmar contacted the school district and began the process of helping the family deal with funeral costs and make plans for supporting the family for the difficult days ahead.

Sara Niegowski, the school district’s communications director, set up an online fundraiser for the family, with a $10,000 goal, enough to cover funeral costs.

As of Thursday (Dec. 18), $51,335 has been raised for the family. The website address is www.youcaring.com.

“That was unexpected,” Ohnmar said, but appreciated by the family.

Organizations and businesses are also buying Christmas presents for the family.

Communication has been difficult, even for Ohnmar, who doesn’t speak the Burmese dialect spoken by the family. In fact, only a few speak the dialect in Washington state.

But the father said the support “has really touched his heart.” The school community really cares about his family, as does the whole Tukwila community, according to Ohnmar.

“That made him a little bit stronger and he feels that he can stand on his own feet,” she said.

The family will still need support, especially now that everyone is going back to work, she said. And Zam Khap has a baby to care for. His oldest daughter, Niang Lun Cing, is learning to care for and feed her baby sister, Sian Hoih.

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