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7 refugees honored for their contributions to Minnesota

ST. PAUL — In the past 15 years, more than 40,000 refugees have come to Minnesota. On Thursday, Oct. 19, the Department of Human Services announced it will recognize seven for their contributions to the state.

Among those being honored are two east metro residents: Paw Wah Toe of St. Paul and Blia Vang of Lake Elmo. They are being recognized for their "courage, resilience, and entrepreneurship."

"Refugees have experienced horrendous situations in their home countries, sacrificed a great deal to survive and are welcome additions to Minnesota," Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said in a written statement. "We are thrilled to honor those who have given up so much and contributed so greatly to our state."

Paw Wah Toe will get the Civic Leadership Award for her work as co-director of the Karen Chemical Dependency Collaboration, an organization working to end alcohol and drug use in the Karen community, according to its website.

Paw Wah Toe was nominated "for her work in influencing how chemical dependency and addiction is addressed in an innovative, comprehensive and community-driven way," the department said.

Blia Vang will receive an Entrepreneurship Leadership Award for her work assisting older seniors through both foster care and family adult day services.

Blia Vang "believes that it is very important to allow the elderly population who had found refuge in America to have small comforts that remind them of home," the department said. "She cooks only authentic foods, has a garden in her back yard that all are welcome to use, translates, and helps increase understanding between cultures by helping people from different cultures learn from each other."

Also being honored are Hsa Daw Mu of Marshall, Ayan Omar of St. Cloud, Fatima Said of Winona, Sadia Salah of Marshall, and Yohannes Zemedhin of Minneapolis. They are being recognized for being outstanding leaders in their community or for contributing to the business, arts or education culture in their communities.

Piper will travel around the state presenting the awards at individual ceremonies.

"Refugees bring their stories, traditions and so much more to enrich our communities," Piper said in a statement. "We are fortunate to have them here."

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