Getting to Know Kawlahay Zan


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Kawlahay Zan brings a special service to some of SPPS’s newest students -- those who have come to the U.S. from Burma and speak or read the Karen (“KAH-ren”) language. As a Karen translation specialist in the Office of Communications, Marketing & Development since 2011, he translates documents into the Karen language, and provides Karen and Burmese interpretation services to schools during parent conferences, open houses and other events. 

“When I finish a translation or wrap up a meeting with a Karen-speaking family, I feel good for making a positive difference,” Kawlahay said. “I know the family is proud of SPPS for providing language resources, too.”

There are upwards of 1,500 SPPS students who speak Karen at home. Kawlahay enjoys fostering connections with families that help students graduate high school and pursue higher education or a meaningful career.

Before SPPS, Kawlahay worked as a publisher of education materials and as a registrar in Thailand, where he lived as a refugee after leaving his home country of Burma. He came to the U.S. in 2005, learned English while working as a day laborer, and eventually studied to become a nursing assistant. He then worked as a case manager for World Relief Minnesota, finding placements for Karen refugees who were new to the country. “I have had a long journey to SPPS,” Kawlahay said. “I have always been passionate about education, so I am happy to be here.”

In his free time, Kawlahay enjoys learning graphic and web design, playing volleyball, taking his children to the park and hosting barbecues. His two children attend Crossroads Elementary School.