Lao Thao Moua was born in Laos, and like many Hmong children, had no formal education. When she was about eighteen years old she married Sai Vang Moua who, for about three years, worked with the army until the Communists took over the government in Laos. Lao, Sai, and several family members fled, with a group of about 3,000 others, making their way to a refugee camp in Thailand. For the next five years, the camp would be their home, and was the birthplace of their daughter, Ku.
In 1981, Lao and her family came to the United States, first settling in Salt Lake City, Utah. Before finding work, Lao enrolled in some intensive classes so she could begin learning to read and write English. After finding work, she attended classes two nights a week at a church. In 1986 her family moved to Sacramento, and she enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the Winterstein Adult Center in the San Juan Unified School District. She was placed at the high intermediate level, and told her teacher at the end of that year that her dream was to graduate from high school.
The next year, 1987, Lao enrolled in the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program. With the goal of a High School Diploma still firmly in mind, she worked hard and studied all the basic skills. School was sometimes an all day affair. Classes would begin at 8:00 in the morning and not end until 9:00 at night. “Adult education is free,” recalls Lao, “You just have to bring your lunch, pencil, pen, and paper.”
Progressing steadily and transitioning to high school, Lao began to take Adult Secondary Education (ASE) classes at Winterstein, and after five years of continuous enrollment, on June 19, 1991, she walked across the stage to receive her high school diploma. A picture of her in cap and gown still hangs proudly in the living room of the house they own as a testament to her accomplishment.
Following graduation, Lao worked with the vocational counselor at Winterstein exploring career options. Tests indicated that she should work with people, so she enrolled in the Western Career College medical assisting program just two weeks after receiving her diploma. After passing the state exam, she worked as a medical assistant at the Sacramento Family Clinic from 1992-1998, also putting in time as a translator. Greater responsibility came her way when she moved on to become the back office supervisor with three medical assistants working under her supervision.
Since 1998, Lao has worked as a medical assistant in the orthopedic unit at UC Davis Medical Center. Several doctors and a Registered Nurse work with her at a job she loves. She still finds time for many other things, and has a busy family life which includes raising her son, Alex, and three young Hmong children to whom Lao and Sai are temporary foster parents. Lao is also active in her church, and volunteers by teaching songs to the Hmong families and leading Bible studies for church members.
Lao's future plans are to continue enjoying her family, work, and church. Her daughter, Ku, is now 26 years old, is a graduate of UC Davis, and works for Sacramento County Mental Health. She was married last year. Many more members of their extended families live in Sacramento, and they frequently gather together.
Asked to explain what adult education meant to her, Lao replied simply, "Winterstein Adult Center is a good place. I would not be where I am today without it. Here (in America) it is up to each person to pursue a goal. Winterstein is there for all, and they should go and grab it."