How a Burmese Refugee and an American Boy Became Best Friends

Dante and Soung Oo put aside their differences to develop a deep and lasting bond.

Nov 25, 2015
Special Collections: CONNECTING HEARTS
Dante and Soung Oo

Dante was a nine-year-old boy from a suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Soung Oo was a Burmese refugee who had arrived to America only five months prior. Despite being from two different worlds and speaking two different languages, Dante and Soung, who has dwarfism, became inseparable after attending the 4th grade together at the International Community School in Decatur, Georgia.

In the 1990s, aid agencies pegged Decatur as a place to resettle refugees from war torn areas, including Burma. Schools, communities and families in the area had to find ways to aid the newcomers. One school, in particular, hoped to build a community beyond the classroom, where newcomers could gain a better footing of life in America and Americans could get a better appreciation of life in other parts of the world. This is the school where Dante and Soung first met.

In 2007, New York Times Video did a feature on the boys’ extraordinary friendship, capturing how Dante and Soung first bonded over their love of soccer. The video shows how the boys found ways to communicate - a thumbs up, a pat on the back, and even a mix of basic English and Burmese words. Dante’s mother recalls Soung calling their home to speak with Dante and repeating the only words he knew into the phone - “Dante, Dante, Dante.”

While, yes, it’s extraordinary that two boys whose differences outnumber their similarities became best friends, watching Dante and Soung in the TIMES’ video is like watching any other two boys at play. The boys play soccer, joke around, eat lunch together, discuss their favorite colors (albeit in broken English), and help each other with their homework.

At the end of the video, the boys discuss how long they think they’ll be friends. “Eight years? Nine years?” asks Dante. “No, A million years we be friends, “ says Soung. Goes to show that true friendship knows no boundaries.

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Mirele writes about everything related to doing good, with a particular interest in volunteering and social entrepreneurship, informed by her background in eco tourism.
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