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Finally Home

Mary Burich | March 23, 2023

People | Pride of the Jersey

Hteet Powl finds refuge and more

Dan Zielke has had the pleasure of being involved in a number of Pride of the Jersey awards in his various roles with Hormel Foods, which makes the latest one that much more special. Dan knows what this honor means. He also knows Hteet Powl is the embodiment of it.

“Hteet 100% makes our team better,” Dan says. “On any given day, you can see [him] moving from line to line helping our team members, providing them what they need, and going out of his way to step in and assist anyone who asks.”

Hteet has been a production professional at the Austin (Minn.) Plant for 10 years. At the time he received the jersey, he was a production leader. Effective this January, Hteet was promoted to the position of team leader, a change that recognizes and rewards him for his outstanding contributions to the success of the flagship operation.

Hteet 100% makes our team better.

Dan Zielke

His achievements are all the more exceptional in light of his background. Hteet was born in Myanmar (formally known as the Union of Burma). He went to high school and began college in his home country, but as political unrest and military actions heated up, Hteet became one of the more than 1 million people who fled Myanmar for refugee camps in Thailand.

Camp life was restrictive, he says, but they were supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UN HCR), an agency that “aids and protects refugees, forcibly displaced communities, and stateless people, and assists in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.” With the help of the UN HCR, Hteet continued his education in Thailand.

Finally, after two years in the camp, the UN brought Hteet to the United States in 2009. He was without family in his new country; his brother stayed behind in Thailand.

He settled in Indiana – a friend lived there – and he found work, but the round-trip commute was four hours. Still, Hteet persisted for a year and a half. He then went back to Thailand, where he got married. He returned to the United States, this time settling near Austin, Minn. Htwe Htwe, his wife, had to remain in Thailand for two more years. “The process takes that long,” Hteet explains.

Needing employment, Hteet applied and was hired by a business in the community, all the while dreaming of working for nearby Hormel Foods. Not long after submitting his application, Hteet got the call. He became a Hormel Foods team member.

When I come into work, I feel like this is home for me.

Hteet Powl

Htwe Htwe arrived safely in the United States, and the couple put down roots in Austin. Before working for Hormel Foods, Hteet admits he was “scared to buy a house, to buy a car.” Today he has both – and so much more.

Hteet and Htwe Htwe are both Hormel Foods team members, American citizens and the parents of two girls, Ahaung and Quaung, 9 and 6, respectively. Hteet is a leader in the local Buddhist community. And there’s more.

“We can go wherever we want,” he says.

That freedom is precious to him. He didn’t have it while living in the refugee camp, and he feared it wouldn’t be part of his life in the United States.

“When we lived in Myanmar, we received false information to keep us from wanting to come here,” he says.

From the looks of it, the Powls are living the American dream, including being busy with their kids and their activities. They like to sing and dance, Hteet says. Like father, like daughters, perhaps. Hteet’s hobby is playing guitar and creating music, although he admits time is limited.

Among the many surprises in Hteet’s life, the myriad unexpected twists and turns, was receiving the jersey. He is reluctant to pat himself on the back, saying only that he thinks he works hard.

No wonder.

“When I come into work, I feel like this is home for me,” he says.