Marner Saw, a leader in the Karen community of Minnesota, passed away on Friday, Oct 2nd, 2020 from complications of Covid-19. Credit: Karen Organization of Minnesota

Marner Saw, a leader in Minnesota’s Karen community, died Friday from complications of COVID-19, after several weeks in the hospital. He was 50.

Marner Saw was born in Burma in 1970, spent time in a refugee camp in Thailand, and had lived in Minnesota with his family since 2005. He was part of an early wave of Karen to arrive in the state, and he volunteered countless hours helping other new arrivals.

He was involved with the Karen Community of Minnesota and was a founding member of the St Paul nonprofit Karen Organization of Minnesota (KOM), where he worked in immigration services and coordinated an elders’ program.

KOM co-executive director Eh Tah Khu said Marner Saw helped him enroll in ESL classes and county benefits when he arrived in 2010. He called him a passionate, caring and kind individual.

“It’s a big loss,” Eh Tah Kh said. “We were not under the impression that he couldn’t make it through. We were still hoping that he would eventually come home. It’s a big loss for the family and for the community.”

Coworkers also mentioned Saw’s sense of humor and his leadership in his church. Marner Saw was passionate about peace for the Karen people — an ethnic community from Burma, also known as Myanmar — and he returned to Thailand several times to work with Karen leaders to move toward a ceasefire in Burma.

“He helped hundreds of refugee families start a new life in Minnesota and become citizens,” the Karen Organization of Minnesota said in announcing Marner Saw’s death. “He was also a loving husband, brother, father, grandfather, and friend to many of us. May he rest in peace.”

Marner Saw is survived by his wife and four children. Funeral services are planned for Wednesday.

Emily Bright is a newscaster at MPR News