Refugee, activist, and former Special Guerrilla Unit nurse
Choua Thao was born in Ban Phoukabaht, Xieng Khouang Province on October 8, 1943. At age 11, she was the only Hmong girl to attend school in Ban Phoukabaht while other Hmong girls were helping their families on the farm. She excelled in her studies to become one of the top 5 students.
In 1965, at the age of 13, Thao was recruited for nurse training with the International Volunteer Services (IVS). By the age of 22, she was on her way to be the Head Administrator of Sam Thong Hospital in Laos, which was run by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the Vietnam War. As the administrator of the hospital, she traveled to many countries to recruit young girls to attend nursing school, where she would train them to help care for the wounded.
Thao shares that her role was both rewarding and stressful. She spoke six languages and as head of administrator oversaw 14 departments in three hospitals. She managed 360 medics and staff. For over seven years she also was the nurse instructor and trainer. All of this at a hospital that treated over 500 patients per day, which mostly included wounded soldiers.
Lee continued to be a Hmong women pioneer in the United States founding the first Hmong women organization: Women Association of the Hmong and Lao. She was invited by President Reagan to Washington D.C. to represent Asian Americans where she advocated for the poor. Lee has received several medals and awards for her work and achievements.