Mae Sot

We travelled to Mae Sot to visit several projects that need our support.

By way of introduction, Mae Sot is located on the Thai Burma (officially now known as Myanmar) border about 6 hours drive northwest of Bangkok. The rather well publised "Friendship Bridge" was built here connecting Thailand to Burma crossing the Moei river.

Mae Sot has become a major trading city dealing in gems, teak and other raw materials from Burma while supplying Burma with finished goods.

Sadly because of the frequent military and political problems in Burma, many refugees arrive every week into the Mae Sot area. In addition, there are many thousands of illegal Burmese migrant workers who live in the area. In simple terms, refugees are those who have fled Burma and are in fear of physical harm. They are held in refugee camps almost as prisoners unless they have remained undetected in which case they simply end up being part of the migrant worker population.

The Karen people

The majority of Burmese people living in this area are of the hill tribe known as the Karen. Karen people living in Burma face difficult choices. Staying in their Burmese based villages subjects the young males to forced conscription into any of several competing armies that exist in Burma. Young females face the constant threat of sexual assualt. Villages are often firebombed and residents brutally interrogated as suspected supporters of a rival army. Yet the family unit owns a farming plot of ground and would lose it if the entire family fled to Thailand. So rather than forfeit their land, they send their children as illegal immigrants to Thailand.

On this trip I met young men that had arrived here at age 6 or 7 are now in their teens and have never seen their family since departing.

Migrant worker camp

Relief efforts

The migrant worker/refugee problem has existed here for over twenty years. There are many NGOs (non government organizations) that provide aid and attempt to alleviate the problems. I'm not qualified to talk about most of these NGOs.

Our foundation works with the Thai Children's Trust (TCT). They in turn work with several NGOs. I will share about several NGOs with whom TCT works.

Several years ago three expat women living in Pattaya (Roseanne, Kylie and Bronwyn) formed the group "Women with a Mission". They researched the Burmese refugee problem and decided to help. They met with Paw Ray from the Burmese Migrant Workers Education Councel (BMWEC) and Ayeaurma from Social Action for Women (SAW). They learned about two very important but disparate projects in this area which required assistance.

Refugee Learning Centers
These are schools for displaced Burmese. However since they are without government approval, they cannot be called schools
HIV assistance
Centers sponsored by SAW for children with HIV infected parents - I'll discuss these in a later web page

Refugee learning Centers

Imagine yourself when you are only six years old. Your mom takes your hand , gives you a big hug and places your hand in that of a stranger who then walks with you 20 miles or so and leaves you at strange place in a foreign country. Sound like fun?

Now imagine you are growing up. You haven't seen your parents for over a year. You are being fed and your housing isn't too bad but there is no school to attend. Is this your idea of a nice vacation? This is the plight of thousands of children just in the Mae Sot area alone.

Learning centers were established to alleviate some of this problem. They both act as normal schools for the Burmese living illegally in Thailand and by allowing students to live there help with the problems children living in Thailand without a family support system encounter.

There are now about 60 Learning Centers in the area. They are staffed by either volunteers from various NGOs or by well educated Burmese who work for perhaps $60.00/month. Each Learning center teachs from 40 to 400 children each day and about 30% of that number live at the school because they have no better place to live. I visited 4 of these schools. I'll talk about two of them, the "Market School" Kweke Baung and the "Light School".

Market School has an enrollment of 400 children. 150 of these kids live at the school. The learning center operates on the top two floors of a block of shop houses. A 10x10 room acts as a classroom for 30 children. They are fortunate to have sufficient funding to continue to operate at this subsistance level. The top floor acts as classrooms during the day and dormatories after school. It was Sunday when I visited. There were no classes and most of the boarders were amusing themselves on the top floor. One group of girls aged 7-14 were playing a game that they enjoyed very much judging from their laughter and smiles. It was played using nothing more than a bunch of colored rubber bands. It looked a bit like marbles. The rubber bands are dropped in the center of a circle of participants and each girl in turn attempts to send a single rubber band flying by attacking it with a quick burst of blown air.

The Light School has enrollment of 150 children and 40 of them live at the school. All the photos below are from this school. They have emergency funding but will be forced to close if they cannot find additional support.

To give you an idea about their costs. The Light School operates on a monthly budget of $1200. That works out to $8.00 a month in total per student.

If the school closes, the 40 residents will be homeless and probably end up confined to a refugee camp. The other 120 students have migrant worker parents and won't be homeless but will be without any means of education (Burmese illegals are not eligible to enroll in Thai schools)
school grounds

School Dorm

One of 6 classrooms

Boarding Students

School Kitchen

Snack time! Compliments of WWM

I hope this was interesting and not too long. Later, I'll talk about the HIV program and the Mushroom Houses!

Regards, Khun Ron