On May 28, I was able to visit the Shan village that received solar lighting from The Branch Foundation. I saw where the community is now and the impact the solar panels as well as the support of The Branch Foundation has made on their lives.
After a short visit at The Branch Foundation (TBF) Chiang Mai office, we were off a few days later to the Shan community that received the solar panels. Walking through the village we discussed with community members and the village chief about what is still happening in Burma/Myanmar. They said the situation is still not safe for communities like the Shan and Karen to return. As we were speaking, a landmine went off in the distance. The areas, between the Thai-Burma border and within the ethnic communities in Burma, are littered with landmines that are accidentally discovered by people and animals. I asked one of the community members if he wanted to go back? He said, “we want to but everything was taken and we lost relatives. We are afraid it will happen again.”
Walking through the unofficial refugee camp, I saw solar panels on the houses’ roofs. Iona, the Executive Director and Founder, explained that the poorest families received the panels first, then the remaining families received theirs so that the whole village has access to lighting and electricity at night. At one of the houses, we met “grandpa” – a village elder. He lost is wife, “grandma”, and lived alone. When he welcomed us into his home he shared the story he has told many visitors before about his history in Burma/Myanmar and then demonstrated the light he receives now because of the panel. I asked what he used the light for, and he replied for cooking at night. Another village elder (who says she is 90) explained she also uses the lights at night to cook. Why is this important? Because in the day community members are working which does not leave time to prepare food and/or study. By having light at night to do basic life activities, they are able to spend the daytime increasing income for the families – improving livelihoods.
The Branch Foundation was a part of the community – welcomed like a family – and because I came with TBF, I was new family too. Everywhere we went community members came out to speak with us, share news in the family (1 woman just received a new GREAT granddaughter in the family), and sit to laugh swapping stories. These solar panels have made, and are still creating, an incredible impact in the community which does not receive electricity in homes from the state since it is not an “official” refugee camp; without documents this community cannot receive services from the state but cannot return back to their home country either – a stateless community.