FED/GHRE Filling the Gap for Burmese Migrants’ Rights in Thailand

On June 18 I visited Foundation for Education and Development/Grassroots Human Rights Education and Development in southern Thailand – a place called Khao Lak.

Burmese migrants’ children ready to learn thanks to Grassroots Human Rights Education And Development

The first project I witnessed was the community leader training. Burmese migrants from fisheries, plantations, and construction who came to Thailand to find work had gathered for a 2-day training. These attendees were receiving training for improving and leading community development. All were from the Phang Nga province and were there to also network with each other.  The founder said that part of the training’s purpose it to increase the awareness of the migrants’ human and labor rights. Many workers come to Thailand not knowing their rights, which then are abused by those in authority like the plantation  owners, construction company owners, and immigration authorities.

The temporary shelter and women’s center – additional services provided to Burmese migrants by FED/GHRE

The second project I visited was the education program for the Burmese migrants’ children – FED/GHRE wants to protect children’s rights by encouraging that they don’t have to work or marry young… they can stay in school. Awareness is not just for children but for the parents as well.  I sat in on activities from preschool age to the young adult, youth outreach program.  The older children receive traditional schooling in addition to democracy and human rights training.

Preschool Class

In Thailand the problem is that to integrate migrant students into public schools, money and language-fluency in Thai is required, which many children of Burmese migrants don’t have. Additionally, transportation to these schools is not easy therefore students are provided transportation via the FED/GHRE truck from certain areas to the FED/GHRE school.

One FED/GHRE staff member I met had joined this organization at age 12 and continued through the program. She is now 19 and a translator for the organization. She said without FED/GHRE she probably would probably not have any opportunity and have to marry young or work in a plantation like many of her peers. I was able to also speak with a FED/GHRE recipient who has been integrated to a Thai school. He said he has both Thai and Burmese friends there and enjoys playing football as well as art class because he loves to draw mountains and landscapes.

Before I left, I was able to stop in one last time and observe a school celebration of Aung Suu Kyi’s birthday. The students were quizzed on historical events, the life of Aung Suu Kyi, and then watched a short documentary. Although there have been public changes within (Burma)Myanmar, change has not been seen in this area with an increase in new students arriving everyday.  This group of multilingual Burmese youth in Thailand will grow up not only with math and language skills, but a with a global mindset trained in democracy and human rights.

Aung Suu Kyi’s Birthday Celebration

Jacqueline
GlobalGiving InTheField Representative | Texas

Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

For more information about GlobalGiving, click here. 

Providing light, energy, and livelihoods to displaced ethnic communities

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.”

Solar panels on village roofs
Solar panels on village roofs

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.

"Grandpa" with his solar light
“Grandpa” with his solar light

Visiting a community member
Visiting a community member’s home

Solar light now allows time to increase income
Solar light now allows time to increase income

 
After seeing the solar lighting project, I was able to see how TBF is providing alternative livelihoods in this village supporting the set up, branding, and selling of micro-weaving products with vibrant beautiful colors and quality. Additionally, the village chief shared how he is trying out other alternative energies with his “rice-husk powered stove”. It takes the left-over thrown away portions of rice post-harvest and uses it to fuel a cooking stove. See more pictures of my visit, the micro-weaving work, and the rice-husk powered stove below…

 To support The Branch Foundation’s current project: Emergency Relief Fund Southeast Asia

Creating change for Burma-Myanmar through education and change-makers

Imagine living in a country where it was virtually impossible to access high quality, affordable education. Imagine that 30-50% of the population of this country lived in extreme poverty, and that education was a key factor in bringing desperately needed development to marginalized communities. This is the situation in Burma today.

Thabyay Education Network (TEN) works to solve this issue by providing access to higher education and professional development opportunities to people from marginalized communities who can make a difference. On May 8, 2012, I met with TENs staff, learned about its programs, and joined two scholarship recipients in a tour of their university in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  The staff I met all took time to show me the process, explain to me all of the background and steps, shared why they joined TEN, and the challenges they have faced along the way.

Michael, who runs TEN’s ‘low cost, high impact’ self-study university preparation program, explained to me how this program helps community development workers in Burma access international university education. “These individuals want to improve their skills so they can increase the impact of their work, but access to decent education is a major obstacle. They lack the necessary qualifications, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), to be eligible for international universities outside Burma. However, to get these qualifications, they usually have to attend expensive private classes, which they cannot afford.” Michael continues, “When they enroll with us they get full support to self-study in their own time so that they can obtain the university qualifications they need.”

“This program is just one piece of the jigsaw of services that we provide”, explained the Development Director, Quentin Hewitt. “Many of the individuals who successfully gain the necessary university entrance qualifications with us go on to receive a university scholarship administered by us. We also support the development of communities in Burma through providing curriculum development and teacher training, organizing professional internships for community workers, running schools and placing skilled volunteers with community-based organizations. Through our efforts, we would like to create a generation of motivated individuals with the knowledge, skills and networks to make a profound and positive impact on their country.”

After visiting the office and learning about TEN’s projects, I was off to meet two Burmese scholarship recipients who now attend Chiang Mai University. Kaythi and Naing Lin (names changed for security reasons) are both enrolled in CMU’s new Social Science program which includes courses on environment, sociology, statistics, and economics.  What did they like about their program? The fact that CMU offers a great social science curriculum, unavailable in Burma, challenges the way they think, and generates learning through class discussion. Such experiences are virtually unknown in universities in Burma where analytical thinking is discouraged and an overriding emphasis is placed on rote learning outdated and often irrelevant texts.

Kaythi previously worked as a volunteer with an international organization working with the elderly in Burma. Naing Lin was a teacher and a volunteer. Why did they volunteer? Because they “want to help people and want to be life trainers”, said Kaythi.  Education is extremely important and they wanted to spread awareness about it – “we are the pioneers”, Naing Lin said.  Although she had a good job, Kaythi decided to apply for a scholarship because she felt that she could work more effectively if she was better educated . Her parents are small-scale farmers who had no opportunity to attend formal education. Although they need the help of every family member to obtain enough food from their land, her parents encouraged her to take this opportunity. “Don’t come back to the fields. Continue to study,” they said.  Naing Lin explained that learning English is “a great tool to attain knowledge and then share it.” He wanted to promote awareness about education to his Shan community – “if I don’t have anything to share with them, what’s the purpose of learning?”

w/ Scholarship Recipients and Thabyay @ university

w/ Scholarship Recipients and Thabyay @ university

Afterwards, we all went to the Chiang Mai University campus to meet the scholars’ Director and Coordinator of the Social Science program, accompanied by TEN’s Development Officer, Tom. The Director explained that the goal of the program was to prepare the students in multidisciplinary studies, but a big challenge was the certification of Burma’s education systems – which often is not internationally recognized. Through the international school at Chiang Mai University, the Director stressed the importance of extracurricular activities to promote integration among the students from Burma. Kaythi and Naing Lin both spoke passionately about their university life and the difference it will make in their future endeavors.

To support Thabyay provide more scholarships visit: http://www.globalgiving.org/donate/5168/thabyay-education-network/

Beautiful tree on campus… Thabyay is creating leaves of change to trickle down into the community

Jacqueline
GlobalGiving InTheField Representative | Texas

Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

For more information about GlobalGiving, click here.