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. 

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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

Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention in Thailand – The SOLD Project

This is the home of one of The SOLD Project scholarship recipients. This recipient lost both of her parents, and currently her sister is raising both this girl and her young brother. They are at risk of exploitation and trafficking.

On May 10, I met with an organization that is addressing human trafficking and sexual exploitation from where it starts instead of at the end of the line. The SOLD Project is using education as a means of trafficking prevention from the outskirts of Chiang Rai, Thailand.

I met with Shannon, Director of Interns and Volunteers, to visit The SOLD Project facility and resource center for youth. GlobalGiving funds provided a computer lab and provided new desks to this facility. When I arrived, a local university student was teaching students the importance of social media safety. A lesson I think we all could benefit from. Shannon shared that there are about 120 youth in its program in total, but about 20-30 attend daily. Youth spend their time after school, on weekends, and on breaks learning about computers, art, guitar, photography, and any other projects that volunteers and mentors wish to teach.

Class in session - Social Media Safety Training

Class in session – Social Media Safety Training

During computer time, I was able to sit down with a few of The SOLD Project’s scholarship recipients and get to know them better.

Cat, one of the first scholarship recipients, shared a bit about her background: Her favorite subjects include English and math. When not in school, Cat watches TV and listens to music. After high school she hopes to do something with communication and language. She loves to learn because of the variety of knowledge she gains, and she wants to learn more. After, she said “thank you very much for tables, chairs, and computers.” Because they have access to computers and Internet, they can all learn so much more. In addition to the computers, the new shiny desks were wonderful to see compared to the old ones that were falling apart.

Nan is another young student I spoke with who has applied to and just passed the entrance exam for a good school that teaches English and Chinese. In her free time she likes to listen to music and read books. Her favorite subject is language, and she hopes to pursue studying tourism when she gets to university.

I was told by one of the SOLD students that if SOLD wasn’t there, she would not have anything to do, be bored, and not be with friends. The SOLD Project provides an outlet for these youth – a chance to continue education past what they can afford, continue learning, and a safe place to be when not in school.

At the end of the day, I sat with staff and spoke about their backgrounds and what brought them to SOLD.  Many shared how their religious backgrounds drove them to work with an organization like SOLD, but all shared their passion and commitment to working for this organization.

Getting to know the students

Getting to know the students – looking at family pictures and sharing memories
Speaking with staff
The SOLD Project students playing at their school

If interested in learning more please go here: http://thesoldproject.com/about/ … and to support The SOLD Project go here: http://www.globalgiving.org/donate/6013/the-sold-project/.

 

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. 

Improving Rights and Opportunities for Citizens and Youth with Developmental Disabilities in Malaysia

Children’s laughter, coloring time, puzzles, math worksheets, and outside exercise… the activities, sights, and sounds of school.

April 20 I visited Wings Melaka, but this “school” was different  – Wings Melaka is a Center for Developmental Disabilities.  The youth at this center are special needs, and the teachers and staff are dedicated professionals and parents working to provide learning opportunities to bring out the youth’s full potential. In a country where rights and opportunities for those with disabilties barely exist (there is even a stigma against recognizing the issue), Wings Melaka’s staff and parents are joining together to petition for the govnermnet and community to recognize the basic rights of citiizens with disabilites and to provide education, training and opportunity for their futures. Wings is also creating best practices for special education and promoting special needs education and support in the major school system. Upon arrival in Melaka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I was greeted by Executive Director, Dr. Boon Hock Lim, at the bus station.

Immediately we departed for Wings Melaka’s location to visit staff and experience Wings first hand. I toured the facility, seeing all of the toys and resources available for parents and the youth. Their resource library was full of dvd’s, books, trainings, educational toys, and more for not only the teachers but also for parents to be able to rent and take home for after school is over.  I was able to observe and help out at Wings’ School Age Programme observing the class and spending time with the kids. The teachers were committed, patient, and creative making sure each student was busy completing his and her activities for the day. Some of the students’ favorite activities were coloring and some were puzzles. Many of the students in this class had autism and other development disabilities.

Wings Class in Action

Wings Class in Action
Class activities and resources -organized on a “tasks for the day” basis practicing focus, structure, and then reward for completion



Physical Education time – stretching and running races

Next, I visited the Young Adults Programme. Run by two of the orginal founding parents, this provides life and skills training for 18-25 year olds and teaches everything from cooking meals and cleaning, to employment and job training.   I met 3 of the current youth program attendees – all young men learning and practicing together the basic skills of life and even breaks for physical exercise.

This woman is one of the founding parents of Wings Melaka. Her and her husband now run the Young Adults Programme – and are so inspiring. Their son is one of the students in the program.  She explained that often there are little to no services for job placement, so after experiencing the lack of opportunity, Wings Melaka expanded its services. Speaking with this family was incredibly inspiring – despite their struggles they find solutions and are hopeful creating change both in the lives and on a public level for those with development disabilities.

At the end of the day, I sat in on the weekly Parent Support meeting (Coffee Session) where parents can share struggles, experiences, and questions to support each other raising children with special needs. Some of their children were autistic, some hyperactive, and some had very rare developmental diseases.  The parents opened up and began to share their experiences both with Wings and their children for example when they found out their child had a form of developmental disability like Autism and then the process of finding the right support and education. All of the parents shared the improvements they have seen with their children after being at Wings. There were tears, laughter, and encouragement.


A unique aspect of Wings’ program that inspired me was that at least 1 parent/guardian is required to attend sessiona and practice with their kids. This is because Boon Hock explained to me that the learning process only BEGINS at Wings, but in order to make progress it must be continued at home consistently. Wings Melaka is providing the tools and training for the youth and their families for a brighter future with options, possibilities, and hope when before it was a future full of questions and fear. Also, it was wonderful to see kids, staff, and parents from all backgrounds, languages and cultures – all seeking a better future for their children.

 
At the end of the day, Wings staff and parents provided this “Thank You” award and card to me and GlobalGiving on behalf of the support for Wings Melaka.

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.