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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A hand-up, not hand-outs for youth and families in Thailand

I was able to visit 2 organizations meeting needs of those in the Bangkok community that are disadvantaged or are affected in some way by HIV – both organizations give a hand up not a hand out. The first organization, Siam-Care, provides economic and educational opportunities while the second organization I met with, Step Ahead, provides business training, personal development, and micro-loans for existing entrepreneurs.

At Siam-Care I met 2 young women, one is studying finance and the other an international law student. One of the young women had been brought in at 12 years old for support by her “adopted” mother because she lost family from HIV/AIDS. She now financially supports her siblings. The other young woman was an orphan and studies law because she is interested in law and justice. We discussed that if they were not at Siam-Care they would be at higher risk for trafficking and or abusive work situations. Many youth migrate uninformed to large cities like Bangkok to support their families or themselves if they don’t have families. With the support of Siam-Care they can stay in school, receive education and support, and aim for professional careers like accounting, medicine, and law. The last youth I met was a young man that a relative brought in because his mom died when he was 5 of HIV and his father passed away when he was 2. He is now in school, part time working at KFC, and studying to be a computer programmer. He also is interested in giving back and volunteering – he even asked about volunteering for GlobalGiving!

The issue is that it is free to “sit in a classroom” but families have to pay for everything else including books, uniforms, and even specific haircuts. If the students don’t have this, they can’t attend.

Step Ahead is located near a slum community of Bangkok, Khlong Toei. After meeting staff and seeing the gorgeous purses that women are able to make with Step Ahead in order to earn income, I accompanied the founder, John, and a staff member to meet those receiving mentoring, training, and microloans. Additionally, Step Ahead hosts basketball and event days for local youth.

Working through local districts, Step Ahead first hosted meetings to reach out to the community. In the slums, people either live in tall government projects that have about 250 rooms and about 1500 people per building or they live in shacks between buildings through winding alleys. These homes are made from bits and pieces of scrap metals and wood all stacked on top and in between each other. Walking through Khlong Toei, John explained that the situation is much better than it was before. A few years ago I would have seen sewage-filled alleys. The first Step Ahead micro-entrepreneur we came across was at her stand selling confectionary items.  She said she uses the loans to buy “stuff to sell”. Another woman has a restaurant serving food through a window facing the alley. Finally, we came to a family business close to a pond turned into a sewage and trash dump.  Outside of their home were bathtubs filled with water and chickens’ feet. This family processes chicken feet to be sold at the market.  The family told us that the helpers (who come to de-bone the feet) and the buyers have not been coming as regularly – and they did not know why. One member of the family was a single dad of 3 kids.

We continued to walk through the community meeting local citizens and observing their daily lives.  Because of the support of Step Ahead the local citizens can continue to run their businesses and not have to go to loan sharks that charge high interest rates while emotionally and physically bullying their loaners if money is not repaid back on time. Despite difficult situations, economic instability, and families affected by HIV/AIDS everyone was hopeful, inspiring, and committed to making theirs’ and others’ situations better.

Find out more at: Step Ahead and Support 100 Thai Prisoners And Families With HIV

Flood Relief in Thailand – Where are they now, Part 2


On June 5, I accompanied World Vision International staff to see where the communities are today that received emergency flood relief.

When we arrived to the village in Chinat Province, the community was receiving first-aid training and how to drive boats in flooding circumstances through the Disaster Risk Reduction program. This community was supported by WVI when the floods hit with survival kits and child-friendly spaces. At the first-aid training, the instructor made sure to emphasize the importance of rescuing the lives of neighbors in addition to family while demonstrating how to do CPR and carrying an injured victim on a stretcher. After, the staff and I observed the boat driving training, and we even were able to participate. The community has never been educated on prevention activities in case of disaster until WVI and the local government teamed up to implement these trainings. Yajai from WVI explained, this program exists because we would like to educate citizens to help themselves and neighbors when other relief can’t be here immediately. Before, the village depended only on the head and leaders to make decisions, but now everyone is trained to help.

     

Meeting with families who received support from World Vision International, they explained that the floods happen every year but last year was the worst ever. This flood forced a family that has 3 children to move to the main road to live in a tent for 3 months. The mother said the house was flooded to the knee.  During the flooding she volunteered to cook for other villages. Now she and her family have been able to return home with government support. I asked if she was worried about the flooding happening again, and she said no because she has to accept what comes. At the DRR training, she was learning first-aid and “how to help in the right way when a disaster or emergency happens,” the mother shared.

See the water line on the second floor…

Next we visited a school that had 250 students from kindergarten to 9th grade. A director and teacher shared that for 3 months the school had to shut down. Some families lived on the street. The community was devastated because it is a town of farmers, and the main road was destroyed so there was not any transport making it hard to leave and receive emergency supplies. Here WVI fixed the playground, landscape, cement, and provided books, 2 computers, sports equipment, and school supplies. Again the issue was reiterated that although it floods every year, it has never flooded like that before so no one was completely prepared. We sat with some students, and I asked them in their words what happened. The girls all jumped in adding on to each other that every year it floods to their knees but last year it went up to the roof of their homes.  They moved to the main road and lived there for 3 months. Many of the girls became depressed hoping the water would recede quickly. They had to miss school and did not have anything with them – when the waters rose it happened so fast they had to leave almost everything behind. What did they miss most? Their books, one girl answered. The rest nodded agreeing. I asked if they were worried about the floods continuing to be this bad, and they said no – because they “believe in the good, that the good will happen.”

Finally we visited families that received livelihoods support from WVI after the flood waters receded. Working through the village leader, WVI selected the poorest families and supported the purchase of new income generating activities, for example: chicks and chickens, mushroom growing, or catfish farms.

    

I want to thank WVI staff on their hospitality and taking me along to experience and report on the impact GlobalGiving donors had on flood and emergency relief.

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. 

Flood Relief in Thailand – Where are they now, Part 1

Part 1 is dedicated to my site visit with Global Vision Charitable Trust in Lop Buri, Thailand:

BEFORE: School in Lop Buri flooded almost up to second floor (Source: GVI Archive, Jax)

After one of the worst flooding in Thailand, Global Vision International Charitable Trust responded by providing relief and assistance so that communities could rebuild themselves.  On June 1, I was able to accompany GVI to one of its flood relief projects at a school in Lopburi.

GVI works with local groups and organizations to support communities. This specific one was in dire need of rebuilding its school that had to shut down for 2 months due to the flooding. During this time students had to stay at home and fell behind the rest of their peers where the flooding did not reach or subsided quickly.

Sitting with school staff and patron (the monk) learning about what really happened with the flooding

GVI was informed by a contact about the emergency situation, so they went out to survey the area. Before, community members had to walk through the water and take boats around the town.  Some of the staff at the school shared that GVI was the first people they saw handing out water in the emergency situation.   This school has 125 students from preschool to 6th grade with many from the hill-tribe areas. Some students have to sleep at the school since they live in such remote areas. During the flooding these students all had to return to their homes with no education, school, and away from their friends for 2 months.

One of the teachers explained that they were preparing for flooding, but the news never gave a clear timeframe for when the waters would arrive. By the time it arrived, within an hour almost the entire first floor was under water. She said the last big flood was about 16 years ago, but the school has never flooded like this before.  At the end, I asked the main supporter and patron of this school (a local monk) why he was so passionate and committed. He explained he was born in this town, studied at this school, and the monk he studied under had started the school. He wanted to continue it – it was the first and largest in the village.

The before and after pictures of the flooding are incredible. GVI was able to help bring volunteers to clean up flood water lines, repaint, rebuild walls that were rotted and or washed away, clean up furniture, and salvage what could be reused. They also rebuilt the gardens (where students learn about where food comes from and use the vegetables for meal times) and the playground.  GVI volunteers helped bring new bedding for the boarding rooms and new books since many were destroyed in the water that rose too fast to move everything upstairs.  GVI was one of the first to respond to the flood in this community. With the support of donations through GlobalGiving, children have returned to school. I am thankful to Jax, Apple, and GVI staff for taking me to see where the communities affected by the flooding are today.

Before and After Pictures:

BEFORE: flooded classroom (from GVI archive)

AFTER:cleaned, rebuilt, and restocked classroom

BEFORE: School gardens and playground damaged from flooding (SOURCE: GVI Archive)

AFTER: Gardens rebuilt

AFTER:  Playgrounds rebuilt

AFTER: Local school rebuilt, re-opened,and children back at school


Providing education for marginalized migrant youth in Thailand

DEPDC students

DEPDC students headed to class

GlobalGiving and donors have helped DEPDC fund many projects like a clean water source for the center and the education building that provides a free school in the day and a community-learning center in the evenings. Additionally, funds have helped provide education grants to send migrant children to school, provided a computer classroom, is currently fundraising to send 200 at risk children to school, and offering community learning center classes including English and business training. DEPDC supports the community in Mae Sai near the Thai-Burma border including Burmese children living in the border area and hill-tribe communities nearby.

Once within the facilities – I was greeted with children playing and bright colored buildings. At the front of the main building, immediately I saw a big sign over a door thanking GlobalGiving for the computer lab. I was then guided  on a tour of the DEPDC education building.

First I saw Child Voice Radio – a DJ training facility where students can learn how to DJ a radio station and speak on issues.  Then we went over to the broadcasting area – complete with stage, couches, and lighting as if ready for a talk show. Here DEPDC creates YouTube videos and provides opportunities for students to create alongside as well. Among these vocational training opportunities students can learn agriculture, weaving, and even intern through a youth leadership program. This is part of the Half Day Program where students receive formal education for half the day and vocational training of their choice the other half.

During my tour, I witnessed students in class, learning everything from math to teamwork and trust.  One of the classes for the older students occurred only on Fridays and focused on peace, self-confidence, and Thai culture. DEPDC provides a completely free education as opposed to the local Thai schools that are “free” but require students to pay for uniforms and books, which many families cannot afford. DEPDC also offers the opportunity for students who start kindergarten at 12 years old (because they could not attend before for many various reason) to learn at their level, comfort, and ability.  In addition to supporting youth in the day, these facilities host evening, community courses open to all community members.

DEPDC students in class

DEPDC students in class
Teamwork and Trust Activity

Teamwork and Trust Activity
GlobalGiving everywhere!

What is the impact? A majority of DEPDC students have no documentation or identification, are migrants that face poverty and discrimination, are unprotected and targeted by traffickers, and unaware of trafficking dangers. Now over 4000 children have been helped by DEPDC and provided an educational opportunity, vocational training, and self-empowerment to make informed decisions when facing dangers of poverty and trafficking.

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. 

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. 

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.