Volunteer Experience

A volunteer experience at Thoo Mwe Htee Ger Ni School Dominik and Doris from Germany

Thoo Mwe Htee Ger Ni School is located in a remote village in TAK province, close to the city of Phop Phra, about 50km south of Mae Sot. From Phop Phra a winding street goes down a hill towards the river that marks the border with Myanmar. That’s where Muluchin Village lays, a charming village of about 500 souls, all of them Burmese migrants. Most of the migrants fled from neighboring Karen state, so they belong to the Karen ethnic group.

Questions for a Volunteer (Lauren)

Can you please briefly tell us about yourself?

My name is Lauren Ivery, I am a 23 year old primary school teacher from Australia. I have a Bachelor degree in Primary Education, a Graduate Certificate in TESOL and a desire for new experiences.

Where did you hear about BMWEC?

A few years ago I heard about the social problems in Mae Sot from a friend at university who was studying international issues. When I did more research about the area online, I found the BMWEC website. This is where I found most of my information about the organization and the contact information. Before my friend told me about the situation in Burma and the implications for Mae Sot, I had never heard of BMWEC or the problems facing migrant people on the Thai-Burmese border.

What do you know about BMWEC?

BMWEC is an organization which provides free education to migrant students. It is a community based organization, which means it is run by local people. This is something which really attracted my interest initially, and when I read more about the number of schools under BMWEC administration, I was even more interested. With 25 schools I knew that there would be an opportunity for me to work in a few schools, gaining new experiences and sharing my teaching ideas with a number of teachers.

Why did you want to volunteer with BMWEC?

This is my second time volunteering with BMWEC, so this trip I am here because I had an absolutely wonderful experience my first trip and wanted to work with migrant children again. When I came in 2010, it was because I had heard about the situation in Burma and wanted to contribute in some small way. I also was interested in spending a significant amount of time immersed in another culture, to gain new experiences and perspectives. Also, as a teacher I have a set of skills which I knew would be valuable in this area. I was still completing my Bachelor degree when I came here in 2010, so I also wanted some additional experience working with students from Non- English Speaking Backgrounds.

How do you find the living conditions in Mae Sot?

Initially I was unsure of the living situation in Mae Sot. I imagined it was a very small town and didn’t know what services would be available (such as hospitals, ATM’s, and transportation). When I came in 2010 I was pleasantly surprised by how big Mae Sot was and found that it had everything I needed. You can hire a bicycle to easily get around, everything is relatively close by and fortunately there are very few hills. There are many options for long and short term living arrangements and many are relatively inexpensive. Overall living in Mae Sot can be very comfortable and there is always plenty to do and see.

Do you have any plans to work with BMWEC in future?

I certainly am not ruling out another trip to Mae Sot to volunteer with BMWEC. So far I have had such wonderful experiences that I would happily come again if I have the opportunity.

Do you think that BMWEC is a good place to share your knowledge and experience?

I definitely believe that volunteering with BMWEC is an invaluable opportunity to gain new experiences and skill sets. It also is wonderful to experience a new culture and to work and share ideas with people from different backgrounds and situations. I am often very inspired by the people I meet here; they have faced many challenges which seem unimaginable to me but yet they are so resilient, strong and happy. If you are willing to work collaboratively and work hard, then you will give and gain so much from being in Mae Sot.

What message would you like to leave for BMWEC?

Thank you for welcoming me into your community and for allowing me to teach in your schools. Thank you for your kindness and for the friendships I have formed. It has been a privilege working with you and hopefully it won’t be the last time. Your commitment to improving the lives and education of migrant children is unwavering and I hope you can continue providing for migrant students until the situation improves.

Questions for a Volunteer (Allison)

Can you please briefly tell us about yourself?

My name is Allison Ficht, I am a volunteer from the United States. I recently graduated from college and am taking a year off between undergraduate and graduate studies. I studied History and Urban/Environmental Policy in school and have a strong interest in learning about aid, education, and development on the Thai/Burmese border.

Where did you hear about BMWEC?

I heard about BMWEC from a teacher who started coming to Mae Sot 10 years ago and now does fundraising for BMWEC in California. Her passion, dedication, and excitement about the Mae Sot area and the educational advancements being made through efforts by BMWEC were extremely influential and prompted me to contact the organization and see how I could get involved.

What do you know about BMWEC?

BWMEC works to provide free education for migrant students from Burma. They run 25 schools and educate roughly 4,000 students. Not only do they teach and house an incredible number of students, but they provide jobs for teachers and administrators. These opportunities for students and teachers create an environment where students learn from their teachers, and teachers further their abilities through BMWEC-sponsored, free teacher training seminars and workshops.

Why did you want to volunteer with BMWEC?

Shortly after meeting with my contact in California, I looked into the situation in Burma and the way in which it effects children’s education. What I found was that many of these children could not afford or access any type of schooling, and that the oppressive regime often forced children, with or without their families, to illegally cross the border into Thailand. Even after they get here, children are denied many basic human rights; they are trafficked for drugs and sex, and they can also be forced to beg. Migrant schools give them an opportunity to learn in a safe space. I wanted to help ensure that these children receive the best education possible and that more people were aware of the plight of these young kids.

How do you find the living conditions in Mae Sot?

I think Mae Sot is a very pleasant place to stay. The town is quaint but has everything you might need. There are a variety of different living situations, and the cost is relatively cheap. The culture is wonderful, as you are surrounded by Thai, Burmese, Karen, Chinese and a mixture of Western cultures. This manifests itself in the cuisine in Mae Sot, as you can get Thai food, Burmese food, spaghetti, or a bagel! The town is small enough that you can navigate it by bike or motorbike, which are available for rent all over town. Thankfully the town is pretty flat so it makes for a pleasant ride!

Do you have any plans to work with BMWEC in future?

I would love to come back to Mae Sot and work with BMWEC. While so much work has already been done, there is the potential to provide so much more for these children.

Do you think that BMWEC is a good place to share your knowledge and experience?

BMWEC is a great place to exercise your skills and knowledge while learning from others. Teachers and administrators are so committed to helping in any way they can, and their hard work is inspiring. Conversely, the BMWEC team is eager to learn and utilize the skills of their volunteers, welcoming their volunteers and placing them in a situation that will best benefit the students.

What message would you like to leave for BMWEC?

I am so appreciative of how welcoming and warm everyone at BMWEC was. Whether I was in the office or at a school, there was a genuine interest in looking out for the needs of the children. I’ve been so honored to work with BMWEC and wish you all the best in your work!

Day One

Volunteer: Jane Ryan, from USA, June 2012

Hello from “little” Burma in Mae Sot, Thailand. I finally got here and was picked up by one of the BMWEC office staff in a 4-wheel beaten up truck. We checked me into my guesthouse, then hit a coffee house to get acquainted. After a huge downpour, we were off to Good Morning School to pick up the young Burmese manager and his new wife to go off in the country and pick up pig food. It was mentioned that it was, “not too far” and “wouldn’t take too long.”