Stories

Responsibilities of a Child

Childhood should be filled with carefree innocence, but many migrant children are often given responsibilities far beyond their years. For this grade 3 student at Champion Learning Centre, her responsibility includes the care of her 2 year old sister. Teachers were concerned when the grade 3 student had been absent from school for a number of consecutive days. She has a serious heart condition which requires a long operation in Chiang Mai (hopefully to be occurring soon) and teachers were worried she was having medical problems. When she eventually came to school, she told the teachers that her mother now had a job at a factory. With no one to look after her 2 year old sister, this became her responsibility, meaning she had to stay home. Worried for her education the teachers decided that she could bring her sister to school if it meant that she could come herself. For the last couple of weeks, her little sister has been coming to grade 3. She sits on the desk beside her big sister, or can often be found sleeping curled up on the bench. At lunchtime she lovingly feeds her baby sister and makes sure she is well looked after. Unfortunately this is not a perfect solution, as she is often distracted from her schooling by having to look after her sister, but it is currently the best option available. Teachers at Champion are very understanding of the difficulties students face at home and strive to make school an enjoyable and safe place to laugh and learn.

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!

Green Water FUN

Sit BabyStudents who attend Green Water Learning Centre had a well deserved visit by BMWEC teachers and volunteers on Wednesday 19th September. A previous visit to Green Water identified that students lacked clean clothes, soap and toys; so volunteers and teachers arranged to bring a few of these items with them on their visit.

Eat Ice
Students were excited when they saw the BMWEC truck coming up the driveway. The school is in such a remote location that visitors are a rarity. School benches were quickly dragged to the undercover shelter near the school building. BMWEC teachers handed out ice cream sandwiches to eager children. None had tried ice cream before, they did not know what it was called and were shocked when they realized it was actually cold.

ShareAfter eating a few servings of strawberry ice cream (students quickly realized they liked the unknown food) the volunteers were able to hand out drinks, lollies, balloons, soap, and colour pencils. Students arranged these gifts into neat little piles; they were saving these special items for home where they could share them with younger siblings. A set of colour pencils was given to the teacher at Green Water so students could make some artworks in class time.

When students were well stocked up with goodies, the teachers taught some songs. These songs were in Thai and English and students really enjoyed copying the teachers’ actions. Green Water is a school which faces many challenges due to its remote location; school needs to be an inviting and exciting place for students to make the effort to attend. The head teacher does a good job supporting the students with little resources. Both the students and visitors had a wonderful day. gfh

Friday 30th August 2012

Friday the 30th of August was a joyful day of festivities in the Mae Sot area. The Karen community celebrated traditional wrist tying day and the Islamic community held Mother’s Day celebrations.

Karen Wrist Tying Day

Girls wearing beautiful Karen dresses and on the right a senior student is tying string on the wrists of younger students.

Girls wearing beautiful Karen dresses and on the right a senior student is tying string on the wrists of younger students.

Karen Wrist Tying Day is held on a date in August, depending on the Karen calendar. The action of wrist tying symbolises luck and unity of the Karen people. Family members come together during this time; children who have moved away go back to their parents and grandparents. Whilst wrist tying, a chant is said to bring the person good spirits. Although it is a time to unite Karen people, foreigners are invited to participate in the celebrations to demonstrate unity between Karen people and other nationalities.

Hsa Thoo Lei held a large wrist tying celebration on Friday 30th August. Students wore vibrant traditional outfits to school, as did the parents and local community who were invited to participate in the festivities. To commence the celebrations members of the Hsa Thoo Lei community spoke about the importance of wrist tying. After the speeches, students performed traditional Karen dances. Next, all senior members of the community formed a line and tied colourful pieces of string around the wrists of younger generations. This is to symbolise respect of older community members and to form a bond between generations. To conclude the celebrations Hsa Thoo Lei’s school band performed a number of traditional Karen songs.

When the formalities finished, students of all ages were given the opportunity to tie string around the wrists of friends and teachers. All students had a wonderful day with their friends and teachers.

Mothers’ Day

An older student was a fantastic MC for the event.

An older student was a fantastic MC for the event.

In another area of Mae Sot, the Islamic community celebrated Mothers’ Day. Phyo Khin Learning Centre held a ceremony in honour of local mothers. A stage was erected and the school was filled with guests, banners and decorations. Students hosted a superb talent show with acts involving dance and dramatic arts. Both girls and boys choreographed dances to popular Burmesesongs. They wore brilliant, colourful costumes, some traditional and some modern. Other students wrote and performed short plays which entertained the crowd.

These students danced to a traditional Burmese song.

These students danced to a traditional Burmese song.

After the show, students pinned white flowers onto their mother’s clothing as a sign of respect. This was emotional for mothers as their children were asking forgiveness for any wrong doing whilst also expressing love and gratitude. At the conclusion of the ceremony school teachers’ handed out mohinga (a popular Burmese fish and noodle dish) to families.

Teachers handing out mohinga to the school community.

Teachers handing out mohinga to the school community.

Student performances were of such a high standard that it not only showcased them, but also the teachers at Phyo Khin Learning Centre. They are dedicated to a quality education which encourages creativity and self expression. Also, it highlighted strong parent involvement and support for education.

 

Mothers in the audience, watching students perform on stage.

Mothers in the audience, watching students perform on stage.

For both Mae Sot communities, Friday 30th August was a celebration of culture and tradition.

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.”

Songkran: Water festival

Over the long school break during the hot season in Thailand there is one very important festival: Songkran (Water Festival). In Mae Sot it is impossible to stay dry at this time because everywhere that you go, people throw buckets of water at you! But Songkran also has a more serious side. According to Burmese culture, Water Festival is a time for us give respect and worship to older people and ask forgiveness for the mistakes that we have made towards them – and this who might include our parents, grandparents and teachers. At the same time, we offer some small presents.

SuperKid’s Camp

At the end of March, BMWEC ran its annual SuperKids’ Camp. 400 children from migrant schools in and around Mae Sot, as well as two schools for IDP* children inside Burma, came to the camp at Hsa Thoo Lei School and spent three days together learning, eating, sleeping and, most importantly, having fun.

Many children get very few opportunities to spend time outside their communities, so this was a wonderful chance for them to meet other children and get a sense of the wider Burmese community along the border – both inside Burma and in Thailand. It also provided a rare chance for them to learn how to work and live with people that they didn’t know and have some ‘time out’.

Hello from Mae Sot

Giuliana Caredda, Art Teacher, MUSE School, USA

I hope all is well with everyone, missing you all! I am sending you some of my experiences daily on this trip, otherwise I might forget things along the way because there is so much!

Friday was my first encounter with the GM students…As Erin and I pulled up to the school my heart swelled with excitement and a little nervousness. I was so curious to meet everyone and upon seeing their sweet smiling faces I was overwhelmed with emotion. They greeted me with open arms and warm smiles. I immediately felt a sense love from this community.