Thai-Burma border 2013

Refugees International Japan visits refugee communities around the world on a regular basis so that we can see at first hand the kind of impact your donations have. We are used to hearing bad news from countries affected by war. However, the people we meet, who are doing their best for theiar families and their communities, always impress our teams. Their resilience is amazing. The programs we fund help them to rebuild their lives and prepare for the return home.

Refugee Situation:

After nearly forty years of conflict, Burma has one of the highest levels of refugees and Internally Displaces Persons in the world, with numbers growing every year. Internal violence against the people of Burma, especially the ethnic minorities on the outskirts of the country, has forced many refugees to flee over the border to Thailand. While it provides temporary safety from the brutal military tactics, the camps on the border provide their own number of challenges for refugees.

Projects visited:

DARE:

Burma is the second largest producer of narcotics in the world. The widespread availability of alcohol and other addictive substances have been particularly hard on refugees who have lost everything, and addiction is becoming a serious problem in camps throughout Burma.

DARE is a network that stretches along the Thai-Burma border to promote awareness, and offer assistance to recovering addicts and alcoholics. While the RIJ team was visiting the Mae La camp, we sat in on the new training program, which gives 22 men and women between the ages of 20 and 30 years old, the opportunity to become addiction workers. One counselor explained to us that the problems of substance abuse were increasing among IDPs and refugees, affecting families and communities alike.

During their first meeting, the counselors were talking to the trainees about their motivation and hopes for the DARE program. Law La Say, the DARE coordinator, explained that priority in the training program is given to those who have personal experience with addiction; either their own or through the struggles of a family member or friend. For this reason, the young people being educated by DARE are eager to use what they learn and reach out to victims in their communities. The problems associated with addiction are wide spread, and the trainees are inspired by their ability to give back in a time of need.

Social Development Centre (SDC):

Refugees are not only separated from their homes and often their families, but they rarely have the opportunity to work towards a brighter future. The SDC offers the higher-level education necessary for young refugees to make a difference in their own lives, as well as the future of their country.

We visited the SDC and met with Aung Sun Myint, the tirelessly optimistic coordinator of the program. The RIJ team sat in on an English class at the Nan Soi Centre, and was able to witness first hand the kind of work that is accomplished in SDC. We were struck by the devotion and determination of the students there, and their passion for the subjects. Gaining an education is still difficult in Burma, especially for refugees living along the border regions. These students are taking severe risks by attending classes hosted by SDC. Yet they remain positive and dedicated to their work, inspiring the volunteers at SDC and RIJ alike.

Speaking to the team at SDC, it was clear how hard they work for their students, and how proud they are of the accomplishments of their alumni. The promotion of non-violence and diplomacy has lead many of their students to participate in community building operations, spreading peace where it is desperately needed.

Karen Women’s Organization (KWO):

The Karen Women’s Organization, located in a town called Mae Sariang, met with the RIJ team to discuss the progress of their Elderly and Baby Kits Programmes, and explain more about their current activities in the Karen region.

Naw Wah, one of the coordinators of the baby kits program, spoke to us about the importance of their work, and also about some new expansions and unforeseen benefits. Originally, this program only extended to the E’Htu Hta Camp, however KWO hopes to begin distributing the baby kits to other IDP camps in the region. We were told that through the baby kits program, KWO has managed to foster a more trusting relationship with many of the Karen people, opening the door for more opportunities to provide aid to IDP camps. Refugee International Japan is highly supportive of the new initiative, and will consider it at our next funding opportunity.

We also spoke to Hser Hser, the coordinator of the KWO Peace Process. Though a ceasefire has been called in Burma, the workers at KWO as well as many individuals the RIJ team spoke to, agree that the progress is only temporary. A significant amount of work needs to still be done to pull Burma out of conflict.


We met John who is the team manager for DARE in Mae La camp. John’s story is one of inspiration to many. He now serves as a role model to those who have lost their way and he shows how everyone can make a valuable contribution to the community.

“I started drinking in 1980. 6 years ago when the troops invaded my village in the west of Karen state, I escaped and made my way to the Thai border – a journey that took a month or more. In the camp, I continued to drink until I was actually certified crazy. I became famous because I was always drunk and could be seen lying around naked sometimes. During this time, my wife divorced me because of my drinking. In 2006 a friend introduced me to DARE and I decided to try and kick the habit. It was really tough at first as my body adjusted to withdrawal, but I saw it through and I have not drunk anything for 3 years. The education has opened my mind.”

 

One of the trainees even mentioned he came to the Training programme because of John.