|Karen Hill Tribe Village|
The interest in teaching English or how we have ended up working as community advisers.We first had set out to explore options to provide educational assistance in one of the large UN run Karen refugee camps along the Thai Burmese border, until we were advised by the Thai military contacts who had provided us access to one of the camps that the major NGOs had the situation and educational needs pretty well under control, and we could do more and better at one of the numerous villages within the restricted military zone along the border.
Karen Refugee Project DetailsNestled on a hill directly across the border from Myanmar (Burma):
- No electricity, drinking water, or telephone signal available in the village
- No medical services available for the approximately 600 villagers
- Health issues include ringworm, malaria, intestinal infections & parasites
- The Thai Military does what they can to support the villagers
- The small school provides elementary education and Thai lessons
Access to Karen VillageOnce we had received permission from the Thai Military authorities, we were able to gain access to a village far in the hills overlooking the border to Myanmar. The steep dirt road had been carved out of the reddish clay in the jungle and would turn into a 4×4 requirement come rainy season, but our initial trip during the hot and dry months enabled us to reach the traditional stilt house village of 600 inhabitants by car.
Karen Hill Tribe Refugee CampWe were warmly greeted by the Thai military contingent stationed on top of the hill, in stone’s throw distance from the first village stilt houses. Since there is no telephone signal and electricity is only available via solar power, with inferior batteries holding the charge for a maximum of two days, communication with the outside world is scarce and our arrival provided a welcome change in the routine of the military, there in charge of border security and to address the wide spread problem of illegal logging and deforestation.
The teachers at the small school were motivated but let us know that the biggest hurdle they were facing in education was the transient nature of the village population. With a border that is difficult to secure around the clock, many Karen make the dangerous treck from Myanmar to resupply in Thailand for their armed struggle in the jungles across the border, or cross the border from Thailand to visit or stay with family members who reside on the Burmese side.
Therefore, nobody knows for certain who is in the village at what time, and schooling becomes difficult. The fact that Karen children do not speak Thai with their parents or in the village, but one of two Karen languages, further creates a difficult learning and teaching environment for both learners and teachers.
The most urgent issue in the village was and still is the lack of clean drinking water.
Subsequent VisitsIn order to better understand the situation regarding the potable water quality and availability in the village, we invited a professor from Buffalo State, SUNY, with a colleague to test the water, and high levels of e-coli contamination were found in the unprotected drinking water wells.
August 2012As the rainy season is upon us now, the dirt road to the village is impossible to travel without a 4×4, and a seasonally larger number of infants is suffering from waterborne diseases as wells are full of water, but remain not covered, allowing for contamination from roaming livestock and insects, aside from human and animal waste surface run-off from the field latrine facilities located in higher elevation than the wells.
The Karen Twins
September 2012When we went on the seven hour drive from Bangkok again last week, we were not sure if we could ever reach out to the community in a way that would provide the type of engagement from community members needed to make a difference.
It was when we started speaking with the owner of a very modest food stand, that we started understanding how we could be of service, albeit immediate.
Lying on a plank next to the food vendor was an infant, wrapped in cloth, and a gaunt looking woman was sitting further in the back with another infant in a sling, whom she was nursing. When we asked why the children both had an herbal paste mixture on their heads, we were told that this Karen medicine was to cure the eight-month old twins of excessive gas.
Upon returning to the village, our female colleague, who herself is a mother of two and who had been carrying one of the sick twins throughout the day, proceeded to give an impromptu workshop on infant health and hygiene to the neighborhood mothers, including demonstrating how to properly bathe infants, which proved to be the first bath the two eight month-old babies had ever received in their lives. Before fleeing from the advancing Burma Army in Myanmar to the safety of Thailand, the Karen mothers would cleanse their children without giving them a (perhaps traditionally Western style) bath, so this experience was both new and something that had to be repeated to be learned.
This was a surprise and very welocme break in our attempts to make inroads into the community’s hearts and minds, and we know that only time will reassure the people that we neither want to sell them on a religion nor get them to lose their culture or exploit them in any other way, but simply strive to provide them with the skills and knowledge to maintain their ways while surviving in today’s world.
Our next step is to meet again with the community leaders and learn more about their needs, wants and desires, and to see how we may be of service. We at UEC are not funded externally nor have the backing of any other organization, but we are simply a small and eclectic group of professionals wanting to make a positive difference as best we can, and whenever necessary.
Burmese American VisitThe next visit was conducted by our Burmese American colleague, who went to the village with a Burmese doctor and a Karen translator. During this visit, one of the assistant village heads explained that there was a dedicated Malaria medic in the village with about 18 volunteers to assist him in the prevention of malaria.
The younger of the twins was still fighting diarrhea, at this time for more than two months, while the other had started gaining weight. The mother’s father was, by diagnosis of the Burmese doctor, in the final stages of throat cancer, which was preventing him from being able to swallow or turn his head at all. This diagnosis was kept from the mother of two and her mother, since no hospital in the vicinity could treat this situation, nor was funding available.
Karen Mother and DonationsOctober: All of us managed to carve out time between work assignments to go up to the Karen village and check up on our mother of two and any developments regarding the water situation.
We delivered 185 cold weather sweaters for infants and young children (2nd hand for 1900Baht, Patcharin found and purchased them), two large barrels with lids, Ms Noi donated shoes and clothes for adults, a box of Thai schools books for prathom level and handed them over to the assistant village head.
We asked the asst village head for an exact count of families with infants and he said he would find out. We also explored village weaving projects, which he said he had organized elsewhere before and could do again, if there was interest.
In more good news, we checked on the six water tanks in the village, and all were filled to the rim, but still none were covered, so we are contemplating creating 70 by 70 cm covers from hard but preferably unbreakable materials.
As a result of the new information, we started discussion on how we can keep the mother with her children and her mother in the village IF her husband should disappear. Income opportunity could be the responsibility of intel gathering and basic clerical and training skills, once taught, to supply her with a 1000 Baht monthly income.
A duck enclosure behind the school and close to the water tanks can be converted to be a goat shelter.
Next visit likely in the beginning of December, to speak with school and village head re goat, water coverage, water filters for the village, English and health camp for the kids, first aid training for a teacher with sponsorship.
If you are interested in supporting this project please contact us via our Donation Page. Any help and assistance is greatly appreciated and it will make a significant impact in the lives of many!
Support This Project