Dear Friends of Shan Refugees:
I returned to Minnesota March 1 after an interesting and productive winter with Shan refugees from Burma who have escaped to Thailand. In November 2010, I wrote to you about the orphans we support, who had been described by their caretaker as “a little bit smart and try hard.” We trundled them into the back of a pickup truck and took them to a nearby market, where they chose items they needed or wanted, bought with money donated by New York Mills 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. Here are five of them―we are now supporting eight orphans in this area, all of whom originated from a displaced persons camp.
My next visit was to Pi Mok School, started five years ago in a construction workers’ camp, an ugly place, which has grown uglier over the years. This year the worker/residents were digging sewer trenches around the land allotted for their huts, so the bamboo and plastic hovels are squeezed together tighter than ever. The same falling-down outdoor toilets continue to serve too many people. But the children are a delight. They love their teachers and their school! In this photo, a teacher and I are teaching “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” The girl standing at the right side of the photo is a top student. She learned the song immediately and is helping us teach the others.
￼At the end of February, I visited Poon Yaing agricultural workers camp and the school that has existed four years, under increasingly difficult conditions. Last year they were forced to change from sharecrop farming to salaried workers, because Thai landowners thought they were making too much money as sharecroppers.
Poon Yaing has a number of outstanding students, including the boy who last year won top academic honors among a class of 52 students in a Thai school. This year friends from England sent us 50 hand knit teddy bears to give to the children in this camp. We augmented their gifts with sketch pads and colored pencils and bought farm caps for the older boys. A 13-year-old boy helped me distribute the gifts. I was most touched when I saw him holding a bag containing a teddy bear and told him he might have a cap, if he wished. “I like this one, teacher [the teddy bear],” he said. Agricultural workers earn about $75.00 U.S. per month and have little money for toys. In the photo above I am sitting with some of the children.
While the children loved their gifts, my main purpose at the camp was to distribute scholarships to parents so the children could attend Thai schools. It was a humbling experience. Fifty-two parents came out of the fields to receive the $20.00 scholarships, enough to buy several uniforms, shoes, and a few other school necessities. I had photos taken with the parents but cannot include them because they are afraid the Burmese government might discover their whereabouts and hunt them down.
They had to sign their names to a receipt form to get the money, and to my dismay I saw that many of the beautiful young mothers could not write, had to ask the teacher to sign for them. If we should have a fortunate fund-raising year, I would like to start a literacy class for the mothers in this camp. First, of course, we must find out how many could attend. Just writing about them brings tears to my eyes.
I will attach a 2011 budget to this mailing, so you can see where your money is going. The last item on the budget, which is designated “Miscellaneous Education Projects,” has now been allocated to the production of semi-annual newsletters in the Shan language for the education and enlightenment of the Shan migrant community.
Many thanks for your verbal and monetary support of our projects for Shan refugees from Burma. I wish you could all meet them and see how hard they try to learn so they can live better lives than their parents and help to support their families!
Dear friends of Shan Refugees:
Conditions in Burma are abysmal. The military is waging open warfare against people protesting the takeover of their country. It is not just the protesters who are in danger: Loi Kaw Wan, an encampment of Shan displaced persons, on the urma/Thai border north of Chaing Mai, has been shelled and residents cannot farm their land for fear of attack.
In the past, we supported six orphans at this site, and I am deeply saddened by the plight of their people. https://myanmar-now.org/en/news/myanmar-military-artillery-shells-explode-near-shan-idp-camps. Below photo is with young women who lived at this encampment.
You can read more about the military coup here:
The Burmese military blocked internet service for more than a month. When they still had it, a former student wrote simply, "Scared, Teacher."
NEWS FROM THAILAND AND OUR EDUCATION PROGRAMS:
Thailand is having a resurgence of COVID cases, and only 1% of the people have been vaccinated.
Our schools have been closed for some weeks and are tentatively scheduled to reopen in early June. When in session, they accomplish amazing things. Here is some information we gleaned from the last report from Shan Youth Power, SYP, which manages the education
programs, wrote about several outstanding students. She studies as Secondary level, grade at Nawamin Payap High School. Nong Tida always has a passion for working at social work organizing, and leading the students in the community for activities
such as organizing reading books, decorating the school to be clean, leading the students for environment activity, encouraging the community to reduce plastic by collecting the money and buying plates, spoons for using in community, such as birthday party. She always happy to join social activity workshops or camps that are provided by Shan Youth Power. She has a strong heart to help the community and wants to see migrant people have better future.
Nong Tida may not be outstanding in language skills such as English but she is an excellent in social work. In SYP, we are not just developing in academic studies, we guide them to be who they are, to follow their dreams. We believe people have different talents, which means that although we cannot be outstanding in everything, at least we do good for people, for society.
Noung Shwe Kyar is one of the outstanding students from KarnKanook2 Migrant School. She has been studying at Chiang Mai Vocational College as a first-year student in Design, academic year 2020.
Her words: I am one of the students who has received a scholarship from Bernice [ie, Schools for Shan Refugees]. I got scholarship since elementary school until grade-9. I knew about this scholarship from one alumni student who is living in the same camp with me. We learned at Migrant school together. I thought that I had difficult circumstances and my family had very low income. This scholarship can provide for food expenses at school or tuition fee. And volunteer teachers from Shan Youth Power also come to teach at our camp. Therefore, I got the scholarship. The difficult thing I have faced is the cost of passport and visa extension fees. There are 4 people in my family and we all are using passports as well... this year there is an additional blood test and covid-19 test. Due to Covid-19 pandemic many people had lost their jobs and it is hard to find a job.
My mom works as a housecleaner during this period it hard for her to get a job too. Especially, if you are migrant workers. Because some employers are afraid of migrant workers. They think that they will get infection with Covid-19 from migrant workers.
For example, we went to clean in a house but they did not want us to enter the house. As for my father, in the past he had many jobs and it was easy to get a job to work. Now, there is not many jobs like before so, it is hard for him to get a job too. And he has to work to pay for food day to day and no savings. In the past, migrant workers like us wouldn't study until high school. They would only study till middle school then start to work. [Our program is extending the education of Shan youth.]
We are completing a report about our teachers—five of whom were migrant camp students and got scholarships from us, some, like Nong Shwe Kyar, for as many as nine years. I will forward it soon.
In the meantime, we are hoping to keep the schools and scholarship programs afloat. We are ever so grateful to those of you who have donated. That money is in safekeeping until the education programs resume. If you have not donated this year and wish to do so, scholarships range from $30.00 per year for elementary students to $100, $200, and $300 per year for older students, attending vocational schools. Donations can be made through Pay Pal at our website: www.shanrefugeeschools.org OR you may write a check to Schools for Shan Refugees and send it to
Mary Worner , Treasurer
28424 Water Street Road, Underwood, MN 56586
Many thanks to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Underwood for their continued support in the form of an annual grant. We are grateful. The Shan youth are grateful.
If we remain COVID free into fall, we plan to hold a 3-course Shan dinner fundraiser in Minneapolis. Hold the date: Saturday, October 9!
Bernice Johnson, Vice President Schools for Shan Refugees, Inc.
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