Dear Friends of Shan Refugees:
One of the lesser known outrages caused by the civil war in Burma is the number of ethnic people who have been driven from their homes by the government soldiers and are now living either in relocation camps or hiding in the jungle.
The map above, prepared by the Thai Burma Border Consortium, shows the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) hiding areas in green, the cease fire areas in pink, and the IDP relocation -some say concentration-camps as pink dots. All of these are located in the Shan, Karenni, Karen, and Mon ethnic homelands of eastern Burma. The civil war has been waging for over 50 years, and by the time this map was prepared there were close to one-half million IDPs throughout eastern Burma.
Some may think that Burma should be more peaceful now that they have a civilian government, but military attacks have increased in Shan State and other ethnic areas. Last month I asked Khuensai Jaiyen, editor of the Shan Herald how many battles there had been in Shan State since March 1. This was his answer: “We don’t have an official count. But 200 clashes, big and small, I think, is a conservative figure.” Khuensai is a highly respected Shan elder and a friend of Charm Tong, director of the school for refugees from Shan State where I taught English in 2001 and 2002. In 2001, Charm Tong was 19 years old and already an activist.
Recently Charm Tong helped compile a report about the effects of war in Shan State, which has resulted in 30,000 internally displaced persons huddling in makeshift huts inside Burma near the Thai border.
There is little help available for the displaced refugees, and unfortunately our charity is not set up to provide aid. However, some of my former students attempt to help the displaced refugees.
1. Although we can do little to help newly displaced Shan refugees, we continue to help those children who escape to Thailand get an education. They learn quickly and well, and we are grateful for your help in giving them the opportunity to do so.
2. This spring, I met a 19-year-old Karen refugee from Burma who four years ago settled with his parents in our sister city of St. Paul. We became Facebook friends and then friends in the flesh, and I have been amazed by his accomplishments. He was a high school honor student and will be starting university in the fall. When we met, he talked about having Shan friends and said he wanted to help the children. In three months, all on his own, he raised enough money to cover school expenses for a number of Shan children. As if that weren’t enough, several days ago he came over and cooked Burmese food for my son Brent and me. Included is a photo of us in my tiny kitchen.
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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