Dear Friends of Shan Refugees:

Here is an update on recent happenings in Shan State and Burma.

Current news: Some prisoners, most of them criminals but some of them political, have been released. Not enough. Many people who simply questioned the government’s way of doing things are still behind bars. You can sign a petition for their release at this website:

Many of you have already seen the Skype interview between Aung San Suu Kyi and Charlie Rose. For those of you who haven’t, here it is:

The current government in Burma is allowing Aung San Suu Kyi more visibility than did past regimes. One journalist said they are “wooing” her, and that seems to be true. At the same time, there are frequent abuses of the ethnic people.

I have wondered if, as Suu Kyi hobnobs with government leaders, she is aware of what is happening in the countryside. Communication is restricted in Burma. While I traveled there in 2005, ten prominent Shan leaders were arrested, but I heard nothing about it until I returned to Thailand, one month later. A newsletter from the Shan Herald News Agency, dated October 11, 2011, addresses the problem of what appears to be happening on the surface, and what is actually happening.

“Though Myanmar’s central government held a general election on 7 November 2010 and has promised progress towards peace throughout the country, regular reports of human rights abuses in several ethnic states have persisted. Recent accounts from Mongyaw (Shan State), about 32 miles east of Lashio (the capital of Shan State north) have indicated that villagers have been forced into labor and support of government troops.” Thousands more have fled from their homes and live in hovels erected from bamboo and jungle grasses at the Thai Burma border, scavenging for food in the jungle, and without international support.

Forced labor and rape of ethnic women by the Burma military continue unchecked. In August, I sent you information about Charm Tong, who was the director of the School for Refugees from Shan State where I taught English in 2002 and 2003. She co-authored the report, Licence to Rape, published in 2002, which first exposed the military’s use of rape as a weapon war. Here is a website for a recent video of her interviewing the young victim of such a rape:

While many of the horrors perpetrated by the Burma military are beyond our control, we continue to help educate those children who escape from the military and flee to Thailand. Here are excerpts and several photos from a teacher’s report at a migrant camp school for twenty children. (I like the last sentence of the following paragraph!):

“Dates and description of special activities New Year Day: after 2011 New Year, SYP teachers and team organized fun and learning activities for New Year. In the activities teacher brought language game, picture and stories to tell students before give them present. From the activities students learn new words and stories that encourage them to be a good person.”

Here are a few descriptions of outstanding students:
“Noung Mwe – She has developed and can follow the lesson in the classes quickly. She also has painting skills that can link to the lesson that we have taught. She has good attention in the lesson and tries to ask when she has a question. Especially, she can help her friends to read while they are learning in the classes.”

In a comment about the boy in the photo below, his teacher said he is very clever but his parents have moved, so it is difficult for him to attend classes. (The teachers often pick up students on their motor bikes.)

I will be returning to Thailand November 3. If you haven’t donated to Schools for Shan Refugees yet this year and you are able to do so, you could either use our website (Pay Pal charges a 2.3% fee) or send me a check. I am having my mail forwarded, but please don’t mail anything after February 1—wait for my return, March 1. I will update you on our projects while in Thailand and Burma.

On behalf of Shan refugees from Burma, I thank you for helping innocent child victims of ethnic persecution get an education. And one more uplifting note: So far, about $1,500 in 2011 donations have come from young Americans under the age of 19, some of them in cooperation with a young refugee from Burma in Thailand, who donated earrings for them to sell. We can be proud of the world’s young people!

Sincerely, Bernice

“Our greatest gift to others is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer,” Henri Nouwen

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. Below photo is with young women who lived at this encampment.

You can read more about the military coup here: go-on-trial-at-special-court-in-naypyitaw.html

The Burmese military blocked internet service for more than a month. When they still had it, a former student wrote simply, "Scared, Teacher."


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: 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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