I have had an interesting and rewarding few months in Thailand. This year board member Vicki Staudte was able to join me for a few weeks in November to see the projects that she has been helping to support. Our first visit was to a Shan construction workers’ camp where we have a school for 14 to 30 students, depending upon how many workers are living there. There were four tables of students studying the English language, one teacher per table. Three of the teachers had been our scholarship students at an agricultural workers’ camp. What a joy to see them teaching and to see the rapport between them and the students.
The workers’ camp is a dreary place that supplies only the essential needs of housing, electricity, and outhouses, but our little school is a special, joyful place for the children. I will insert a few photos of the camp below. Notice the large concrete water tank which is their only water source for bathing; women wear sarongs and men wear their underclothes while they slosh buckets of cold water over themselves. There is no privacy.
One more look at the circles of learning and love; and on the right side an amazing young teacher whose story follows:
￼￼Teacher Pong, at right, grew up in an agricultural camp where workers receive very low wages and where, for the past five or six years, we have given the children scholarships to attend Thai schools. Pong’s parents did not accept scholarships for her because she had to stay home and care for her younger siblings. She was not allowed to attend school until 2009, when she started receiving scholarships from us. In four years, 2009 to 2013, she completed grade school, high school, computer training, the training for students from Shan State at the school where I taught in 2002 and 2003, and enough teachers’ training to enable her to teach small children in the camps. She is now studying for the GED test so she can apply for university scholarships!
Our next visit was to a Shan orphanage/monastery, where I taught English for a very short time in 2009 and fell in love with the beautiful young people who work and study there. When people give me “do-what-you-want-to- with-this” money, I often use it to buy gifts for them. This year, Mary Anderson and Mary Worner of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Underwood led a group of women in making hand puppets for the children. Mary Anderson and Heather Czech also donated caps for all of the children. See photos:
Vicki Staudte added to the “do-what-you-want-to” dollars and bought traditional warm hats for the young monks who are also students at the school but who are are not allowed to wear caps with bills.
It would be difficult to measure which of our visits filled us with the most joy, but our final visit to a Shan agricultural workers’ camp would be a top contender. At this camp, we give the students scholarships to attend Thai schools. The results are amazing.
The first photo on the following page is of the young adults who receive scholarships varying from approximately $100 to $260 per year. They live far from secondary schools, such as vocational colleges, so most of their money is needed for transportation. I will also attach photos of the 14 students from this group who received scholarships from us last year and will follow up with photos of the additional 8 young adults who will receive scholarships in 2014.
The two girls on either side of me above left have gone through our scholarship program and are now teaching at the camp where they grew up! The young man with me in the photo on the right is an outstanding student at the Thai school he attends. In one quarter he received the highest academic grades of the 52 students in his class. He is holding an envelope containing the second half of his 2013 scholarship. I am especially pleased with the results of this program because many parents at this camp are illiterate. And with just a little bit of help, look how the children excel!
I will be returning to the camp in several weeks to distribute the first half of the 2014 scholarships. At that time, we will be giving small scholarships to the parents for the younger children also. Those scholarships will be approximately $35.00 per year, just enough to help parents buy uniforms, shoes, and books for their children. Following is a photo with more students―all of them who could squeeze into the frame!
Many thanks to all donors for helping Shan children to realize their dreams! Please contact me by e-mail or phone if you have any questions: 612-922-5462. I return to the U.S. in March.
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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