Helping the Shan Refugees in Thailand
Newsletter

Newsletter – September, 2017

 September 29, 2017

Dear friends of Shan refugees:

Politics and racism have created great injustices in Burma (Myanmar) this year. Persecution of the Shan, Kachin, and Karen ethnic groups by the Burmese military has increased. And military actions against the Rohingya (Muslim) ethnic group have resulted in what “United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres….has described as ethnic cleansing.” Four hundred thirty thousand Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh this year, where they are also unwanted and where they live in abysmal conditions.

If you wish to read further about what is going on in Burma, here are a few websites:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/burma-latest-news-rohingya-muslim-children-starving-military-violence-un-agency-aung-san-suu-kyi-a7845641.html

https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/shan-women-appeal-govt-support.html

At the same time, the Thai government has cracked down on Shan migrant workers, some of whom have been working without permits. Many have returned to their homes in Burma. The children of those who remain, and whom we have supported for the past years, continue to do exceptionally well.

We are particularly proud of our young Shan teachers, who do excellent work and are dearly loved by their students.

Poung Poung grew up in an agricultural workers’ camp. We had a school in that camp for a while, but she was not

allowed to study. She had to take care of her younger siblings, while her parents worked. When she was finally allowed to go to school, she completed twelve years of schooling in just four years. She now teaches at our schools and is studying for the GED, so she can attend university. Here is a photo of her with a few of her students after class.

Teacher Ae Ying says: “When I was in the sixth grade in school, my mother passed away. After my mother passed away, I did my best to stay in school. However, it was so hard because of our financial situation, so I left school in seventh grade and followed my father to Thailand. While living in Thailand for many years as a migrant worker, I did not have a chance to go to school because I had to work to support my family.” Ae Ying got some training with Shan Youth Power, the group I helped my former students start in 2002. Then she started teaching in our migrant camp school. She now attends Payap University in Chiang Mai as well as teaching in our schools. Here is a photo with some of her students.

Two of our teachers call themselves “Ying,” which means “young woman” in Shan. One of the Yings says her name is “just Ying,” and that is the young woman of whom I now speak. Ying grew up in an agricultural workers’ camp and came to my attention when she was a young girl, when one of our teachers told me she excelled in English and that she had written a “perfect” English essay. She got scholarships from us so she could attend high school; received some training with the Shan Youth Power group and taught at our migrant schools for some years. Then she studied for the GED and was accepted into a Nurses’ Training Program at Chiang Mai University. She recently received her nurse’s “cap and pin” which allows her to study and practice on the hospital wards at the same time. She no longer has time to teach, but is supported by the Shan teachers who attended her award ceremony.

 

Ying Kawn Tai, the second Ying in our program, is one of our head teachers. Like Ae Ying, Ying Kawn Tai was orphaned at an early age.

She worked as a teacher for us in order to make money for university tuition, and is now our only teacher with a university degree. Here she is at work (above) and in a second photo with our male male head teacher, Myo Aung. They are passionate about helping Shan children get an education.

How to help the teachers help the children:

  1. Cost to attend a migrant camp school for one year: $140.00 per student.
  2. Cost for uniforms and books for primary students in a Thai school: $30.00 per student. (Most of our students also attend Thai schools during the day.)
  3. Scholarships for high school and vocational school students are in the amounts of 2,000 baht, 4,000 baht, 6,000 baht and 8,000 baht, depending primarily upon the distance students must travel. Presently, there are approximately 34 Thai baht in one US dollar, so in US dollars they range from about $60.00, to $118.00, $176.00, to $235.00 per student.

If you have been wanting to help the Shan, but haven’t done so yet this year, you may send a check to:

Bernice Johnson
Schools for Shan Refugees, Inc. 2928 Dean Parkway, 3A Minneapolis, MN 55416

Or you can donate through Pay Pal at our website: www.shanrefugeeschools.org

Many thanks for your support over the years.

Sincerely,
Bernice Johnson, President Schools for Shan Refugees, Inc.

Newsletter – February, 2014

February 13, 2014

Dear Friends of Shan:
1In this newsletter, I will talk about some of the reasons that my time in Thailand becomes more rewarding each year. The two young Shan people in the photo at the right are one of the reasons. They are both well-loved migrant camp teachers and they help to direct our education programs for Shan youth.

It was also rewarding to have a former student contact me about starting an English language library in the school she attended as a child and which she and two other former students helped to build. I am proud of them for their dedication to helping others. We spent an evening shopping for books written in English on one side and Thai on the other side. The first photo shows me with my former students and with the books arrayed beside us. The second photo is of the children reading the books at school:

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The following photos are students in our highly effective scholarship program. These students live in an agricultural camp where the parents receive very low wages and would have difficulty sending their children to school if they did not receive scholarships. The first photos are of some of the younger students who get $33 U.S. per year scholarships, just enough to buy uniforms, shoes, and books.

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The first photo below is with the younger children. The second photo is with the older students, who get annual scholarships ranging from $75 U.S. to $275 U.S. per year, depending upon need. Most of the scholarship money for the older children is used for transportation. Buses from the rural area where they live to schools in the city are very expensive.

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9The last photo (at right) is with our head teacher and the three former scholarship students who now teach at the camp where they grew up. This year I was privileged to watch their parents watch them as they worked with the younger students and to see the pride and joy on their faces.
Many thanks for your help in making the dreams of these young people and their parents’ dreams for them come true!
Sincerely,

Bernice

Newsletter – January, 2014

Dear Friend,

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.

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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.

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One more look at the circles of learning and love; and on the right side an amazing young teacher whose story follows:

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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:

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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.

9It 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.



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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!

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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.

Sincerely,

Bernice

Newsletter – October, 2013

October 25, 2013

Dear Friends,

In a few days I will once again undertake the long, long journey to Thailand. These days friends ask “Why?” and “How long will you do this?” Only “Why?” has an answer: Because the young Shan refugees we help educate are “try hard” youth, who did nothing to deserve their ill treatment under the Burmese military regime, a military that continues to ravish the country under “civilian” rule, frightening Shan civilians and driving them from their land. They deserve the education they yearn for. I will report more from Thailand, but here is a smattering of news from the past six months.

  • The children at View School continue to thrive. The school is at a Shan construction workers’ camp, but we must change locations because the workers’ are now at different worksites. This past spring, two St. Paul teachers visited the school and taught the children and their teachers new English language games. Below are photos of three of our Shan teachers and of our St. Paul friends in action.

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  • Agricultural camp students: The fifty plus agricultual camp students whose education we support with scholarships do amazingly well. (Three of them have become teachers!) One of their teachers sent me an attachment with individual photos―but it is huge. I will try to forward it separately. Below is a photo I just got from them, where part of the group―entire group is too large for photo― is reporting on their scholarships.

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  • Orphans at Thai/Burma Border: Communication is erratic with the caretakers of six children we have supported at the Thai Burma border―English is difficult for them― but in September they reported that the orphaned boys had joined a monastery and the girl had gone to live with a women’s group. Another child is now being supported by his parents. I can only surmise that the orphaned children were afraid of being forced back to Burma and feel safer in their new surroundings. http://www.burmalink.org/displaced-in-thailand http://www.irrawaddy.org/refugees/burmese-refugees-thailand-dont-want-return-survey.html

A last piece of news from early spring: Most of you know about our April fundraiser, which was successful thanks to the support of hardworking, faithful friends, like Jeffrey and Brenda Laux, who hosted the event, Josh Kletschka, whose dedicated support makes our organization viable, Richard Terrill and Larry McDonough, who enlivened the event with music, Karen Boileau, who supplied moral support and wine, Nancy Newman who greeted visitors and kept detailed records, and Sue Grosse Macemon, who was enthusiastically involved in every facet of the event and who brought along a crew of students from Como High School who have worked for several years to support Shan youth. Young women from that group helped to prepare a Shan ethnic tea leaf salad for guests.

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It’s heartwarming to have friends around the world who work for Shan youth and to have the benefit of seeing those youth succeed. (I will send more photos from Thailand.) Many thanks for your help in making that possible!

Sincerely,

Bernice

Newsletter – February, 2013

February 26, 2013

Dear Friend,
Here is an update on our 2013 activities with Shan refugees in Thailand. It was my great joy to have son Brent here with me for one month this year. He arrived in time for our annual visit to the orphans we support from a displaced persons’ camp in northern Thailand. Here are a few photos from that excursion.

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In the first photo above, Brent and I are with two of my former students who escorted us a displaced persons’ camp at the Thai-Burma border, six and one-half hours from Chiang Mai. In the second photo above, I am with the orphans, who are dressed in Shan State tee-shirts gifted to them by granddaughter Jessica. We support one more child in this group, but he was not available the day we were there.

Not long after this excursion, I developed acute bronchitis, was hospitalized for a couple of days and lost my energy for weeks afterward, during which time Brent assumed some of my duties. For the past six years, we have supported the children of Shan migrant agricultural workers with scholarships to attend Thai schools.

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In addition to scholarships, the children were delighted to receive oranges from Jerry Nelson and art supplies donated by Steve and Li Cole of Australia.

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The children from this camp do amazingly well in Thai schools and those who have graduated now have good jobs.

Because I was still in the throes of bronchitis, Brent took on another of my duties; this one self-imposed. He traveled to a monastery orphanage where thanks to the generosity of the women of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Underwood Minnesota, who make teddy bear backpacks, and to my equally generous friend Linda Rochester and her daughter and son- in-law of England, who bought teddy bears, the children got cuddle buddies. This school is supported by donors from Singapore, but it was our privilege to add to the happiness of the beautiful Shan children who work and study here.

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Many thanks for helping Shan refugee children! Please send me an e-mail at any time if you have questions. Sincerely, Bernice

Newsletter – January, 2013

January 22, 2013

Dear Friend,

The political situation in Burma has changed little.

  • Under pressure from the international community and after comments by Aung San Suu Kyi, the government agreed to stop attacking the Kachin ethnic group—so they said. Reports from Kachin State are that fighting continues. Ethnic groups are asking President Thein Sein to cut funds for the military to stop the killing and abuse.
  • Several groups Rohingya people from Arakan State have tried to get escape persecution by traveling to Malaysia. Yesterday there were reports that the Thai Army had been colluding with traffickers in Burma to transport workers to Malaysia. Mizzima News reported that more than 949 Rohingya had been held first in southern Thailand before being trafficked to Malaysia.
  • In Shan State, beatings and rapes continue.

screen-capture-1On a more personal level, the Shan children we have assisted continue to thrive. The PiMok Migrant School, which we supported for six years, closed this past winter because the construction workers who lived there had worked themselves out of jobs, having built lovely homes on all of the surrounding land. They and their children have now moved to other worksites, and we started a new migrant school in another construction camp with the money allocated for PiMok. The workers in the new camp are very concerned about their children’s educations, and chose a site for the school first, then built their bamboo huts around it. The new school is a simple platform supported by bamboo poles and with a thatched roof, as are other migrant schools. Here is a photo of some workers’ homes. The workers and their children are thrilled with their new school. A six-year-old Shan boy who attends the school scored 100% on both his Math and English tests last quarter.

screen-capture-2I visited the school together with friend Diane, whose Unitarian Church in Victoria Canada, supported the school in 2012. She brought chocolate candy to the students, and I brought them wool stockings knitted by Erika of Sweden and teddy bears knitted by Irish and English ladies. The children were thrilled. The girl with the very wide smile is trying on her stockings into which Erica had knitted a separate “finger” for their big toes. The Shan beauty in red is awaiting her gifts.

 

 

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Cuddled into the crook of Diane’s arm is the Shan boy who got perfect scores in his Math and English tests. In another photo I am with Ying, the former agricultural camp student we supported with scholarships, who is now a teacher.

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screen-capture-7Before visiting View School, I had attended the 2012 graduation ceremony for SSSNY, the school where I taught English in 2002 and 2003. The beautiful young man in this photo was also an agricultural camp student whom we supported with small scholarships. He came up to me after the ceremony, pressed his hand to his heart, and said, “My dream, teacher.” (The year before he had told me it was his dream to attend that school.) Then he asked to have his photo taken with me. I could not have asked for a better gift!

Many parents of these beautiful young people are illiterate, but thanks to your generosity, their children often become teachers. The young man at the left is now serving a teaching internship at a Thai school.

 

 

 

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Thank you for helping Shan refugees to help themselves!

Sincerely, Bernice

Newsletter – December, 2012

Chiang Mai, Thailand
December 13, 2012

Dear Friend of Shan Refugees:

“Premature euphoria.” That is the term Burma expert, Benedict Rogers, used at Chiang Mai University in speaking last week about international reaction to Burma’s recent conversion to a “democrary,” the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi, and her election to the Burma Parliament. Here are the facts: The Burmese Army is waging all out war in Kachin State and Arakan States. Deployed to Arakan State to quell violence between Rahkine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, the Burmese military is accused of inciting more violence.

An estimated 150,000 Kachin are now in displaced persons’ camps or refugee camps. The military has not given the UN easy access to help them.

Approximately 150,000 Rohingya are in displaced persons’ camps living under the worst conditions imaginable. When they tried to escape to Bangladesh, they were turned back. They receive little aid.

The Shan Herald Agency for News recently reported that the Burmese military is no longer waging all out war in Shan State, but “…abuses such as beating, stealing, confiscation, extortion and forced labour etc… have become worse even in many peaceful places. Many Burmese military authorities seem to be still enjoying using their fists, boots and sticks on ordinary civilians, though they may no longer be able to be as trigger-happy as before.”

screen-capture-1The good news is that the Shan children who are fortunate enough to get an education in Thailand do well. The two young women in the photo below are former students who had to leave their school at the Thai-Burma border because bullets were flying overhead during a skirmish between Shan and Burmese soldiers. They are now attending Thai universities!

The two young men in the photo below are former students who also had difficult lives. If you have a copy of “The Shan: Refugees Without a Camp,” you can read about them in the chapters “Shang Pun and the Sweatshop” (Shang Pun and his son are at the left) and “Sai Sam Searches for Work” (Sai Sam and his son are at the right). We gave them small amounts of support money for several years, and they now have good jobs, helping others.

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screen-capture-3The photo at right tells another interesting story: The young man at my left is our head teacher. Students applaud when he arrives at school. The fellow at my right is a former student who said he was interested in computers, asked for a $10.00 book so he could learn more. He also took a short computer training class and is now renowned in the Shan community as a computer guru. The two young women grew up in an agricultural workers’ camp, where we gave small scholarships to the students so they could attend Thai schools. When they graduated, they attended the school where I taught English in 2002 and 2003, and
They are now teaching children in their home camps!

Thank you for helping Shan youth help themselves (and others)! Photos of the children will follow soon.

Sincerely, Bernice

Newsletter – January, 2012

January 6, 2012

Two Months in Thailand
This has been an exciting year, with Hillary Clinton’s visit to Aung San Suu Kyi (read more about the effects of Hillary’s visit at this link http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=22662); Suu Kyi saying she will run for the Burmese parliament at the next election, and peace overtures being made by the Burmese government toward ethnic groups. Regarding the perhaps “pseudo” peace overtures, you can read more at this link: http://www.bnionline.net/index.php/news/kic/12301-burma- army-ignores-thein-seins-no-fight-order-.html

Aside from the political events noted above, the three highlights of stay thus far have been: 1) spending Shan New Year―based on the Buddhist calendar and in November this year―at a monastery/orphanage for Shan children and other ethnic groups in northern Thailand; 2) bringing Western friends to visit the Pi Mok Migrant School, which we have supported for six years; 3) spending Christmas at the Shan orphanage where Shan hero and advocate, Charm Tong, grew up (see the chapter titled “Charm Tong and the Girls” in my book.)

The Schools of Hope orphanage is located at a monastery in the northern Thai town of Nong Ook. The director, 23-year-old Noom Hkur, acts as a father as well as a headmaster to the children in his care, who fold their hands respectfully and say “My soong kha, Ba,” (Goodnight father) when they go to bed or leave the school at night. There are 46 children now living at the orphanage, plus 5 who are now at boarding schools. A friend bought gifts for all of the children and I had the pleasure of distributing them (teddy bears and cane balls). It was touching to see 17-year-old boys choosing teddy bears over balls. I will insert a couple of photos, one with Noom Hkur and all of the children and several of individual children. Schools of Hope is not “our” project. That is, their main support comes from a group in Singapore, but I try to bring gifts to such children, as well as to the children whose schooling we support.

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Above I have included a photo with two former refugee students who have turned their difficult lives around and now have jobs doing wonderful things for other refugees.

Pi Mok Migrant School: In 2012, it will be 7 years since we started this school, but it may be closed this year. The migrants who live here are supposed to start work at a new site. If they don’t move too far, our teachers will follow them and start a school in the new work camp. The new worksite couldn’t be worse than this one―at least I hope not.

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At this site, the plastic sheeting and bamboo shacks of the workers are crowded within inches of each other; the toilets should have been replaced five years ago; and there is an overpowering stench of urine in the camp. The school is as temporary as the housing, because of cost and because we knew it would all have to be pulled up and rebuilt one day. That has already happened once on the same site, as the workers built fine homes for middle-class Thais around their huts and the construction boss squeezed the workers into an ever-smaller space.

This year I brought to the school several friends who have been working to support the children: Diane from Canada, who made a storyboard with pictures of the school for her church, her friend Kelly, and Erika from Sweden. All last year Erika knit warm socks for the children. In addition to the socks, we brought them hand-knitted teddy bears,furnished by a group of women from Ireland who knit for a group that calls itself “Teddies for Tragedies.” And Diane brought expensive chocolates. The strength of the head teacher’s―the young man writing on the whiteboard―devotion to the children was shown when he turned down a chocolate so a tiny visitor, a child not yet in school, could have one. Having seen this teacher devour chocolates at other times, I know it was a real sacrifice. I have inserted a few photos. (Notice the little girls showing off their new socks above.)

My next visit was to the orphanage where Charm Tong grew up, which is known simply as “Teacher Mary’s School,” but should more accurately be known as “Iron Mary’s School.” She is one tough lady. Two years ago Teacher Mary suffered a stroke. She stuck to a therapy routine, is now nearly totally recovered, and rules the place with a smile and an iron backbone. (We all do what she says!)

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We were there over the Christmas holidays when Teacher Mary, a Shan Roman Catholic who was abandoned at a Catholic orphanage as a baby, organizes a feast for the entire village, all of whom are Buddhists. The orphanage children decorate everything in sight, helped by willing Buddhist monks who are full participants in the celebration. I will include photos of the primary Christmas tree, which is a native pine of some sort, of Teacher Mary, Charm Tong, and me (dressed down in my warmest clothes, which included long underwear and a heavy wool sweater―it’s cold in the foothills of the Himalayas). I will also include a photo of Teacher Mary and me with the visiting monks. Women’s heads cannot be higher than that of a Buddhist monk, and it was with great effort that I folded my metal knees into a semblance of a respectful position.

Between the visit to Pi Mok School and the visit to Teacher Mary’s School I had mini- backpacks made for the teddy bears fashioned by the good women who knit for Teddies for Tragedies. The kids loved them! These children got teddies knitted by Vania, surely the best dressed teddies in Southeast Asia with their perfectly coordinated clothing and neck scarves. I’ll insert a few of those photos.

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Newsletter – October, 2011

October 13, 2011

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:
http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/signature-campaign-of-burma.html

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.)

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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 www.shanrefugeeschools.org (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
www.shanrefugeeschools.org

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

Newsletter – August, 2011

August 22, 2011

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.

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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.

http://www.shanland.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3875:shattered-lives&catid=115:opinions&Itemid=308

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.

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Charm Tong and Bernice

Good News:

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.

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Students at Pi Mok migrant camp

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.

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Aung Lwin, cooking Burmese coconut noodle

Many thanks for all you do to help Shan refugee children get an education!

My soong kha! (A Shan phrase used to signify hello and goodbye.)

Sincerely,

Bernice Koehler Johnson, Director
Schools for Shan Refugees, Inc.

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