Helping the Shan Refugees in Thailand

Newsletter – June, 2010

July 5, 2010

Dear Friends of Shan Refugees,

Here is some good and bad news about Burma, Thailand, and Shan refugees, who are caught in the middle. New migrant registration laws in Thailand require refugees from Burma to be registered in both countries: Thailand and Burma. Many are afraid to do so, knowing it will make them more traceable. Still, they do not voluntarily return to Burma to suffer renewed persecution under the military regime, to endure the rapes, torture, and imprisonment they fled from.

In Thailand, they work at difficult, dangerous jobs, for less than minimum wage, in order to send money to family members who cannot make enough to survive in Burma. Illiterate parents work ten hour days, six days per week, to send their children to school.

The good news is that even though they are studying in a foreign language, even though they live in shacks of bamboo and plastic, in areas where rutted dirt roads turn to mud holes during Thailand’s heavy rains, the children excel. And not only do they excel but they consider school a joyous event. That includes the six orphans we are providing food, clothing, and school expenses for this year.

They are the children described by their headmaster as a “little bit smart and try hard.” I am appending photos their teacher sent me of the children as they they were getting their first personal supplies with money we sent them.

We thank you for adding opportunity and joy to the lives of these innocent young people, who are subject to human trafficking and to the ever-present dangers of drugs and prostitution that tempt young people in Thailand and Burma.

Sincerely, Bernice

P.S. For more news about the political situation in those two countries, you may access the following websites:

U.S. Assistant Secretary meets with Aung San Suu Kyi.

Former Thai Prime Minister accused of Terrorism in recent “Red Shirt” protests in Bangkok.



Christian Science Monitor, June 3, 2010: The “worst of the worst,” as Washington-based human rights watchdog Freedom House calls them, is comprised of nine countries and one territory: Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tibet (under Chinese jurisdiction).

Newsletter – January, 2010

January 28, 2010

Dear Friends of Shan Refugees,

Here is an update on some of my time with Shan refugees in Thailand.

1. Pi Mok, a camp for construction workers, is the first school we started for Shan refugees. Twenty families had left for other construction sites the day I visited the school, which meant the remaining children had lost their closest friends and were very sad. Between 15 and 20 children attend this bamboo hut school, which is situated in the shadow of more elegant homes their parents have built for their well-to-do Thai neighbors. Still, it is a haven of sorts, a place for the children to study English, Shan, their native language, which is not allowed in Burmese schools, and basic math. A place for them to feel special. We will be supporting the school again in 2010.

Toilets for 70 people


2. The Poon Yaing Refugee School has been located at an agricultural sharecroppers’ site, where they earned the equivalent of $75.00 to $100.00 U.S. dollars per month. But like most countries Thailand is having economic problems. Thai landowners decided to solve their problem by no longer allowing refugees to be sharecroppers; they will move them to a different work site and hire them for hourly wages. It’s hard to imagine how much lower their income will be under this new plan.

In 2009 we paid one-half of the expenses for thirty-five children in this camp, so they could attend Thai schools. In 2010, we plan to pay one-half of Thai school expenses for fifty children. Below is a photo of some of them in their school, which they had decorated for Christmas.

3. The Orphan Project: In December 2009, I traveled to a camp for displaced people from Shan State, people whom the Burmese military has driven off their land and out of their homes. Three thousand of them cluster together in the mountains just at the edge of Shan State next to the Thai border, where they are watched by Burmese soldiers on one side and Thai soldiers on the other, guarded, to the extent possible, by the Shan State Army South.

There are eighty-three orphans in this camp, the victims of The Burmese military’s undeclared war on the Shan. Because the displaced are not technically classified as refugees, they get no international aid. A charitable organization based in Thailand provides them with seeds to grow vegetables, at which they excel (see the giant radish in photo on right); they get rice from another organization.

The school principal at this camp said the people who live there are sending six of the orphans to a Thai school, a sacrifice because it is so difficult for the displaced to earn money. The reason these particular six orphans are being sent to Thai school, according to the principal, is because “they are a little bit smart and try very hard.”

In 2010, we will support the six orphans’ education in a Thai school, and some of their food and clothing needs. See their photo below right:

Although we fell short of our fund-raising goals this year, some of the donations we received came with heart-warming stories, such as that of a middle-school girl in Wyoming , who brought her Christmas money to her counselor saying she wanted to give it to Shan children. In deciding to use donors’ money as we are, we kept that young girl in mind and tried to reach as many refugee children as possible. Many thanks for your support!

I look forward to seeing you after I return to Minnesota in March.


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