Helping the Shan Refugees in Thailand

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

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