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1[1].0 Introduction

1[1].0 Introduction

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Published by Dhane Blue
Introduction to HTF Home School ... a Christian shelter for Burmese refugee children in Thailand
Introduction to HTF Home School ... a Christian shelter for Burmese refugee children in Thailand

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Published by: Dhane Blue on Nov 02, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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1.0 Introduction
Children are the "life" of any community and how they are treated is a goodway to judge a society and its values. Any society that exploits its youth or abandons this most valuable resource is literally "discarding" its ownlifeline to the future. When one contemplates the vast number of childrenleaving Myanmar for a safer chance at life in Thailand, Malaysia,Bangladesh, or India, one wonders at the lack of wisdom inherent inBurmese governmental policies. Or, maybe it is the 'perverse' wisdom of agovernment that only sees a future for itself, its 400,000 man army, andthose who would join or serve it. (Related article
)The Federation of Trade Unions in Burma estimates there are two millionBurmese migrant workers in Thailand, many of them fleeing the practice of forced labor in their own country. In Mae Sot, there are more than two hundred factories, mostly garment-producing,owned by wealthy Chinese or Taiwanese, with approximately 36,000 legally registered workers.However, local labor advocates assert there are four times as many illegal workers. An ILOreport from 2006 claims that factories in the Mae Sot area have perfected a system of exploitation and a recent
by Ed Cropley (June 4, 2007) describes the situation in thisThai border town as one of "Burmese workers toiling in penury." It is obvious that Burmesemigrant workers in Thailand face a myriad of human rights issues although the situation isslowly changing for the better. (Related report
)In this situation, the children of refugees often suffer the most. Many are forced into child labor  just to survive. Others eke out a living by recycling trash, begging, or living on the streets aspick-pockets. The valuable resource of young Burmese minds is presently squandered inMyanmar by a dictatorial government. A young Burmese child, kidnapped by the military tobecome a
, or nowadays, even a young Buddhist monk, has a bleak future,indeed. With a little support and some basic education, the children of Burmese migrant workerscould overcome the local conditions of poverty and exploitation they are beset by.
LocationMae Sot
is a small Thai trading town on the western border with Burma. It has a mixedpopulation of Thai, Karen, Burmese and Chinese. Bangkok and Chiang Mai can be reachedwithin an hour by air, and bus services run regularly to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and all major citiesin Thailand. Mae Sot is the closest point in Thailand to the Burmese capital Yangoon and hasbecome a major gateway to Burma. It has recently developed into a tourist location, completewith internet cafes and budget guest houses. Mae Sot is also opposite Burma's Karen State.The Karen are one of the ethnic groups currently embroiled in conflict with the Burmese Junta,SPDC State Peace and Development Council, in order to achieve greater autonomy.
Where did it all begin? (In 2006, at the Pattaravitaya English ProgramSchool) How did it begin? (With a swim in the Moei River) How did DhaneBlue come to be in Thailand and what possessed him to start caring for Burmese kids whose only home was under the bridge over the border? (Hefell back in love with his natural self) The picture of me at above right is withBuyee -- a girl I met under that bridge while swimming in the Moei River.(She has three sisters and a brother but these siblings have no parents or other living relatives) The questions people are interested in hearing theanswers to -- now that a lot of water has figuratively passed under that bridge -- are not thatdifficult to come up with. Since I am responsible for starting this little thing called
HTF HomeSchool
, I shall try my best to explain my motivations to everyone's satisfaction.My interest in helping third world children actually began in the early 1970's. I had joined theU.S. Navy at the end of the Vietnam War and found myself stationed in the Philippines. Thiswas my first exposure to living conditions in third world countries. The experience of living in asmall village on the coast made a lasting impression upon my young, naive self. At the time, Iwas a typical 'sailor' and didn't accomplish anything to be proud of. I served my country,though, and didn't have to kill anyone to do so -- I was just lucky! It took another thirteen yearsbefore I returned to Asia as a thirty-something year old student. The wait had been worth it. Ihad time to mature emotionally and knew what I wanted to accomplish. Both my B.A. and M.A.degrees were focused on community health and rural development in third world countries. Bythe time I arrived in south India as a student intern with a village development project, I was in'over my head' and learning to live a new lifestyle. It is one that I have never abandoned in myheart.For the next thirteen years, I continued to live in Asia. My first visit to Thailand was in 1985 andI had wanted to study alternative medicine at a Thai primary health care center near theCambodian border. I was frustrated in my search for government approval but began my career as an English teacher then in Bangkok. I had no choice -- I was waiting for a student loancheck. I couldn't just leave Thailand and immediately go elsewhere to study herbal medicine.The next twelve years were spent in India and Nepal. I continued my studies until 1991 when Isettled down in Kathmandu and basically became an unofficial Peace Corps volunteer. At least,my lifestyle was the same. I worked in local boarding schools and eventually added on a year of Ph.D. research into health education onto my experience as a teacher. I had always beenfrustrated, though, in applying my educational background to worthwhile development projects. Inever wanted to work for an international non-governmental organization because I had livedtoo much of the poor lifestyle myself to ever understand why so many I.N.G.O.s' budgets seemgeared towards making their employees' lifestyles so luxurious. I always thought a non-governmental organization was either a true grass-roots group or it hadn't earned its name.Finally, in 2006, I returned to Thailand as an English teacher. I joined the Pattaravitaya EnglishProgram School's staff as a foreign teacher. My supervisor was a Philippino young enough tobe my daughter -- a return to the Philippines in a sort of round-about way. Here, I applied myskills as a teacher with less than a hundred students enrolled in the English Program. I hadplenty of time to explore the local environment and community. For six months, I shared a Thaifarm house with another teacher from Myanmar. He taught Burmese language at Pattaravitayaand opened me up to the culture of Myanmar. During the hot season just before the monsoonrains began, I would spend many an afternoon cooling off with a swim in the Moei River. Here, Icouldn't help but encounter swarms of local Burmese children also swimming in the river. For many of them, this was the only home they had ever known. Many of them spent their dayscollecting enough plastic bottles from local trash bins in and around Mae Sot to earn enoughmoney to pay for a meal each evening. Others survived by begging from the rich touristsvisiting the Burmese market near the Friendship Bridge.
I became friends with many of the childrenliving under the bridge and shared mypocket money -- for clothes, sometimes,but mostly to take someone to a localrestaurant for a meal. I was able to talkwith many of them through my friend andhouse-mate, the Burmese teacher. He hadlost his own parents during the DemocracyMovement in Myanmar. I had witnessedthe same movement succeed in Nepalduring the early 1990's. I couldn't help butfeel compassion towards these children'splight. They had no real champions in theworld. These were not Karen childrenwhose parents' villages were ethnicallycleansed by the Burmese Army. These were just kids mostly from broken families. All of their stories were similar in one way or another. One or the other parent had run away, become adrunk, or didn't make enough money to support the children he or she had brought into thisworld. These kids would classify as economic refugees – as unwanted as the flotsam that theBurmese throw into the river each day. It was only apt that these children also ended up in theriver along with all the other 'trash' thrown away. But, I couldn't see them as trash. I had livedtoo long in Nepal with similar children from impoverished backgrounds not to realize that thesekids had long ago lost their support network. Burmese society was unraveling in front of myeyes.I had been planning on leaving Thailand after a year and working my way around the world as a volunteer at orphanages and with programs helping streetchildren. Suddenly, I was inspired to finally try my ownhand at this 'N.G.O.' game. Why couldn't I do thesame thing? I was tired of spending my salary -- whichI didn't need but ten percent of to survive on inThailand, anyway. My friend, the Burmese teacher,and I rounded up about ten kids and found a house torent. It was near the Friendship Bridge. We hired themother of one of the children to be their housekeeper,opened the doors, and handed over a month's foodmoney. It was our first mistake. The next morning saw the kids kicked out of the house. Anangry landlady showed up at our door, and the housekeeper had run away with our money backto her village. We learned that Achai, her son pictured here, was the youngest of her children.All the rest had run away from home and many had become thieves. Old habits are hard tokick. We were disappointed -- both in our Thai and Burmese neighbors. We had convenientlyforgotten these people had their own history that wouldn't go away just because some whitefarang came along and tried to 'make their world over'.We took the next step in our adventure and rented a larger, older farm house in a village further downstream of the Friendship Bridge. We were lucky when we found a sympathetic Thailandlord who gave us a break on the rent. From September 2006 to February 2007 weestablished ourselves in this new home. The children were happy that they could reach uswithout walking too far into Thailand. The police were constantly on the lookout at that time tostop too many children from roaming free. Our kids could walk downstream in Myanmar andthen cross over the Moei River and our house was only 500 meters away. Life settled downinto a routine of teaching the children to be civilized. They had lived so long outside and runwild and free that actually being in a real house for maybe the first time in their lives was a newhabit that had to be 'broken in' like a pair of new hiking shoes.

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