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NuPo Karen Refugee Camp

Mae Tao Clinic Orphanage and Boarding School

January 2015 Healing through Arts delegation Report

There are over 100,000
,000 Burmese Karen refugees in nine camps along the Thai-Burma
border. The Karen are one of many Burmese ethnic groups that have been brutally
repressed by successive military dictatorships that have ruled Burma since 1948.
P.E.A.C.E. founder, Dr Phil West, first visited a Karen refugee camp in 2009. This was
the Mae La Oon camp. This visit wa
was a first step in establishing a PEACE project at one
or more Burmese Karen refugee camps.
Due to subsequent personal contact with Eh Paung, the former Camp Secretary of the
NuPo camp who now lives in Australia, it was decided that a P.E.A.C.E. project
at the
NuPo camp was more practical. NuPos population is approximately 11,000.
PEACE visits to NuPo subsequently occurred in 2012, 2013 and then in January 2015.
The first two visits essentially involved developing more knowledge about the needs of
the camp residents, the history of the Karen struggle, the general life and culture in the
camp and of course developing the necessary personal relationships with important
camp figures and organisations.

Members of the PEACE delegation, 2013

Map showing Bangkok, Mae Sot and NuPo

To Chiang Mai

The following images are of ordinary camp residents during their daily routines in the camp.

An elderly woman doing some spring cleaning in front of her house

Two young boys playing on the road

The Karen and the politics of Burma: a (very) brief history.

The Karen are one of many ethnic communities in Burma who have faced severe
repression by military dictatorships that have ruled Burma continuously since
Only in the past 2-3 years has a degree of democratisation occurred in Burma, but this
is far from complete and the military still controls most of the economy and social
institutions. In the meantime, tens of thousands of Karen continue to live in the camps
along the Thai-Burma border and may not feel safe to return for many years to come.
A majority of Karen are Christian, having been converted by German missionaries in the
19 Century. The second largest religious grouping is Buddhist the majority religion in
The first refugee camps were established in northern Thailand after mass political
repression following elections in 1988 in which the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi
won around 65% of the votes. The military had allowed the election, but perhaps
thought they could control the process and ensure victory by compliant, military-aligned
parties. This didnt occur and losing was too much of a shock! So Aung San Suu Kyi
was imprisoned under house arrest for the next 20 years and thousands of Burmese
were tortured, murdered, disappeared or imprisoned.
Now, a second generation of children are being born in the camps. Due to the
confinement and restriction of camp life, the younger generation of Karen are losing
traditional agricultural skills as there is no room for normal crop production at the camps
which are very cramped. Residents receive food rations from international aid. This also
develops an aid dependency which is very debilitating in the long run.
Many also have war and conflict-related trauma. At the height of the military repression,
hundreds of Karen villages were burned and people were forced to flee to the
mountains while being chased by the military. Elderly or sick sometimes had to be left
behind and children died of illness and malnutrition. Their trauma and scars are deep.


A second generation of Karen are being born in the camps and losing knowledge of traditional
agriculture and other economic, community and cultural traditions.

P.E.A.C.E. in Mae Sot and Nupo

Nupo, January 2015.
This PEACE trip took place between JJan 9-12 at the Mae Tao clinic Orphanage
rphanage and
Boarding school in Mae Sot and Jan 13-17 at the NuPo camp, Thai-Burma
Burma border.
The trip was financially supported by a number of Rotary clubs and we sincerely thank
these clubs for their generosity: Rotary Club of Altona City: $600, Rotary Club of
Bendigo: $100, Rotary Club of Eaglehawk: $100, Rotary Club of Carlton North: $100,
Rotary Club of Tullamarine: $100.
The ideals of PEACE are empathy
empathy, care, love and sharing.
Healing occurs when these ideals are put into practice.
The healing work of P.E.A.C.E. is done through often basic and simple activities but
activities that the children in the camp and at the orphanage can usually never do due to
the lack of resources: colouring in, painting, drawing and craft activities with balloons,
paper cups and other relatively simple items such as ice
cream sticks, streamers,
beads, glitter-glue and so on.
Many activities may appear unassuming
unassuming, but are structured in way so the activities have
a purpose relating to self-esteem,
esteem, community development, sharing, skill and
development, co-operation as well as just feeling happy!
Happiness heals.
For the children in the camp (and the adults too), jus
justt knowing that people from other
countries are thinking about them and wanting to share with them and make their lives a
bit more peaceful and joyful,, is very powerful and can have an impact that is deep and

The team
The PEACE delegation this year was made up of PEACE Founder and President, Dr
Phil West, Ph.D, Art teacher and graphic artist, Claudia Salazar plus two Bowen
Therapists from Bendigo, Leanne Meeny and Samantha Hamilton. Bowen therapy
relieves physical ailments plus helps release emotional stress and pain.
The P.E.A.C.E. Team: Rear: Phil West and local camp contact person and Bendigo Karen
Community Leader, Eh Paung. Seated L-R: Claudia Salazar, Sam Hamilton and Leanne Meeny.


One day, Leanne and Sam performed Bowen on a severely traumatised young woman
of around 17 who had only just arrived in the camp from Burma. She had been the
victim of an apparent gang-rape by soldiers and was being cared for by the Karen
Womens Organisation (KWO). She was not talking. For all of us, she was the most
traumatised person we had ever seen. Her eyes appeared as if hollow, she was
expressionless and you could actually sense the terror she had been through. It was as
though part of her humanity had been wrenched from her. After a therapeutic session of
Bowen, the girl actually smiled a bit and then asked if she could receive another Bowen
session the following next day.

Bowen in practice at the camp on a make

make-shift table in the school hall

The Art workshops.

Art, music and craftwork activities form the basis of the P.E.A.C.E. Healing through Arts
Images rather than words best illustrate the PEACE activities
vities carried out at the camp,
however, a short description is necessary and informative.
spect, concentration, behaviour and happiness.
The Karen children in the camp present an extraordinary symbol of our shared
The camp children rarely have the opportunity to carry out the type of activities provided
by P.E.A.C.E. At all times they show deep appreciation and respect and express their
joy at the activities they are involved in.

Children as young as just three years-old deeply appreciated the activities or were just
so happy to be doing them that they concentrated in a way that many 16-year-olds I
have taught in Australian schools cannot!
However, the most remarkable expression of the community spirit of the Karen, their
sense of shared purpose and their grass-roots religious conviction is demonstrated in
how the children treat each other.
They always share and are very polite and respectful to each other. Not once did we
witness anyone grab something out of anothers hand or scream, cry or complain about
anything. And this observation wasnt a once off.
During my last visit, a group of pre-school children aged 3-5 were doing activities such
as colouring-in and simple craft activities for an hour. Not once did any child grab
materials off another, push another and not one child cried or had a tantrum or hissy fit.
I really doubt that in Australia, a group of twenty 3-4 year olds could do art and craft for
an hour without one child pushing another, grabbing scissors or a pencil off another or
crying about something.
For me, this is a realisation of how spoiled our children are in countries like Australia.
Children who are used to almost nothing, seem to naturally share, respect their fellow
children and just enjoy the moment of happiness and joy without interfering negatively
with others. They also dont have ADHD and other similarly-labelled emotional ailments
common in developed, industrialised nations.

Photos illustrative of team-work and cooperation

This little girl was only about two years-old. However, she
he fully concentrated on her
maraca masterpiece
masterpiece for about 30 minutes. Her joy and fascination
ination with using
colour textas, which she had never used before in her life, was heart-warming.

The Healing through Arts Workshops

The activities carried out by PEACE with the aid of our wonderful translators, included
song and dance and the following art/craft activities:

Balloon self portraits and/or fantasy faces

Bead necklace making
Painting (acrylic and water paints)
Hearts of Hope activity featuring cardboard hearts on which children cover with
artwork and write message of love, hope and peace to others.
Rubber Loop Jewellery
Maraca making (two white cardboard cups placed en
d to end which contain
and which are then taped
ped together and illustrated by the children).
Own hand trace, cut out & colour
colour-in activity.
Finger panting
Mixed art posters

Here are some photos of the various activities:

This was the first time this budding artist had ever used water colours and the
painting was done completely from his imagination

A beautiful and expressive artwork made in cooperative pairs

Above: Fun with stickers,

ers, ice
cream sticks, glitter glue and other items that the children
dont have access to in the camp. Despite how creative the Karen children are, there are
no regular art classes as part of the school curriculum as the materials are simply not
available. Below: Balloon faces and posters.

The NuPo Camp Special Development School (SDS)

The NuPo camp has a population of appro
approximately 11,000. There are of course some children
with physical and/or intellectual disabilities in the camp. PEACE met the teachers and learned
about specific
pecific needs of the SDS school and ran a Healing through Arts program.
In essence, the conditions are atrocious and the school has almost no materials. PEACE would
very much like to provide support to th
this school. Here are some photos.

Hearts Across the World: A P.E.A.C.E. initiative ready to go GLOBAL!

In recent years, two shocking acts of violence occurred in other countries that resonated
with ordinary Australians: The Norwegian youth camp massacre and the Newtown high
school shootings in Connecticut, USA. These random and tragic acts of violence
prompted PEACE to take action to show support to the survivors and the families of
those killed.
PEACE liaised with a number of schools in Australia and the school children made
cards with message of support plus a canvas mural to send to the affected
communities. The purpose behind this project is for the ideals of PEACE to positively
impact our local children as well as the children touched by the particular tragedy.

The young people and families personally affected by a shooting, massacre,

random murder or terrorist attack are going through grief, loss and trauma.
Receiving messages of love and hope from unknown children from the other side
of the world can help their healing process and to perhaps understand that the
world out there is not so bad after all. The act of solidarity is quite simple, but
can be significant.

For the Australian children, they can express their feelings about what happened
while also opening their hearts by sending messages of love and solidarity.

Young people at the best of times, but especially now with the shocking violence that is
occurring everywhere, cannot really understand why these things happen but still feel
grief and shock. Even if they would prefer not to hear or learn about the incidents, the
news and images are all over the TV and social media. There is no escape. Often the
young people can relate to the incidents - such as the school or youth camp shootings
or the murder recently of the 17-year-old school girl simply walking through a park
listening to her i-pod or the young teacher murdered just before her wedding day.
At such times, young people can be shocked, angry but also feel sadness and fear.
Being able to express their feelings and take direct, individual action makes them
realise that they can personally make a difference and have an impact across the globe.
Stemming from these initial actions, the idea of heart-shaped cards was
developed by Dr West based on the centrality of the heart symbol in the
PEACE logo.
Thus, instead of just a usual flat (and boring) card, a heart could literally
be sent across the world. Related actions based on the theme could
be developed. For example Hearts for Hope (perhaps after natural
disasters) and Hearts to Heaven. This latter idea was developed after the recent
murder of the young schoolgirl and the school-teacher bride-to-be in NSW. The idea is

that the affected communities (school children in these examples), could make their
PEACE Hearts that could then be attached to helium balloons. Thus, the Hearts
containing their heartfelt messages and artwork could literally be sent to Heaven. This
would be a beautiful and symbolic act during time of grief.
The Hearts Across the World idea was put into practice during this recent trip to the
Karen camp. A sample of around 20 Hearts were made by school children in Melbourne
with artwork and messages of peace and love for us to give to children in the refugee
At the camp, children made hearts to decorate their community hall, for the PEACE
delegates and to be passed onto Karen children in Australia. The Hearts activity truly
showed the deep spiritual and emotional impact this idea can have. This was most
clearly seen when the children made hearts for the PEACE delegates. The children
really took the task to heart (excuse another pun) and produced beautiful and heartfelt
artwork and messages.
One girl who did her
heart for our
professional artist,
Claudia Salazar,
unexpectedly produced
another drawing for
Claudia the next
Her amazing drawing
represented the
emotional link
developed between her
and Claudia through the
making of the heart.
The emotion relating to
her happiness and joy
at our visit and the
activities and fun she
had enjoyed came to
the fore. This is better
described by images of her artwork. The image above shows the first PEACE heart
which features drawings of Claudia and herself. The following page shows a close up of
the second drawing.

The second artwork featuring a beautiful drawing of Claudia (teacher) and the young girl

Below: An example of another PEACE heart. The words are simple but expressive and
beautiful: I miss you, I am happy today, Sing=love

The Boarding school at the NuPo Camp.

The children of the Boarding School are unaccompanied minors. Some have lost a
parent or were separated from family when fleeing military violence and were sent
across to the camp for safety and to receive a basic education. Life in the Burmese
villages over the border is precarious, there is usually no education available and
military repression is still occurring. In the Boarding School, the older children look after
the younger ones (some are siblings) and there are a number of adults who act in a
parenting role. The children arise at around 4:30, tend a communal vegetable garden
for about an hour, then have a shower and breakfast and start school at 9:00.

Above: Boarding school children tending the vegetable garden. Below: Children in class

PEACE at NuPo and beyond: The next steps.

After three trips to NuPo, PEACE now understands the community, has developed
strong links with the camp leadership and is therefore ready to expand our role and our
support to the people of the camp
This report is not the place to provid
e all details about planed future support and a
detailed breakdown of possible budgets, but the following provides a guide and
approximate costs in order of priority.
1. Support for the Special Education School
The school is in quite a dilapidated state of disrepair. Materials, educational aids and
resources and general equipment are almost non
existent but the staff and volunteers
are committed and do their best. Suffice to say that the children do not receive a very
high levell of educational intervention, physical therapy or sensory stimulation.

How PEACE could support the SDS:


Provision of specialist stimulatory educational equipment and toys. Most would be

sourced in Thailand while some items unavailable in Thailand would be brought
from Australia where feasible.

Approx. cost: $2,000 for initial year, $1,000 pa thereafter


Provision of specialist rest/posture equipment and related health and physical aides.
Good second-hand items would be purchased if possible. Most items can probably
be purchased in Thailand.

Approx. cost: $5,000 for first year, $1,000 pa thereafter


Materials and labour to repair the building including new leaves for the roof. The
roofs of the bamboo dwellings in the camp are made from large leaves which need
replacing each 12-18 months.

Aprox. Cost: $1,300

One weekly free lunch for the children and staff
Approx. annual cost: $3,000

Funds to enhance the teachers salaries and for volunteer support.

Approx. cost: $1,000


Costs for ground transportation (of purchased equipment) in Thailand and related
costs (fuel, insurance etc)

Approx. cost: $500

PEACE would also like to support the volunteering at the camp of some Special
Education teachers/retired teachers or final year Special Education Students and other
related professionals (physio-therapists etc) to work with the children but also provide
train the trainer programs for the staff and parent volunteers.
TOTAL approximate cost to support the Special Development School: $12,800 for the
first year, $7,800 thereafter.
Some of these costs probably appear quite low, however, costs in Thailand for most
items are of course much cheaper than in Australia and the costs in the camp are
extraordinarily low as it is not a real village in Thailand and there is no real economy
as such.

2. Support for the Camp Boarding School and Dormitories.

This support would include money for Dormitory building repair (Including much needed
waterproofing for the rainy season) and to enhance safety for the children.
Approx. cost: $1600 for the first year and then $1,200 annually thereafter,

Art, craft and musical supplies for the dormitory and the school

Approx cost: $4,000 in first year and $1,500 annually thereafter

TOTAL approximate cost to support the Boarding school and dormitories: $5,600
for the first year, $2,700pa thereafter.
3. Support for the crisis intervention and general work of the Karen
Womens Organisation (KWO) including physical infrastructure repair to
their small office and purchase of supplies/aids/tools/equipment.
The KWO is a wonderful organisation that works in all the camps and supports womens
education, development, health, maternal health and issues surrounding family
violence. They also support women in emergency situations who enter the camp/s from
over the border after trauma of violence, family deaths or sexual violence.
Total approximate cost: $3,000 initially and $1,200 pa thereafter.
General administration costs, volunteer support costs and manager travel costs: approx.
$2,500 per trip and $10,000 annually for costs in Australia (design & printing of
promotional materials/flyers, volunteer training, printing, telecommunications etc).
So far the trips have been each 18 months to two years apart. However, to properly
develop the programs and to maintain the important personal relationships that already
exist, three trips per year for the program manager would be ideal. Volunteers fund their
travel and accommodation/food costs. Thailand is of course in our region and travel
costs can be reasonably low if tickets are purchased well in advance. The main cost in
Thailand is for vehicle hire. Again, this is about a third of the cost compared with
Australia. For example, in January 2015, our four wheel drive hire with full insurance
was $50 per day.


TOTAL approximate cost of ALL support for PEACE activities and project
partners in the camp:
For the first year: $21,400
For each subsequent year: $11,700
PLUS admin costs of approx. $
$17,500 pa (3X$2,500 per OS trip plus $10,000
admin costs in Australia).

TOTAL for ALL PEACE Project costs and admin costs = approx. $38,900 for
Initial year and $29,200 for each subsequent year.

Support for the Mae Tao clinic Orphanage and Boarding school.
PEACE also visited the famous Mao Tao clinic which is in the Thai town of Mae Sot.
The clinic is really now a large hospital that services thousands of patients each week.
It was established by Dr Cynthia Maung over 20 years ago as just a few huts in the dirt
servicing poor Karen women who ha
had fled the military repression. The PEACE
delegation in 2013
3 visited the clinic and Dr West has a direct connection with Dr Maung
through a Karen relative of hers who lives in Melbourne. Dr Maung was the
he recipient of
the prestigious Sydney Peace Prize in 2013.
One of the PEACE volunteers in 2013 was a post
grad Prosthetic engineer and
lowing our return to Mae Sot fro
m our visit to the camp, stayed for six weeks at the
Clinic as a volunteer at the Prosthetics Lab.
The Clinic also runs the Orphanage and boarding school. Similar to the Boarding school
in the camp, the children at the Mae Tao facility are also unaccompanied minors
however; most are also orphans as a result of the armed conflict.
Although the refugee camp is the first
priority of PEACEs work,, the Mao Tao
school also has limited resources.
PEACE developed a great relationship
with the school, the principal and the
general staff and PEACE would like to
support these children too for the
provision of art and craft supplies and

Photo: Children at the Mao Tao orphanage

during a PEACE Healing through Arts workshop

develop and on-going

going relationship with the school and orphanage.
tablishing a Child Sponsorship
program will also be investigated.

Photos showing inside and outside the

boys dorms which were destroyed by fire a
few weeks after PEACEs visit. The photo
underneath is of the kitchen in which the
food for all the children in cooked.

PEACEs principal area of work is related to the provision of arts activities and
programs to support emotional healing of war-derived trauma. We do not heavily
support infrastructure. We will do this in the camp to some extent for our specific project
partners who are in dire need such as the Special Development School.
However, PEACE would like to support the orphanage in the following way:

Provision of art and craft and musical supplies for the school. Approx. cost: $2,000
for first year, $750 pa thereafter.

Once-off provision of equipment to properly and more hygienically stock the kitchen
and for the construction of some shelving and cupboards. Approx. cost: $1,500

TOTAL for supporting the Mae Tao orphanage and boarding school: $3,500 initially,
$750 thereafter.
PEACE delegations would of course continue to visit the orphanage and school and
would like to provide medium to long-term volunteer teachers and other professionals to
work at the Orphanage.

So the NEW TOTAL for ALL support including support for the Mae Tao
orphanage would be: $42,400 for the initial year and $29,950 for each year
Hearts Across the World Project (incorporating Hearts for Hope and Hearts to Heaven)

The Hearts Across the World idea proved a great success in the small trial at the
camp. The heart is a universal symbol of love and hope across all religions and
PEACE envisages that this beautiful idea could become global if the right support and
marketing is done and one or two celebs come on board as Ambassadors. But there is
nothing to stop this program being put into practice immediately. As well as being
enacted in Australia after tragedies such as the murder of the Melbourne school-school,
the hearts could also be made by children from schools and other organisations and
sent to children suffering loss and grief after school massacres or acts of violence and
cruelty such as the recent university massacre in Kenya or the kidnapping of the
schoolgirls in Nigeria.
This could become universal and the project trademarked, logos copyrighted and sales
could generate income for the project.

For example, at community festivals or events, PEACE could run a table for the Hearts
Across the World program. Kids/parents would purchase a blank heart for say $2 and
the children would complete a finished heart on the spot which would be sent to say a
refugee camp. Additionally, because of the very strong emotional appeal of the PEACE
Hearts, Children could also purchase extra hearts to take home as the hearts could be
used as Mothers Day cards, birthday cards and so on. There would surely be potential
for retail sales or for partnership by a large retailer during a designated International
Hearts for Hope Day or similar.
PEACE wishes to get Hearts Across the World started as soon as possible!
A quote from Precision Forme Printing shows that the production of 2000 A4-sized
Hearts would cost $750. This is less than 50c each. Obviously cost per-unit is reduced if
more are printed. The Hearts would be blank on one side and the other side would be
lined in part but also present information about PEACE and partners (eg a Rotary Club)
with logo/s. These promotional markings on the card plus contact information would be
suitably visible but appropriately subtle.
The trip to NuPo was very successful particularly in terms of:

Strengthening relationships made during previous trips

gaining further understanding of the needs of the people and how PEACE can
best support the NuPo community.

The resilience, strength and uncomplicated religious convictions of peace, love and
goodwill towards others of the Karen was a joy to witness.
Their happiness and delight in having an opportunity to extend their creativity,
imagination and to express their feelings through participation in the Healing through
Arts activities was a raw emotional experience for all involved. The power of The Arts
to awaken, inspire, increase self-love and bring hope, joy and to relieve trauma
was strongly evidenced.1

Up until now, the healing through arts activities of PEACE have not been based on formal Arts Therapy.
PEACE is not philosophically opposed to formal therapy and would appreciate the involvement of
formally-trained therapists in further development of our programs. However, the lived experience of
PEACE in the camp and in workshops PEACE has carried out in Cambodia and Colombia, demonstrate
that a less formally interventionist approach which essentially provides traumatised children the chance to
have fun, be creative, imaginative and cooperative with others is amazingly healing and therapeutic.

Above all, the practical application of the Hearts Across the World program
demonstrated that this idea is very powerful and opens up creativity, passion, raw
emotion and the manifestation deep human love and compassion. The practical testing
of this idea has inspired PEACE to commit to make this project a Global reality with
hoped-for participation by Rotary, UNICEF and other international organisations.

HeArtwork by a 15 Year-old Karen child at NuPo Karen refugee camp, January, 2015

Thank you for reading this report

Dr P West, Leanne Meeny, Claudia Salazar, Sam Hamilton
March, 2015

How to contact PEACE:

Dr Phil West: 0435 611 324; e:

We look forward to the PEACE Healing through Arts and the Hearts Across
the World idea being supported by YOUR club!

We look forward to your support, suggestions, ideas and participation!

We will contact you shortly.

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