One of my first impressions upon first arriving in Mae Sot was that the natural beauty of the area hides a humanitarian crisis that has been ongoing since the ethnic minorities from Burma began settling informally in Thailand more than three decades ago. While much attention is often given to the refugee camps situated along the border, a very large and often neglected number of Burmese opt to live as migrants in the Mae Sot area. These migrants hope to earn a living to support their families and communities. The challenges to earning such a living often appear insurmountable with migrants unfairly targeted by law enforcement, needing to endure harsh living conditions, and receiving inadequate schooling and health care.
I first met with the BBP field staff who briefed me on the current issues facing the migrant community in Mae Sot and along the border. What strikes me most is the passion and knowledge that each staff possesses. Current Field Director Sofia Karim has been remarkable in her ability to multi-task and manage the numerous important projects BBP undertakes and she will certainly be missed when she departs in May. The Child and Youth Psychosocial Programs Manager Hay Mar San is extremely well connected and respected throughout the community and has her ear to the ground in helping BBP to identify the most salient needs of the Burmese migrant community. Finally, Than Than Oo is the newest member of the team, and is serving as the Child and Youth Psychosocial Officer. Her bright smile and keen work ethic shine through in all the project activities she helps to implement.
I would like to share one particular highlight from my first few days in Mae Sot. To see for myself the impact of the work of BBP, I have been visiting our partner organizations. New Wave School, my first field visit, is an independently run migrant school that also includes a boarding house for children in need. When BBP first met with the New Wave School, it was shocking to learn that the school had been running on a budget so minimal that the teachers had not been paid for months. The thatch roof of the one and only classroom was leaking considerably during the rainy season, and children were often going to bed hungry. Whilst this is only a new project for BBP, already considerable progress has been made. Most notably, a new thatch roof has been built which should last throughout the rainy season and the teachers’ salaries and children’s food can now be adequately budgeted for. This is a remarkable achievement completed in only a short timeframe.
Having seen the amazing work of Burma Border Projects first-hand, I am looking forward to taking on my new role as Field Director in Mae Sot and hope my time with BBP will be as memorable and successful as that of my predecessor. Over the coming year through these newsletters, I hope to shed more light on the important work undertaken by BBP on the border. Without your continued support the work of Burma Border Projects would not be possible, so for that I thank you.