Hello from Mae Sot, Thailand!! We are members of GlobeMed at Whitman College, an organization based in the USA devoted to achieving global health equity by pairing college students with grassroots health organizations in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Every summer, GlobeMed chooses 3-5 students from each participating college to travel across the world to work hands-on with their partner organizations.
Whitman’s partner is Burma Humanitarian Mission (BHM), an organization who works to support community based organizations in Mae Sot, a city with a population of ~120,000-200,000 located on the Thai-Burma border. Mae Sot is home to many migrant workers and refugees from Burma who have fled from the human rights abuses which have happened and are still happening in Burma.
Unfortunately, making it safely across the border into Thailand does not mean complete freedom or security. Migrants and refugees are undocumented and are in constant fear of the Thai police. We witnessed this immediately upon our arrival into Mae Sot. On our 9-hour bus ride from Bangkok, we stopped at checkpoints where the Thai police checked passports and anyone who did not have proper documentation was pulled from the bus and arrested. At least 6 people were removed on our bus alone. As our days continued, we realized that government officials treat citizens from Burma poorly on a daily basis.
One organization that BHM works closely with is Minmahaw School. Minmahaw offers intensive English training as well as a variety of other classes to disadvantaged youth from Burma ranging in age from 17-23 years old. Fortunately, we were given the opportunity to volunteer at the school and work with the students on English, science, math, and world affairs.
On our first night in Mae Sot, Minmahaw invited us to their opening ceremony for the 2017-2018 school year, where one class performed a skit about child labor and some of the hardships that the students have faced in their lives. The skit consisted of three students acting as siblings aged 10, 13, and 15. The children went from business to business, begging for work because they were extremely hungry. Each business turned them down because of their ages. They grew weaker and weaker during their hunt for work. Finally, they came across someone (representing Minmahaw school) who was empathetic toward them, willing to pay for their education and food. The skit ended with a chant from the entire class: “Children should not work for food. Children should have the opportunity to attend school.” As a child and into my adolescent years, I performed many skits with peers. None, were ever about what it was to grow up hungry or be forced to work rather than attend school. This dark yet true skit made me aware of just a few of the hardships children from Burma face.
The other organization that we are working with during our time in Mae Sot is Backpack Health Worker Team (BPHWT), an organization committed to training and outfitting medics in conflict areas of Burma. BPHWT consists of 380 health workers and 1,050 traditional birth attendants and village health volunteers, and serves a targeted population of ~225,000 people in Burma. Our work at BPHWT this summer consists of helping to write a 20-year report, looking for donors, and collecting stories from medics about their experiences in Burma. We feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work with BPHWT and we are excited to share what we learn from them as the summer progresses.