Sitting in the head office of Burmese Migrant Workers’ Education Committee, a community based organisation which provides free education to migrant students along the Thai- Burmese border, I overhear a conversation about a crisis, a funding crisis. While the number of migrant students in the area increases, the funding to support them decreases. At BMWEC, like many organisations in the area, there are not enough donations; schools are on the verge of collapse as teachers have to go without salaries and vital payments such as rent are a constant issue. You might assume that the western world is struggling with its own economic ‘crisis’ and can no longer afford to support developing countries, however their eye has simply wandered to something more exotic, more intriguing and definitely more alluring, Burma.
Since the establishment of a ‘democratic’ government, Burma has opened up to the world after years under a military regime. Luckily humanitarian aid is beginning to reach those who were denied support for so long; however it has meant that people on the other side of the border are now the less attractive, less exciting option. For many, Burma is still a very uncertain place and although people want to return to their traditional home, it is still not a conceivable option. “It is not the poor who are moving back to Burma, it is those with political connections and money” states a local Karen woman. Here in Mae Sot, a border town on the Moei River (the border between Thailand and Burma), many ethnic groups come together to seek refuge and to find employment. The long-standing conflict in Burma has meant migrants have been living in Mae Sot for years; generations in fact.
Earlier today, whilst visiting a BMWEC school I witnessed 10-year-old children tasting ice cream for the first time. It will take a long time to forget the look of shock as they realised it was cold, followed by the look of delight as they tasted its sweetness. These shoeless children are being left behind, as funds to support them drizzle down to almost nothing. BMWEC has been surviving on emergency funds for quite some time, and school closures are imminent. Since the schools are located in Thailand, they are now not glamorous enough to entice donors. They are almost like the old version of an iPhone, still functioning, but nowhere near as sparkly as the latest version. The newest version is inside Burma, and donors want the latest version. Sadly, unlike an iPhone, the old versions (aka migrant children) require food, healthcare and an education; they cannot be just taken off the production schedule.
The Mae Sot area is faced with a difficult and worrying time, as more and more aid work is focused inside Burma there are fewer funds to support the hundreds of thousands of migrants desperately living inside Thailand. Allyouneedislovedoc.com and bmwec.org are two places you can go to find more information about migrant education in the Mae Sot community. We know we are ugly and uncool compared with aid in Burma, but please support the students who just want a safe place to live and an education.
Article by Lauren Ivery. Lauren is a primary school teacher with a passion for English as a Second Language education. Whilst currently living and volunteering in Mae Sot, Thailand, she has been conducting primary teacher training for the many unqualified teachers in the area, as well as teaching some amazing Burmese students. She understands that education is the platform to social change, and strives to encourage her students to be life long learners. She recognises that in the Mae Sot area social change is long overdue, by working in this community she hopes to improve the opportunities for Burmese migrants whilst also setting the base for a fair and democratic Burma in the future.