From January to May 2018, I volunteered at the Ban Pak Audomsung Learning center in Ban Tha Song Yang -- a small village along the Thai-Myanmar border. I developed a close relationship with Gloria and her family who created and run the center. Gloria is a Karen refugee from Myanmar who managed to secure Thaï citizenship and decided, although she herself was poor, to help less fortunate children have access to basic education. Both she and her eldest daughter were teachers before they fled, and now they teach at the center. The center provides Karen refugee children from Myanmar with a supplemental education with Karen, Math, Thai, and Geography classes -- among others. It also supplies food, housing, clothes, and access to healthcare. Through the center’s partnership with the French-Canadian non-profit AIME (Association Internationale de Mobilisation pour l'Égalité), volunteers teach English and organize pedagogical activities for the children.
The Karen people are the third largest ethnic group after the Burmese and the Shan. They are spread out between Myanmar (90%) and Thaïland (10%). The conflict between the Burmese government and the Karen is considered the longest ongoing conflict in the world. Since the late 20th century the Karen have repeatedly fled to Thailand after Burmese oppression. All the children welcomed at the Ban Pak Audomsung Learning Center have been directly impacted by the violence of the conflict. Many don’t have access to continuing education because of ongoing fighting near their village in Myanmar. Others have fled illegally to Thailand and can’t access public Thai schools. Ban Pak Audomsung Learning Center provides around 35 Karen children with the opportunity to build confidence and grow through education, rather than work in the fields or around the household with their parents. I have witnessed first-hand how these children have blossomed intellectually through their experience at the center.
Having taken on the role of co-project manager for AIME since my departure last year, I will be returning to the center in July of 2019, with the hopes of implementing two new projects to improve the living conditions and quality of education provided at the center.
The first project is to finish funding a truck (see below) for the center to allow 12 children to access a public Thai charity school near the center. For the first time this year, students younger than 7 will have the opportunity to attend the “Princess’s” school. This public Thai charity school provides an education of much higher quality and a path to obtain a Thai high-school diploma regardless of the children’s legal status. This educational path provides a sustainable approach to empowering these children and allowing them to eventually enter the job market by obtaining a diploma recognized by the Thai government. We are trying to raise as much money as possible to cover the remaining $2300 and the $65 monthly petrol needs.
The second project is the completion of a new dormitory for the boys of the center. Made out of wood and bamboo, the dormitory was severely damaged by the especially violent 2017 monsoon. The boys’ living conditions continue to worsen as the dormitory continues to fall apart (see below). During the monsoon season, the beds inside the dormitory are soaked with water and the many openings in the bamboo floor allow the center’s goats to enter the dormitory to shield themselves from the rain -- a real sanitary threat. The new durable dormitory would be built out of cement with a tin roof and tiled floors. It would considerably improve childrens' living conditions.
In September of 2017, volunteers at the center started to build a new dormitory for the girls because it had been completely destroyed by the monsoon. When I was volunteering at the center in the spring of 2018, we finished the construction of a new dormitory for the girls thanks to funds collected through a crowdfunding campaign. The girls’ new dormitory (see below) has had very positive outcomes, improving their hygiene, quality of sleep, living quality, and protectiveness from harsh weather. We expect to see the same outcome to play out for the boys living at the center. Thanks to a $3000 grant secured through Georgetown University's International Relations Association
, we are able to start building the dormitory but we are still missing about $3300 to complete it. I will oversee the spending of the funds when I go back to the center in July. Please find attached a detailed building plan
and a detailed budget