I enjoyed the special experience of a visit to Mae La Refugee Camp. My companions included: LInda, the Partners Director from Norway, her husband, Morton, and their daughters, Camilla and Selia, as well as Deborah and Dorothy of Partners. This camp is one we have visited many times over the past years with various teams. I was excited to visit some of my friends in the camp, as I have not had the opportunity to visit here for a couple of years. We must always have permission to enter the refugee camp, and Partners had pre-arranged that several months ago with copies of our passports.
The camp is surrounded by barbed-wire fencing, and consists of a sea of bamboo houses that are built very close together
. The Thai guards are stationed just inside the main gate, and ushered us inside to park our trucks. The big gates were closed, and we were now inside the camp with about 30,000 refugees. We were met by a guide to lead us to the Bible School, and began our walk through the crowded camp. For the first time in all of my visits I was not allowed to photograph our walk through the camp, so I will try to describe it for you. The temperature is VERY hot, the ground is dusty, and everything is brown. The smells consist of cooking fires, dust, sewage, dust, stifenly heat, and more dust. Our walk meanders on path about five-feet wide with rows of bamboo houses on either side. We cross a small stream over an uneven foot-bridge, continue for a short distance. As we make a sharp right between two houses, our path looms before us as a steep incline. We slowly ascend the steep hill to reach our distination of the Bible School, and carefully conquer the combination of uneven dug-out or stone steps that are sometimes nearly knee-to-chest height.
As we arrived at the Bible School, we were greeted by my friends, Pastor Arthur and his wife, Clasper. They are Karen (Ka-WREN), an ethic group of Burma, as are most of the refugees in this camp. They have conducted a Bible School in this camp for many years, and currently have about 128 students. We were able to visit with them for a few hours, and were even served a very yummy lunch of cooked vegetables, rice, pork, and chicken
. We had purchased large tins of cookies before our arrival, and shared them with the children. Camilla and Selia were at first shy to meet the refugee children, but that didn't last long. We were also treated to a display of hand-loom weaving, and Clasper presented Linda and I with gifts of a beautiful hand-woven Karen shirt each. (Make sure you watch the attached weaving video for a demonstration). How very special! Even more special was the treat of a song from the Karen children! They are extremely talented in music and singing. They had recently received Ukuleles, Tin Whistles, and Music Books from a previous visiting team, and within only one week had learned a song to perform for us. (Make sure you watch the video of the song).
All too soon, it was time to leave, but we had made some great memories in our visit.
Today, Terry and I separted to visit two separate places. Terry traveled with Matt to the Partners farm near Mae Sot to get an update of the agricultural projects. Our drive to Mae La Camp was hot and the air was quite smokey, as it is the time of year when the farmers burn their fields before planting the next crop.