Welcome to the Jungle

Trip Start Sep 15, 2010
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Trip End Jul 23, 2011


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Flag of Thailand  ,
Thursday, January 20, 2011

I've switched gears and am now volunteering with refugees from Burma in northern Thailand.  Specifically they are an indigenous group known as the Karen.  They have been engaged in a struggle to secure their rights and protect their land from the Burmese junta for decades.  Not an easy task when you consider that Burma has one of the worst human rights records in history and the largest number of child soldiers in the world (approx. 175,000).

The small NGO I am working with is called Worldwide Impact Now and is run by a husband and wife team.  Tim is a retired U.S. Special Forces colonel and has been in and out of the area for the past 7 years.  As part of an orientation program, he introduced me to a variety of humanitarian groups in order to learn firsthand how the conflict has affected medics, women and teachers.  

After several days of meetings, we traveled through the jungle and across the river to visit the Ei Htu Hta IDP Camp in Burma.  As we rode along the Salween River in a large wooden boat, I noticed some guys cooking and washing their clothes by the water's edge.  No sooner had I smiled and waved to them than Tim nudged me and said, "Those are Burmese soldiers."  Oops.

Upon arrival, we sat down with the village elders in a large bamboo hut.  They discussed organizational challenges and the increasingly difficult security situation.  Later, they assigned a translator who showed me the local clinic, Buddhist monastery grounds, Baptist church and school.  I even had a chance to talk with several classes and visit a family home. 

The following day Tim and I piled on a songthaew (pick-up truck with two benches in the back) and headed four hours south to the Mae La Karen Refugee Camp.  This camp, located on the Thai side of the border, has almost 50,000 residents living within 4 square kilometers.  I spent three days talking with students, landmine victims and attending evening worship services.  I found it amusing that there were no showers, but bootleg internet was available!

After parting ways with Tim and two days in the camp on my own, I decided to take a songthaew back to the tiny town of Mae Sariang.  From here I will spend the remaining time researching funding and grants.  In addition, I'm helping edit reports for the Karen Health and Welfare Department.  After receiving so much support editing my own thesis this past year, it feels great to give back in some small way.
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Comments

Catherine Shaw on

How incredibly rich your life is. Thank you for sharing!

Andrea Gerlak on

Oh, how I love reading your entries and following you on this amazing journey!

Mark Harkins on

You are having incredible experiences! I look forward to seeing you again and hearing about the path(es) they will lead you on next.

Keep the information flowing!

Mark

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