Mae Sot, Tuesday, February 4th, 2014
Tuesday morning I saw the town wake up during my first run around Mae Sot. Dozens of monks -young and old- were already on the streets doing their morning alms, barefoot and wearing their orange tunics; on the sidewalks, people were waiting for them with warm food that they would put in their containers -carried by the younger monks in this case. It was such a beautiful scene, but I was too shy to take a picture of it. Instead, I was able to capture this moment…
I was enjoying this special quiet moment by myself when suddenly my heartbeat spiked as some dogs started chasing me…but luckily, no accidents to report. I went back to the hotel and got ready for another busy day of field study. Several community-based organizations (CBOs) were on the agenda for the day and I was looking forward to hear more about their work.
We started at WEAVE (Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment), where we heard from Cynthia (one of the beneficiaries of this program, not turned trainer for others in Mae La) and María Mitos Urgel the Executive Director who shared how they are fostering peacebuilding by returning the dignity to displaced women through the provision of income generation. Through their work they celebrate victories, hope and love. After our conversation, we explored their fair trade shop full of beautiful patterns and colors -and I’m happy to say that we all got some souvenirs for family and friends.
From there we went to MAP Foundation (for the Health and Knowledge of Ethnic Labor), whose motto is “No Human Being is Illegal”. They are a grassroots legal aid that empowers the migrant community in Thailand through different programs, ranging from Community Health and Empowerment (‘CHE’ – which focuses on health education); Rights for All (‘RFA’ – care, shelter, education, identity & women issues); Labor Rights and the MAP Multimedia and MAP Community Radio. It was inspiring to hear the motivation of these young Thai and Burmese law professionals fighting for the rights of migrant workers and to learn of what remedies the workers have to protect themselves in Thailand. One of the similar problems I saw compared to the United States’ context is the abusive brokers (in the US are called immigration consultants or ‘notarios’). In the Thai context, MAP educates the community about their rights through outreach and community radio and when abuses are uncovered, they intervene with the agency first and then if they don’t comply, they will go to the Thai justice system.
Tuesday afternoon was super sunny and very warm. As we walked to Youth Connect, we made a quick stop for ice cream. Once there, we met with one of their program managers and a Burmese alumni of the Transitions Program who now works on the operations side. This organization has been working in Mae Sot for six years and was funded by Child’s Dream Foundation, as a result of conversations with employers about the workplace needs. Youth Connect’s Transitions Program is divided in three stages: from In School, Intensive Program (Transition) and Apprenticeship. This impressive program is assisting 50 students a year and allows young migrants to secure documentation and 2-year work permits (which have a cost of 1,900 THB).
RWP Fellows Visit Youth Connect
Students get apprenticeships in different fields, including hospitality and top students can get selected for a job at the lovely Picturebook Guesthouse (one of their social enterprises). According to Mickey, YCF director: “these programs are changing mindsets of the migrant students, and help them take initiative and be decisive about their future”.
We closed day 3 with a discussion between fellows and administrators, in an effort to reflect on what the field study has encompassed thus far. Several themes came up to me: Bangkok vs. Mae Sot (peace and freedom here; its fresh air; how manageable it is); NGOs vs. Governments (of both Thailand and Burma); International NGOs vs. small Community Based Organizations (and how the latter tend to be more inclusive of its stakeholders than the big organizations).
One burning concern I have is the narrative around the topic of displacement and how the government has tried to tone things down using terms like “temporary shelter”, as if it wanted to deny any responsibility over them. Furthermore, I feel it’s a way to hide the reality that could be so painful to process and that due to these subtleties, Thai society has a bad perception of these groups, due to a lack of understanding. I dared to ask what is the Thai government doing to educate its citizens around these issues, as I fear a harsh racism and immigrants (and refugees especially) being used as scapegoat of many other societal problems.
And to close, I leave you with this treasure. I came across this wonderful book called “Be Good to Each Other” (a color book in English, Burmese and Thai), and here’s a thought…
Look close. Look deep.
Look far. Look w i d e.
We are not as different as we seem.
We each carry our own story.
We each hold our own beliefs.
And we shall know what is like to
Straddle two, three, four…worlds.
Whatever brings you here,
To Mae Sot, to this border…
Be open. Be brave.
Be good to each other.
The rest comes easy.
Love & Peace,