As we come to the end of our journey and begin to say our goodbyes to all of the the incredible people we have had the opportunity to meet, it has become clear to me that our new friends here have made more of an affect on my life than I could have imagined.
Here we were two weeks ago, a big group from Canada ready to take on the unknown, face the adventure ahead of us, determined and ready to make a change for the people we were about to meet. But little did we know that we would be the ones that were impacted the most. As we stopped at each different place, from the orphanage to the schools or the camps and villages, we saw that they were all with their own unique struggles yet equally faced with the challenges of life that we in Canada take for granted much too often. Things like a safe place to live, a variety of food readily available in a matter of minutes, clean water to drink, accessible transportation, a shower or even a washroom! Most of all, we have the right to an education and a country to call our own that we can be proud of!
But when we traveled through all of these incredible places and we met the people there, they didn’t dwell on the fact that they had to live without the luxuries others take for granted, or act as if they had lost hope and become discouraged because of what they didn’t have…
Rather everywhere we went, even with the language barrier, you could see that people were overjoyed and showed an excitement and passion for life that was amazingly inspiring and incredibly courageous!
I’m sure the whole group would say the same, but my entire way of thinking has altered and my life will be forever changed after having the opportunity to meet these truly amazing people!
Over the past ten days Global Neighbours and I have visited migrant communities, refugee camps, a number of schools, and of course the students here in Mae Sot furthering their knowledge to take back and share with their communities in Myanmar. I have learned about the fear and distrust these people have of a place they once gladly called home.
There is much anger towards the Myanmar government and many broken up families from all the fighting. This fighting caused so many people to flee their land and current lives in search of safety. What they got was not what some would call a home but it’s a place to stay with their families and without war. They left the gun war and are now fighting with the war of poverty. Every day waking up in search of their next meal and in search of some way to get money. Since these people fled they have no citizenship in Thailand, making them unable to get a decent job, also creating difficulty for their children to attend school and health care nearly impossible.
The group attended a clinic that will help these migrant people, they ask for 30 bht, however, if you can’t afford this they will still help you. This clinic was full of amazing inspiring workers who were so dedicated to helping these people. At the clinic you could get anything done from eye surgery, to malaria treatment, and physio for prosthetic limbs. They did everything there, I was amazed to see this because in Canada you have to see a special doctor at a special office for every incident. There are eye doctors, dentists, rehabilitation centers, minor surgery clinics etc., But in the end this clinic that treats everything and anything has to choose because there is no other doctor for these migrant and poor people that have no citizenship.
The truth is it is extremely hard for these people to get a citizenship card. Many of the students in Mae Sot don’t have one, and they are frightened by the police because they could be taken to jail. A couple of the boys told us they had this happen to them. They had to show the police their student card so the police could call their teacher. The teacher then had to bail the boys out for a price. It truly makes you respect your passport and birth certificate after seeing so many people desperately trying to get one so that they too can live in peace.
One of our stops truly hit everyone of us in our hearts. The garbage dump distribution, there was about 110 families living at this dump and we all felt for them. So with open arms and big smiles we gave them enough supplies and food to get by, for a little bit longer. Walking through there I kept asking myself Why? Do they realize the illness they may get? But of course they do, the older ones anyways. Dave reminded me that it feels safe to them, there isn’t any war. I wonder if the children there have seen any different do they know a world that doesn’t involve sorting and searching for things worth keeping. For many of them it’s sad to say the answer is No, they don’t know any other way of life. Some families have lived there for years. I heard a man say he lived there for 15 years.
He showed us his card he paid 350 bht for, that he must present when the police come through. This allows the man not to be forced to leave his homelike many of the other families there. Basically paying rent to live on the rest of the worlds garbage.
So from seeing all these things and much more, I deeply hope for the young generation of these people who are seeking further knowledge ( TPC students, wide horizon etc.) that they soak up all this training and life skills. To return back to a place they once proudly called home with determination, excitement, and new wisdom to pass on to the elders and teach the younger generation. With hopes they will become prosperous in their lives ahead. So that maybe one day Myanmar will live in peace with one another and the people who live there can have freedom and success such as many other people in our great big world.
I knew this trip would be an eye opener but it really has turned my want to help into a need to help. What can I do to help others in our world? Well I have to thank Dave, Heather, Denton, Erin, Coe, and Steph for helping me realize that baby steps count. If you have it in your heart to help start with a smile and open arms. Seize every opportunity to help and be curious to find ways of becoming a positive influence to your community. Always remember the world is bigger than just you, so spread your arms and share your love.
At the beginning of this trip I had an idea of what it might be like, everything up until this point has completely surpassed everything I had imagined.
Stephanie said the other day that smiles are what stick the most. My first smile was in the Muslim migrant village, we were driving away after a tour and I waved to this little girl that was standing all alone. It took a second for her to react but when she did the biggest, cutest grin appeared on her face and I felt so much joy and knew right then that this would be a life changing experience.
I feel extremely lucky to have had this opportunity to come on this journey with such an amazing group of people. We’ve shared laughs and smiles and many tears along the way and it’s been amazing.
As we head back to Chiang Mai tomorrow I’ll remember the smiling faces of all the people we’ve helped and I hope that we’ve made a positive impact on some of their lives even if it is small and only for a short while, I know that all the people we’ve met along the way have impacted my life in a way I will never forget.
Finishing this trip with a celebration with the safe house girls was truly amazing. They were so full of joy and getting to sing and dance with them was a lot of fun and hopefully they enjoyed it too.
I’d also like to say thank you to Dave, Heather, Erin, Denton a and Stephanie because without them none of this would be possible and they are all amazing people who truly have the biggest hearts. They made the trip a fun and memorable one for everyone!
The days get harder and harder as I near the end of my stay. The hearts of the children and adults I met here in the refugee camps and in the schools, are gold, pure and larger than words can explain. The friends I have met here are sacred. Meeting many individuals that have a life story that you cannot imagine happening to you and carry on with the strength they have and be able to look at your smile.
Each and every person that I have men here has the strength, courage, faith and soul that make the leaders of a better life. They have encouraged me to do more than take a step back and see things in a different perspective and see a situation further than standing on top of your desk. With a smile and a hug strangers become friends forever!!
God bless them on their journey, may they have the courage and faith to move their mountains.
Today we did something truly amazing and spectacular. We travelled over treacherous terrain to reach a remote village high up in the mountains of Burma. It started off packed into the back of trucks down jungle trails then on boats across the river and finally on tractors to reach our final destination. The scenery was absolutely amazing. The village has no power or indoor plumbing that we have come so accustomed to in Canada but almost fully self sufficient.
Many people of the village had not seen too many caucasian people (if any) and were very cautious and shy at first. It too some convincing but after playing games with them and singing songs they had warmed up to us nicely. In the evening, after washing up in the river, we had a brief PowerPoint presentation on Canada. They were fascinated by the different type of animals we had in Canada; however, couldn’t comprehend some. The skunk being one of them. Following the presentation we played a movie. For many, this movie was the first time they had ever seen or watched anything on tv. Something that we take for granted every day; these people have never even dreamed of. It was great to see the whole village so fascinated by the movie and hear them laughing to it even tho it wasn’t in their language. It was great to see not only the children but their parents and grandparents enjoying themselves.
We also got to see the projects that our money went towards that we worked so hard to fundraise. We were able to help put a concrete floor in the school, build a dormitory for the students, provided a generator for the school as well as the capability of using a welder for future development of the village, a trailer to haul supplies, and various school supplies to cope with the growing number of students coming to the school. Global neighbors also provided the village with clothes, blankets, towels, food, and teaching supplies. It was easy to see how everything that we had brought would not be put to waste in a village that to our standards has very little. When we were there we noticed that the village could use a tractor; upon arriving back in Mae Sot we will make plans to buy a iron-ox(tractor) to be used to haul the trailer and possibly children to and from school much like a school bus.
There are also plans for the future of this village as well. With hopes that the next few groups of SIAST students that come will continue to make the trek to Burma and help make this village prosper. We scratched the surface of what this village needs and in the years to come will continue to do so.
While staying the night in the village, someone noticed that one of the women were holding their hands a bit off. Upon talking to her it came to our attention that she had fallen and broken in two months previous. The people of the village do not like to go to the doctors because they do not speak the same language and for many of the doctors here it is easier to amputate then set and cast the injured limb. It took a little convincing but arrangements were made for her to accompany us back to Thailand and receive the medical attention that she so desperately needed.
It is hard to put into words the feelings that are brought up by seeing and experiencing these things. One thing that I can tell you is that these people are survivors, and with a little help we will give them the opportunity to live.
This day was a very special day. It impacted me in a way that I will never forget. We visited Mae La, a refugee camp near the border of Burma. There was a highway that we followed then took a very narrow bumpy road down into the camp entrance. Upon arrival it was brought to our attention that there was a new leader in charge of the camp and we were not allowed to enter the planned route into the camp, which was to take motorcycles in and go straight to the restaurant. Unfortunately we canceled the bikes but decided to go visit the veterans home while our Global Neighbors leaders tried to find an alternate point of entrance for us.
When we got there we were greeted by a very kind man named Wynner. (I’m not sure that I’ve spelt his name correctly, my apologies) Wynner runs this home for victims of land mines. All of these men are now blind due to their injuries from the hidden explosives, many are also missing a limb or limbs. As I scanned the room my heart sunk for these men. Then Erin whispered my way “you see, this is what war does”. It hit me. All of the scenarios started to run through my mind. These men all had families, they worked, maybe played sports, provided for their families and now they can no longer provide, some have to rely on a care taker to feed them and even to take a shower. We had brought some supplies, blankets, and food for the veterans and they were very grateful. Wynner translated for us and it melted my heart when you could see they acknowledged the translation through nodding of the head or a great big smile.
The veteran’s have been studying music and had prepared some songs for us. When they began to sing I felt a tingle rush down my arms and my eyes filled up with tears. For them to sing for a whole group of us, knowing that we are watching them and they cannot watch back must have taken a lot of courage. They were fantastic! The volume and harmony they had was unbelievable! We introduced ourselves after their songs and we sang for them as well. (We were definitely not as good as them! Haha but we did our best) Our group sang Amazing Grace and I know every time I hear that song it will remind me of this beautiful moment. Josh sang a solo and played his guitar and you could see the smiles on their faces. It made me so happy. The best part after was being able to go and shake their hands or touch their arms to thank them. Each and everyone of them responded with the most sincere gratitude and said “Thank you, God bless you” in English. I was amazed and couldn’t help but think to myself “no, thank you, you are the biggest inspiration to me. You have hope and motivation in such a horrible situation. We are the ones that have so much to learn about what’s going on and how we can help.” Some of the men have taken up sewing and making things. We purchased some precious keepsakes and were so impressed with their work! At the end Pat had presented them with a few prosthetic hands. It was a wonderful donation that I’m sure will greatly help some of them with mobility.
When I walked out of the veterans clinic I was overwhelmed with emotion. Part of me wanted to just cry my eyes out. Cry for the situation, cry for their beautiful music that they sang, cry because now my perspective on “I’m having a bad day” will never even be relevant compared to what people have gone through there. They inspired me to be a better person. I took a few deep breaths and knew that there was more on our agenda and we were on our way to visit Arthur’s Orphanage.
We hopped into the vans and started back down that narrow very bumpy one way road that we took into the camp. We ended up stopping at a guard entrance to drop off supplies and then found out that we would be able to enter the camp through there. One by one we passed the boxes of food, gifts and supplies to the eager waiting children and we all followed carrying a parcel. It was almost surreal. There were shops that we passed, climbing over little bridges and hopped from stepping stone to stepping stone, up steep paths between huts. We finally reached the top where the orphanage was. All of the children rushed to see us and we settled in the church. There are over one hundred orphans in Arthur’s orphanage. The boys and girls range in age from very young to 27 years of age. They have a very strong faith, they study English and other languages as well as other subjects. I was really impressed at how well some of them spoke English! The children prepared a few songs for us and all assembled at the front of the church. They have the voices of angels! Beautifully gifted with so much love in their voices and in their smiles. After singing we chatted with them. A girl by the name of Julia stands out in my mind. I think she was around 18years old. We handed out candy and I painted her nails bright red. She was a beautiful young girl! All of the children were so well mannered. They were so polite and thankful.
Unfortunately our visit was only permitted to be an hour and we had to leave. As I was walking out of the church a young girl slipped her arm around mine. She wanted to know my name, how old I was, and how many sisters and brothers I had. We took a picture together and she just held me. Held onto me like she wanted me to walk through the camp gates with me. The most heart breaking thing for all of the people in the camp is they have no where to go. Unless they are sponsored to go to another country their future is right there in the camp. Even if Canada sponsors them they still need to get permission from the Thai government to be transported to Bangkok. If the Thai government says no, they have to stay.
I don’t think that we as Canadians, or North Americans realize how lucky we are that everything in our lives is an option. What do you feel like for dinner? Which gym should I get a membership at? Where should we go on vacation this year? What classes should we take in school, or which out of the 10 different that I applied for is the best fit? It’s really easy to say that the simple life is the way to go, but it’s a whole other storey if you don’t have the luxury to even have a choice. All of the children at Arthur’s orphanage and all of the people in the Mae La refugee camp have dreams of a better life, aspirations of education, working, traveling and having a family one day. They are no different from us. If I can bring relief to anyone who doesn’t have to luxury of choices that I do because of where they were born in the world, then it is my honour to bring help and awareness to these situations. I am the one who is truly blessed.
We had our morning in the market on December 4th. After breakfast at a place called Lucky’s we split into teams for a scavenger hunt. Not only did we have to find items such as pig heads, a sewing machine and building address, we also were on the hunt for items we were going to take to a Burmese village. Teams bargained on prices for cooking pots, knives, buckets and utensils. Everyone had a great time exploring the market, odd smells and all.
We then toured the Mae Tao Clinic. This wonderful place helps people who normally don’t have a right to health care. There was everyone from elders to children to women giving birth. A couple students had the privilege to hold some of the precious newborns. The clinic also provided dental services, eye exams and surgeries, prosthetic limb production, vaccinations and many other services. It was so great to see these people receive much needed, and often life saving, healthcare.
After lunch we visited the very first school that Global Students Helping Students built. In the midst of a struggling area was this charming school full of laughter and joy. At first the elementary aged students waved at us from their classrooms, but they were soon climbing all over us, laughing and running around as we gave them candies, toys and stickers. We were having so much fun that it was hard to leave!
The team then packed up more supplies to give out and picked up more candy for the children before our evening activities. We stopped into a place to view an art show displaying beautiful paintings depicting life and struggles in Burma. We even got to meet the artist, Maung Maung Tinn. He had a beautiful life story and beautiful paintings. Supper was at a Burmese restaurant to introduce us to the food before heading to Burma. We surprised Erin with a cake to celebrate her birthday!
Next the team headed to the Teacher Prep Center. We met the students studying there as we settled into our seats for some presentations. First, us students presented a slideshow highlighting facts about Canada. In return, the TPC students presented about the process that goes on for their training at the center. These brave young people were training to go into remote villages to work with children and provide education. A couple of students performed the traditional dances of their homeland. We sang some songs, including ‘this little light of mine’ as we lit the candles of both SIAST and TPC students. Connections and bonds were formed as Ice cream and fruit were served, gifts were given and hundreds of pictures were taken. The evening was ended with fireworks and the grand opening of a little store/restaurant for the Safe House girls and TPC students.
It was a full day of work and fun for us. I speak for everyone when I say that we went to bed with warm hearts and memories we will never forget.