Some of the stories and people we encountered on this amazing journey. In addition, the beautiful places we were able to visit on our trip.
“The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), also known as AAPP, is a non-profit human rights organization based in Mae Sot, Thailand. AAPP was founded in 2000 by former political prisoners living in exile on the Thai/Burma border. Since then, the organization has been run by former political prisoners, with two offices being opened inside Burma in 2012, one in Rangoon and the other in Mandalay. AAPP advocates and lobbies for the release of remaining political prisoners and for the improvement of the lives of political prisoners after their release. The various assistance programs for political prisoners and their family members are aimed at ensuring they have access to education, vocational trainings, mental health counseling and healthcare.” (AAPP.org)
“And there are many problem and lack of accessibility to the health care and education because the Lahu people are undocumented people and they are living in Tak, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Song provinces of Thailand and surviving as Stateless persons in Thailand. So that, in 1997 October 30, Lahu women who arrived in Thailand from Burma, decided to form a women’s organization in a Lahu village in Thailand: named LWO to help the needs of women and children and to empower our Lahu women to participate in political, social, education, health and leadership roles through the awareness training, internship program, capacity building, women exchange and other related women development program. LWO office is a center for Lahu women and based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.” (Borderlinecollective.org)
Shan Women’s Action Network
“SWAN is a network of Shan women active in Shan State and Thailand. It was founded on 28 March 1999. Its mission is to work on gender equality and justice for Shan women in the struggle for social and political change in Burma through community based actions, research and advocacy.
SWAN is a founding member of the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), an umbrella women’s organization comprising 13 women’s groups from Burma.” (shanwomen.org)
Yaung Chi Oo Worker’s Association
“YCOWA was founded in July 1999 by Burmese student activists and migrant workers, with the goal of improving working and living conditions for the Burmese migrant laborers in the Mae Sot area of Thailand. Since then, it has mainly focused on protecting worker rights, providing rights education, supporting health care and facilitating social activities.” (ycowaeng.blogspot.com)
Burmese Women’s Union
Burmese Women’s Union, in addition to about 13 other organizations, promotes the empowerment of Burmese women, who have sought refuge in Mae Sot and Chiang Mai, Thailand. They provide many services that cater to women’s health, human rights and education (for women and children). Currently, they are relocating their office to Chiang Mai, but also back into Burma. Hopefully next year we will be able to visit the office in Burma and provide some help there! We have been so fortunate to be partnered with an amazing group, that has made such a difference in so many lives. Our future with them looks very bright, and we have only strengthened our connection with them during this trip.We have many plans with them for next year’s trip, and many plans to continue to fundraise and raise awareness of the struggles that they are still combating.
“Children of the Garbage”
“The air is thick with a noxious fog – a mixture of haze and the smoke from burning tires. The toxic fumes mix with the stench of rotting meat and decaying vegetables. Trash lies heaped all around, not as a result of carelessness but simply because this is a garbage dump. It is also the home and workplace for a group of Burmese ‘Karen’ refugees and their children.”
Witnessing something like this was truly an eye opening event. I can’t even begin to describe the repulsive smell, as we walked through this poverty-stricken community. Children were playing, women were cooking and men were digging through the garbage. The swarm of flies in the air would make you think that you were in the midst of a plague, and swelter of the summer sun only contributed to the foul smell of the rotting rubbish. It was the start of the raining season, and as moisture filled the air, it dampened the already unsanitary environment that many of these Burmese refugees called home.
Even though these people had only trash as their most valuable belongings, the positive aspects of what a community can provide can still be seen, such as laughter, and playtime coming from children (who didn’t have any toys), the aromatic smell of home cooked meals (made from primarily home-grown food), and the collaboration of people working hard and coming together to support themselves (by sifting through the landfill), but also to support each other. It was a stressful sight, but also an enlightening one. Because although there is much that can be taught to this community to improve their quality of life, they also have the ability to teach the world about how similar the human experience can be regardless of what you have, who you are, or where you came from.
Everyone meet Zar Zar! She is an incredible, animal-loving, long-haired, beautiful woman. She has been a huge part of B.W.U. and was our guide, mentor, translator, and taxi driver during our stay in Mae Sot. She is such a role model, and a very inspiring person. She dedicates her life to helping her community (and making sure all of the stray, Mae Sot dogs are fed). She volunteers regularly and is very determined to see that the women of the Burmese community in Mae Sot are empowered, taken care of, and educated (girl power!). She’s basically like a Burmese Superwoman or angel. However you describe her, she has made such a huge difference in her community, but also an impact on the GROW interns.
Beautiful mountains of Burma that can be seen from afar. With a view like this, and the experience that we had, it is easier to feel more connected to the homeland of the people we have encountered, and are supporting while being in a unique place like Mae Sot.
We took a day to visit some of the natural beauty that Thailand has to offer. This waterfall was a challenge to climb, but with adventurous spirits, we made it to the top, and it was so worth every bug bite, bruise and sunburn!
Borderline Cafe & Tea Garden
I spent lots of time in this oasis of fair trade items and delicious tea. It’s a peaceful place, where you can easily lose yourself in reading, journaling or just thinking/reflecting. I did a fair amount of all of those things. They even provide a nice selection of really good books if you didn’t bring your own (thankfully in English). The art for sale inside is beautiful, and their products (mostly clothes and jewelry) make a great gift for anyone you want to get souvenirs for, or if you just want to indulge on these beautiful, hand-made items for yourself (which I did way too much of).
“Borderline is a café, fair-trade handicraft shop and art gallery based in Mae Sot, Thailand, supporting Burmese migrants and refugees on the Thai-Burma border. In our shop you can also find bread made by a local baker, spreads like peanut butter made by ourselves, home made yoghurt, home made shampoo and several soaps made by friend organizations.”
I’ll be adding more, so stay tuned!