It has been quite awhile since we have had an update on the main blog. This has mostly been due to our lack of wi-fi at the guesthouse. In order to get internet we either have to go to a restaurant or coffee shop and even then we only get a couple of hours (including eating/drinking time) so we’ve mostly been just keeping up with our personal pages that are linked to this main one. So to give everyone a brief update on all we’ve been up to, I’m going to list the things we have done each day. In order to get more personal insight on each days’ events, check out the team members’ pages.
Sunday, August 4th: The Day Market
The day market was definitely an experience for all of us. It was a sensory overload with so many unique sights and smells coming from each stand along the road in combination with the heat of the intense mid-day sun. I think we were all pretty glad to seek out air conditioning in the Hong Long Minimart and the micromarket we visited on our way back to the guesthouse. We each picked up a few items, souvenirs and personal items, while we were out and then came back to the guesthouse—happy to cool off.
Monday, August 5th: SAW Presentation & The Mae Tao Clinic
We started the morning off with a presentation at SAW, given by the director Aye Aye Mar, which reviewed the origin of SAW, its mission, and all of the programs currently running. The presentation itself was very informative, and I look forward to brining it back to the chapter so all the staff can get a better understanding of our partner. Aye Aye Mar also took questions at the end and clarified a few points we were a bit unclear on. It was really humbling to see how much our partner does and how lucky we are to work with such an ambitious and successful organization.
After the presentation, we were introduced to Dr. Htin Zaw for the first time. Shanelle and I recognized him immediately from the pictures from the last GROW trip, and we were all excited that he would be our guide for the afternoon visit at the Mae Tao Clinic. As one of the few traveling medical doctors here in Mae Sot, Dr. Htin Zaw was familiar with the Mae Tao Clinic and got us a tour of the clinic’s facilities. We were surprised by the amount of services the clinic provides to the people who come there. Their departments range from basic testing for diabetes, HIV/AIDS, STDs/STIs, and malaria to a surgical unit and maternity ward. We finished up our tour by each purchasing a tshirt to support their organization and headed home for the day.
Tuesday, August 6th: Visiting Phop Phra
Today was the first day we were able to see the communities we have been helping in Phop Phra. We visited four different locations—44 km, 42 km, 38 km, and 36 km—and toured each one with Dr. Htin Zaw, Yi Yi Win, Sue, and May. We were able to see the Best Friends School I and II, the replacement latrines we helped fund after the fire, and all the adorable children both at school or back home in their communities.
Wednesday, August 7th: YCOWA & The Rubbish Place
We started the day off at the office of the Yuang Chi Oo Worker’s Association (YCOWA) and met the staff members we would be hanging out with for the day. The main speaker—she spoke wonderful English—Chan Myae was an adorable young woman (with a chemical engineering degree) who acts as a coordinator of both the safe house and the daycare center. We were able to visit both of these facilities and learned a lot about this labor assistance organization. YCOWA focuses on providing Burmese migrant workers with as many of their resources as they can. If a migrant worker wishes to sue their employer based on their rights, YCOWA provides them with legal counsel. If a migrant worker is between jobs, or struggling in any way, YCOWA provides them with food, shelter, and even vocational training (if they want to) at their safe house. YCOWA also provides a daycare center near the fields where some migrants work in agriculture so that there is someone to care for the children who might otherwise prevent their parent from working due to their needs. Finally, YCOWA works with Dr. Htin Zaw to have a clinic twice a week—Wednesdays and Saturdays, 3-5 PM—at a school near “The Rubbish Place” also known as the city dump.
The Rubbish Place was our final location of the day, and we learned that nearly 100 families live amongst the trash and make their living sorting through it to find any types of materials they can sell back to select factories. This is the only way they are able to make money—typically no more than $2 a day—because if they try to sell to other people or factories, they will be reported to the government and are at risk of deportation since all of them are undocumented. Technically, they aren’t even supposed to be living in the dump—or working there for that matter—because they are undocumented migrants and sometimes have to up and leave their houses built from trash in order to escape being caught. This visit really drove home just how corrupt the government here along the border is, and how easily they take advantage of these migrants out of personal greed.
Thursday, August 8th: New Day Learning Center & Border Market
We started the morning at the New Day Learning Center, a migrant school near the Friendship Bridge, and learned about how the school was run. Aung somehow managed to convince us to teach some of the different grade levels. We mainly focused on English since it is rare for the students to have practice with natural English speakers. The whole team was very nervous and I think some of us were cut out for it a little better than others—having more natural practice with kids and good questions to ask them. Overall, the experience was great and we were all happy that the kids seemed so happy.
We headed to the market right by the Friendship Bridge that we had planned on visiting on one of the first days that we had arrived. At that time it was closed due to the damage done by the severe flooding right before we arrived in Mae Sot. We looked around the shops—Yi Yi, Lana, Aung, Sue, May, and the team—and all of us found some things at different places within the market.
It’s been decided that Lana—who was mostly along for the ride because she knew how to drive the truck—is one of the sweetest and funniest people we’ve met. She is convinced that she really doesn’t speak English that well, but I found her to be quite fluent and understood her while listening intently. She told us about her son whom she adopted—a five year old whose mother was trafficked out of Burma to China, was bought and wed to a Chinese man with eleven other wives, proceeded to find out that she was HIV+ when she was four months pregnant, fled to Burma to save her baby, and gave birth at the Mae Tao Clinic where she gave the boy up. Lana lit up when talking about him and how happy she was that he was miraculously HIV negative and was always on the go like typical hyper five year olds are. We were able to meet her son on the following Saturday, and he lived up to her words—being so cute and lively.
Friday, August 9th: Our First Free Day
We used our free day, for the most part, to relax and get some personal things done. We went back to the Hong Long Minimart to get some breakfast foods for our rooms, looked at the various shops along the street for souvenirs, ate at a KFC and headed home for the day. I found it refreshing to have the day to just relax, reflect on the things we’ve experienced, and just read the day away.
Saturday, August 10th: The Safe House & The Children Crisis Center
The Safe House is home to roughly 60 children, ranging in age from seven months to 12 years, and about a third of them spent the morning playing with us. The children flocked to the adults of their same gender and I was pretty pleased with this. Aung and Adam seemed to be getting all the hyper, aggressive boys while Shanelle, Codee, Sue, May, and I were playing with the little girls and babies. These kids sure loved their hand clap games and running around screaming, but it was great to see them in their natural atmosphere unafraid to be themselves around us. We left the Safe House during the kids’ lunchtime.
Our next stop, after our own meal, was the Children Crisis Center. There were only 17 kids living and attending school here, so it was a much quieter atmosphere than in the morning. Aung, once again, twisted our arms and we ended up practicing speech and grammar skills in English with the students. We closed our lesson by creating a story about a blue cat named MoMo—each student adding his or her own sentence to the story on the board. We’ll post the story soon so you can see how interesting it got.
Sunday, August 11th: The Mobile Medical Team
The Mobile Medical Team consisted of Dr. Htin Zaw, Yi Yi, Aung, Sue and the GROW team. Saia Thi and Thin Thin were there too but they were more observational and spent a lot of the time documenting the day with their cameras. We first stopped at the community where Best Friends School I is, had our coffee, and learned about how to decide the dosages of both the Vitamin A drops and deworming pills based on the children’s ages. We headed out to a large community—roughly 80 members—and set up shop in what seemed like the community’s pantry or soup kitchen. Dr. Htin Zaw and Sue set up inside with all medical supplies and chairs for the patients waiting to see him, while Yi Yi, Aung and the GROW team set up right outside the door. We provided a little over 70 kids with Vitamin A drops and deworming pills that day, and we still had to wait almost two hours for Dr. Htin Zaw’s line to diminish. It was sad to think about how long these people have to wait to receive the medical attention they need because of legal, geographical, and economic reasons. Overall, the experience really showed how important health education—especially on how to prevent illnesses or diseases—is to the community’s health as a whole.
On the way back, Dr. Htin Zaw stopped us at a fruit stand where they sell his favorite fruit—called a custard apple. We bought enough for each of us and all of us, except for Adam, found it to be quite delicious. The taste and texture was similar to a mango but a little different. Being hungry from the long morning, we ate them on the way back into Mae Sot to tide us over until lunch.
We had expected to head back to the final two communities the MMT planned on visiting after lunch, but we were dropped off at our guesthouse instead. My guess is they thought they had worn us out. In a way, I felt like they had—being up so early, the heat, and the sheer number of patients that needed seen—but I wouldn’t have minded visiting the smaller communities too. In any case, we were all very glad for the experience and found it memorable each in our own ways.
Monday, August 12th: Mother’s Day Celebration
Today, we attended a ceremony held at the SAW elementary and high school grounds. They were celebrating Mother’s Day by praying to their mothers and pinning pretty white flowers on their mothers’ jackets. For the students without mothers, the ceremony was still conducted only with their teacher instead. When we ran into Yi Yi, towards the end of the ceremony, her entire jacket was covered in flowers—showing how many children wanted to pin their flowers and show appreciation to her. After seeing her interact with the scared children yesterday—apparently vitamin drops and chewable tablets are more intimidating than you might think—I was not surprised by how much children love her. We finished watching the ceremony and piled into the truck with about 20 children in the back and dropped them off at their respective communities. It was a short and sweet day, and I was honored that SAW wanted us to observe their traditions on this holiday.
I hope that this gives you a better idea of what has been going on over here, and we plan to be updating more regularly now that there is wi-fi at the guesthouse again.
Ceejay, Shanelle, Codee & Adam