Friday evening was a great cultural experience for all involved. We gathered for a traditional Burmese dinner at Executive Director, Htoo Chit’s house and while the food was wonderful, what made the experience was the people. While the language barrier can at times prove difficult, this evening there were Thai, Burmese, and English speakers partaking in the festivities, and a few individuals did a good job translating from Burmese to Thai and Burmese to English, or Thai to English and Thai to Burmese, depending on the person leading the conversation.
It was amazing to spend some time with our ED, some of the volunteers chatted with Htoo Chit for a while about the organization and it was clear that volunteers play a vital role not only in helping out FED while they are in Thailand, but also spreading the word about FED’s mission and sending their friends in this direction when they get home. Many FED volunteers return back to FED after their intial visit, and even more recommend voluntering here to friends and family when they return home. I am already thinking of ideas of how to raise money for FED when I return to the USA, getting to know people here on a personal level is what really ties you to a place, and getting to know people outside of the office really helps. I met the children of different employees and learned about their families, hearing so many stories about lives so different than my own.
When I leave FED in a week I will take with me the memories of so many wonderful and caring people. They treat each other like family here, and the way they welcome volunteers is no different. There is always more work to be done, but it is wonderful to see people smiling and having fun at the same time as they work to bring change and improve the lives of the community around them.
Visiting Kuraburi Learning Center was an absolutely unforgettable experience. Aung Kyi and Aye Ho were the two community health workers that I spent time with, and while their thick accents make it somewhathard for me to understand them, their attitudes are something to learn from. Both are smiling, welcoming, and eager to practice their English. These are all traits I admire, and I am sheepish when my efforts are visibly lesser.
In the morning we went into the “Kinder Garden” to conduct some physical check ups. As I sat down in the back with my pen and paper I was swarmed by a dozen interested little guys. Touching my arm, hugging me, sticking their faces up to mine. Giggling, so much giggling. This is why FED does the work it does. It’s all for these little sponges, grabbing my pen to write their own names in English for me, playing paddy cake with me, literally clinging to me—3, 4, 9 at a time. It was so fun, and maybe even moreso because words weren’t needed. For that period of time, sheer humanity conveyed by body language and laughter was enough to keep me more than happy.
Playing with kids was energizing and rejuvenating in a way I would have previously thought impossible. Seeing all of those smiles and all of that potential… I finally got it. This is what everyone is talking about. This is why we work to educate children—they are eager and interested in learning and at this age, everything is fun and inviting, and not one child is jaded yet.
Walking along the pier in the afternoon, seeing teenagers smoking between shifts on the fishing boats, I realize that FED’s policy is a super important part of the improvement process too. Policy raising the wages received by migrant workers must be passed, so children do not have to help the family financially by starting work as young as thirteen. Schooling should not end at age 12, those bright smiling students should be given the chance and the time to keep learning. I hope someday soon that opportunity will be theirs.
On the Queen’s Birthday, Friday August 12th, FED employees and volunteers gathered at Executive Director Htoo Chit’s house for a celebration in honor of Her Majesty. Local Burmese and Thai community members were also in attendance.
Guests sampled Burmese food and listened to FED band members play contemporary Burmese and Thai pop hits. The atmosphere was jovial and there was much laughter and mingling. Events like this educate volunteers as well as local Thai community members about Burmese culture, promoting respect and understanding across cultures.
We look forward to the next chance for such a celebration!
-Alyssa Devlin, volunteer from NY, USA
I just joined FED as a new volunteer and have been given the opportunity to join various teams on different community visits. Yesterday Miléna and I went to Bang Sai with the Health Team in the evening. Below is an account of my visit.
Arriving at the “village” I am faced with a number of shacks made with corrugated metal siding or wood paneling. They’re meager and dark structures but they do have electricity and there are water spigots outside. The health team is greeted by one woman whom I later find out is the community health leader and they all enter one of the shacks, soon followed by four pregnant women and a couple of curious children. The workers are providing prenatal education to the mothers, drawing diagrams and pointing to spots on the diagram and then the women’s bodies. It’s hard to know exactly what is going on because I do not understand Burmese, but reading peoples’ faces and watching how their body language converses I can gather some feeling for what is going on.
Our driver (whose name escapes me now, unfortunately) told Miléna and I that FED provides the villages with family planning education and supplies. They teach the women about birth control and provide them with condoms. But noticing us scan the faces of the many children around us he comments that they don’t seem to use their new knowledge or the condoms all that often. I don’t know the numbers on these sorts of things (has the birth rate gone down since FED has begun working with them?) and those are important figures to know when appealing to donors. Furthermore, I am beset with questions about the sustainability of FED’s programs with these immigrants. How many have been able to successfully matriculate into the Thai community? Since FED was founded have they seen any improvement in Thai-Burmese relations? I may start to gain answers to these questions as I do more visits and start to understand the situation a bit better, but currently my observations have handed me far more questions than answers.
However, while many questions have surfaced (and will continue to, I am sure), there are some that have been answered. The first is on the work FED has been doing. It is without a doubt, unbelievably helpful for these Burmese migrants who would absolutely not have access to healthcare or education otherwise. I don’t think words can fully cover how helpful FED has been for the lives of many Burmese immigrants living in Thailand. Secondly, while I may have know the above information intellectually, it is a whole new thing to actually realize it personally by seeing it firsthand. The Burmese migrants we met yesterday were genuinely excited and happy for the aid the health team was giving them. The appreciation of their presence in the hospital afterwards was palpable. I could continue on about how influential seeing these interactions was for me (because it was absolutely unforgettable), but putting myself in the shoes of a donor I couldn’t help but ask questions. Will things improve from here? What happens after the first steps? What are FED’s future plans, and how does their past work with both its successes and failures fit into these future plans? These are the questions I hope to find some answers to as I visit more communities, yet for now I am confident in FED’s abilities.
On Tuesday, August 9th, individuals from the local Burmese and Thai communities cooperated to clear the roadsides of accumulated debris in honor of the Queen’s Birthday (coming up on Friday, August 12th!).
The Queen’s Birthday is not just a time to honor her Majesty but also a day for all Thai individuals to honor their own mothers as well. However, while Mother’s Day is not widely acknowledged in this region of Thailand, community service is another way to honor Thailand’s Queen Sirikit. FED took to the challenge by rallying many local community members to help improve the landscapes of the surrounding area.
Individuals spent all morning picking up rubbish along Petkasem Road. By the end of the morning there was a noticeable improvement along the roadside. The Queen’s Birthday provided us with an excuse to help the community by fostering cooperation between local Thai and Burmese people, not to mention help out the environment. This cooperative spirit is something we continue to encourage in the local communities.
2010 Annual Report -
We are pleased to present to you our 2010 Annual Report, hoping that it gives you a greater sense of the work and the accomplishments of the Foundation for Education and Development (FED) in the past year. These results could have not been achieved without the support of individuals, foundations, corporations, and governments from around the world. On behalf of the Board of Directors, our staff and the Burmese community we would like to thank our supporters who have enable us to achieve so much this last year, and to extend a warm welcome to those who are reading about our work for the first time.
Ms. Su Thetsarni Subong Phet, an employee of the Employment Agencies Administration of Labor Department, said there were over 200,000 migrant workers who had applied for a new work permit in Thailand from 15.June.2011 to 22.June.2011. Over a period of one week a total number of 32,323 employers have registered for 206,299 migrant workers. According to the statistics, the number of Burmese migrant workers is the highest at 149,990 workers, then Cambodians and Laos (36,605 and 19,704 respectively). This statistic came from 68 different registration offices of the 86 offices across Thailand. In an article from INN News (Thailand’s Independent News) it was estimated that more migrant workers would apply for a new work permit because of the extra 22 days they had to finish their application.
Ms. Su Thetsarni Subong Phet, an employee of the Employment Agencies Administration of Labor Department, said there were over 200,000 migrant workers who had applied for a new work permit in Thailand from 15.June.2011 to 22.June.2011.
Over a period of one week a total number of 32,323 employers have registered for 206,299 migrant workers.
According to the statistics, the number of Burmese migrant workers is the highest at 149,990 workers, then Cambodians and Laos (36,605 and 19,704 respectively).
This statistic came from 68 different registration offices of the 86 offices across Thailand.
In an article from INN News (Thailand’s Independent News) it was estimated that more migrant workers would apply for a new work permit because of the extra 22 days they had to finish their application.
From GHRE Website
Women's Empowerment and Development Association -
In recent years, millions of people from Burma have migrated to Thailand. The Thai Ministry of Labor registered close to 812,984 migrants from Burma in 2010. Many more Burmese enter Thailand illegally and do not register with the government. The latest academic research estimates a total number of four million migrants. Most have left Burma in search of security and safety as a result of internal conflict, militarization and minority persecution. They enter Thailand seeking a better life, hoping to send money back to the families they have left behind in Burma.
When in Thailand, and despite the relative economic security of the Thai labor market, migrants remain in a highly vulnerable position. Work opportunities are extremely limited for unskilled Burmese migrants. They tend to do the jobs that Thai people do not want to do, such as rubber tapping, construction work and working in fisheries. These jobs are also referred to as the 3D’s: Dirty, Dangerous and Difficult. Salaries are very low, often falling far below the statutory minimum, and are not enough to earn a decent living wage. Additionally, employment is often very unstable. Many migrants have experienced discrimination and racially motivated violence or attempted murder, which has on occasion proven to be instigated by their employers.
Yet, Burmese migrant women’s situations are even more troubling. In Phang Nga Province, the list of non qualified jobs to what Burmese women can hope for is not very long. The fate of many women is to live in the rubber plantation sites that are overly abundant in this region, where they are easily hired. Some women also work in fishing villages, often where their husbands are employed. Others get some opportunities working in construction sites or in touristic service work such as in restaurants, hotels, or local markets. Not only does gender discrimination play a significant role in female migration, but it also multiplies their vulnerability within Thailand, resulting in a twofold marginalization. Women are pushed to migrate for a number of gender-specific reasons such as sexual violence, domestic abuse, traditional responsibility for family support and lack of educational opportunities in Burma. Additionally, they are pushed into employment opportunities that constitute a gendered demand in low-skilled occupations in factories and private households. But many of these work situations involve severe exploitation, confinement, work without legal or any pay and violence. Given these conditions, Burmese migrants are one of the most vulnerable populations as well as an easy target for human trafficking, specifically the sex industry for the women and slave labor.
 Officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, for the purpose of this paper will refer to it as Burma.
 “La monnaie des frontières, Migrations birmanes dans le sud de la Thaïlande, structure des réseaux et internationalisation des frontières” (Frontiers business, Burmese migrations in Southern Thailand, Networks structure and borders internationalization), Maxime Boutry and Jacques Ivanoff, Bangkok, IRASEC, 2010
 157.000 Burmese migrants are trafficked according to IOM