Paxeducare’s Blog


Journey to the Burmese Border of Thailand
January 10, 2012, 9:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Mission of Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

 

Our family has been traveling for a month in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It was wonderful to spend two nights and three days in Mae Sot, Thailand, where our daughter, Gretchen, lives and works. A border town, much of the population of Mae Sot consists of exiles, refugees and migrants from Myanmar (Burma). A river is all that separates the two countries. Though this river crossing is, metaphorically, much wider than a look would indicate. Many of the Burmese in Mae Sot are not there with legal documents, but have escaped the military junta that now rules.

                Gretchen had arranged three site visits to various organizations with which she works. The first was a recently founded school for “post 10” students from Burma, to prepare them for entrance to the school that will, in turn, prepare them for the rigorous entrance examination for most universities in Southeast Asia. Each of these students has their unique story involving their journey to Thailand. Much of this preparation involves learning the English language, as the tests are in English. We were treated like royal guests upon our arrival at this simple school and were able to dialogue with the students who were eager to learn about us, our work and travels. I was able to talk a little about peace education and we chatted about local farming and sustainability. Some students there are involved in growing their own food on the grounds and have established a business growing mushrooms for harvest and sale. These students were some of the most motivated and eager to learn I have seen in my years of teaching, based on the time we spent together. For, in a sense, their very lives may depend on their learning. The teachers are volunteers from other countries, often from the US and other western areas. The two that we met were both retired American teachers, who commit to a period of from 3-6 months at the school.

                The second visit was to a medical clinic in Mae Sot which was founded by a Burmese doctor about 20 years ago to serve the Burmese exiled and refugee community. We were graciously shown around. Typical it was of so many hospital settings one sees in developing countries. Primitive by some standards and yet a caring place and jobs get done. More extensive care needed for patients is done at a local, larger hospital when possible.  A sobering visit to the prosthesis room indicated the list of injuries for which they fit-mostly land mine accidents. Throughout our travels, seeing the legless and handless has been a reminder of the consequences of conflicts in this war ravaged area. And also the consequences, too often, of American foreign policy, particularly in Vietnam and Thailand. Though these injuries we saw in Mae Sot may more likely be a result of war ravaged Burma. Many, many patients and their families waiting to be seen outside. A full OB delivery area which we walked right through, with newborns and their mothers. We declined to view the operating “room”, with its rather thin curtain separating it from the rest of the area and, by our standards, a bit of an unusual invitation.

                The third site visit was to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). Founded by Burmese ex-political prisoners, the organization works to advocate for the conditions and the release of those jailed for conscience, now numbering in the thousands, including many Burmese monks. Our tour guide had been released in 2004 after 5 years, some in solitary. Wonderful work and courageous, given, for instance, that her release was contingent upon the condition she not engage in political work inside Burma. In all of these settings, we were very careful about to never photograph the faces of the Burmese and to be careful generally about what we said about the work. The photo here of the clinic listing of prosthesis injuries does not include the names of the patients, for instance.

Injuries of the Prosthesis Clinic Mae SotMission of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

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