Basic education is a human right – unless you don’t officially exist. Then it is only your undeniable physical presence that might, possibly make an impact.
It was the very compelling reality of a group of migrant children that provoked a Karen displaced person from Burma to undertake the challenge of starting a school that these children could get to, in the vicinity of Mae Sot, Tak Province, Thailand on the border with Burma. His motivation was compassion for the children, concern about their future, and a passion for education. With help from Burma Border Projects (BBP), a US foundation, and a Canadian organization, Room to Grow, he managed to collect a group of 7 teachers and construct the simplest school you can imagine. “New Wave School” now provides elementary schooling for 128 diverse migrant children. In Thailand the term “migrant” refers to immigrants from outside the country who have tentative and therefore tenuous status, whereas “refugees” are consigned to camps where they wait some resolution of the circumstances that caused them to flee – as much as 3 generations ago in many cases. Most of the children in New Wave School, and even some of their parents have no identity documents, or as Dr. Lora Friedrich of BBP puts it, “No ID and no idea what it means to be Burmese.” They speak no Thai, but have never been anywhere but Thailand. On the other hand they cannot enroll in Thai schools because they do not have a Thai national ID card.
What they have is New Wave School. 27 of the students are orphaned or abandoned. They live in the New Wave School and are fed by the teachers, spreading out mats on the kitchen floor at night because it has the roof with fewest leaks. The other 101 students have at least one parent, relative, or care giver with whom they live.
BBP provides salaries of $137 a month for the New Wave staff. In April BBP conducted a supplemental, intensive “English Camp” for the school, and provides an on-going “Play Session” designed to enhance psycho-social survival skills.
New Wave School exists on the margin, balanced between barely getting by and closure. The teachers, 3 of whom are single parents, literally do not know whether their salaries will be paid or when they will be rounded up and deported back into Burma, dumped across the border with the gate slammed behind them. The children laugh and learn, not as oblivious to dangers and exploitation as they let on, but ignoring it as long as New Wave continues to surf them forward.
[Thanks to Burma Border Projects for pictures of New Wave School.]
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.