Enote 10 – Interview at Sai Sam's

March 05, 2004

News from a Shan Community

Several years ago, when Liz was teaching English at Dr. Cynthia's, she had a somewhat older, very deferential student named Sai Sam. He was sent by the Shan State Army, where he had been serving as a medic, to Cynthia's to learn some medicine. Previously his knowledge had been limited to a book entitled "What to do when there is no doctor available", and he very much wanted to learn English so he could understand the book!

Now Sai Sam has three clinics of his own serving the Shan people who have emigrated from their homeland to escape the fighting there. Ban Tong Hoong is one of these small communities which lies about 5 km. northwest of Fang, a Thai town about 150 km. north of Chiang Mai. For the last three years, the Foundation has supported a school, and some scholarships for the people of this community. This is a report on our latest visit.

A Visit to Ban Tong Hoong

Sai Sam with boyShan refugees in the greater Fang area, can be divided into two groups based on when they arrived. Early arrivals have been able to acquire some kind of identification papers which allow their children to attend Thai government school, but, even though every child has the right to an education according to Thai policy, new arrivals have not be able to gain access to Thai school. Because of the increased military activities in Shan State this past year, over 8,000 new arrivals have come into the Fang area. A school at the monastery, the Temple school, has been setup to served about two hundred children who cannot attend the Thai school.

Our school is a supplement to both schools and the only option for youngsters who are already in the work force. It provides instruction in Shan language and culture to about fifty children in the evening. The picture shows the three Shan teachers of this school. The young woman on the left teaches English to all the classes. The woman in the middle is the head teacher, and she teaches Shan Language, History and Culture, and the man teaches Math and Shan language.

We also support six students in a scholarship program to attend Thai government school. These students are chosen on the basis of ability and need, and some are very good. Sai Sam is shown here with one of the best. This young boy, now in grade five has been either first or second in his class every year since he started. If he and we are fortunate, he will continue to do well, and we will be able to continue to support him, perhaps even through college.

At 7:30pm, our business complete, we decided to hire a songthau –a pickup truck outfitted with two benches set longitudinally on the bed and used as a bus– to bring us back from Fang to Chiang Mai. It ranks right up there with the most terrifying trip Liz and I have ever taken. It reminded me of the statement that those knowledgeable about Thailand do not fear disease, or war, they fear death on the highway. We are happy to report that we survived without incident..

Current Activities

  • Visited Mae Hong Son and talked with Ka Law Lah about the Karenni teachers project.  We learned that as the situation with the Karen has eased somewhat, the Burmese have renewed their attacks on the Karenni with increased vigor.
  • Visited with Benjamin Aung Hlaing, director of the Border Scholarship Program. 
  • Met with two scholarship candidates planning to study in India.  One plans to study law and hopes ultimately to be a judge for his Karenni people. His principal goal is to bring an understanding of the value of law based on precedent and a constitution rather a "traditional" law based on popular opinion to the Karenni people.
  • Took a five day break to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia. 
  • Met with prospective students in Chiang Mai.
  • Attended Chiang Mai West Rotary Club.
  • Arranged for a personal loan to help a student outside the stated policies of the Foundation.

We hope this note finds you all happy and healthy.  Please write us with any questions or comments.  We will be happy to respond.

Tom & Liz

Your day is not finished until you've done someone a favor.