Enote 35 – Colley Paw and SteveMarch 23, 2007
t is a cold, snowy Tuesday morning in Hamilton. Liz and I have just returned from our 16th annual trip to Thailand, and I feel the need to share with you some reflections on this most recent trip.
Differing from almost all of the other NGOs on the border, we like to think of ourselves as practicing small-time, hands-on foreign aid. We did not come easily or early to accept this vision or ourselves. There was a time when we applied for money from USAID and had hopes of having a wide ranging impact on the quality of education on the Thai-Burmese border. Now I am happy that did not happen, that our organization has remained small and flexible. Now I know that we could not have met responsibilities of working at the direction of large governmental aid agencies without distancing ourselves from the people we serve, and losing touch with their circumstances. Now I know the joy of working directly with the people.
In addition to the interviews we have with new students, such as the Shan monk above left, let me give you just a few of the many examples that have occurred just this year.
Attention to Individuals: You may recall, last year we met a young boy from Zokhawthar, a small village on India's border with Burma, who was suffering from recurrent infections caused by a metal pin used to repair a leg broken in a sporting accident. See his picture on the right. The boy had been to see several doctors in Burma and India who prescribed antibiotics to no avail, and it was determined last year that he must have the metal removed. Preparations had been made for the operation to be performed in Aizawl. When we returned to Zokhawthar this year we were surprised to find that the operation had not been performed. Incredible as it may seem, the difficulty lay between the Mizo staff, and the Chin community, particularly the boy's mother. It appeared the two groups were unwilling or unable to cooperate. It seemed the boy, caught in the infighting between the Mizo and the Chin communities, would never be cured. Every body agreed. Everybody that is, except my lovely wife. Liz simply refused to accept the matter as closed, and she appointed a member of the Chin community to make new arrangements for the boy. About two weeks after we left India, we learned that the boy had the operation and was on his way to recovery.
Recognition: We are known as a couple wishing to help the communities we serve, and people want to work with us to help. Colley Paw, and Kay Ku Paw come to mind. Colley Paw is shown on the left with Liz and an old friend, Steven Dun. She is the wife of Francois Nosten, the well-known French specialist in Malaria. As such, her circumstances vary widely from the typical Karen refugee. However she has a strong commitment to serve her people, and each year we see her in Chiang Mai, usually coming with some of our students and serving as interpreter. This year we asked if she could help us find some good candidates for scholarships, and she, as always was more than willing to help.
Kay Ku Paw is a younger Karen woman who used to study in PEC, the intensive English program in Mae Sot. Her English, Thai, and Karen are all very good. And she is always willing to put them to very good use in helping us interview applicants and continuing students in Mae Sot.
Invited as Guests: This year we were invited to the homes of five persons. La Moo did more than that. He provided a well appointed powerful boat to bring us to our schools at Pi Lo Kee and Ban Mai, about 3 miles across the river Kwai. He is shown driving the boat. Later we ate lunch with his family in their house boat . Tulanga, a member of our education committee in Aizawl, brought us to a dinner at his home to meet his wife and young baby. Shona, the Scottish woman we have known for years, had us to her home outside of Chiang Mai serving a marvelous Burmese meal prefaced with a gin and tonic, and served with wine. Tamla another long time friend invited us to her house in Mae Salit to a wonderful meal cooked by her husband Kaw Rey Htoo. On Saturday, one week and one day before we left for home, unexpectedly a truck pulled up outside a restaurant in Mae Sot we were about to enter. Hemily, Reverend Carol, and Saw Doh got out to invite us the following day to Padoh Ba Thin's 80th birthday celebration. Padoh Ba Thin is currently president of the KNU, the government in exile of the Karen people. It was a pleasure to see the old man once again and share a few words about old times in the Karen headquarters at Manerplaw.
Approval: Finally, we have been working with Thai authorities trying to encourage them to open up their system of education to refugee and migrant children. We had a follow up to our meeting with the president of Rajapaht this year at which it was suggested that a meeting with Gaw Saw Naw (GSN), the Thai non-formal program for adult certification of high school proficiency, could be of great help in our quest. Gam, a Thai woman with good English and who works for the Consortium, was asked by its head, to go with us to that meeting with the president, and to the next meeting with the director of GSN in the Mae Sot area. We had not met Gam before, but in translating our appeal into Thai for the president of Rajapaht, and then for the GSN official we saw, she became fairly knowledgeable about our goals and our methods. At the end, it became clear that another meeting was needed, and that we would not be able to attend. Gam said she would carry on for us, and report the results of her continued conversations with the GSN Director. And then, as we were about to take our leave, she did a very remarkable act for a Thai. She hesitantly took Liz in her arms and hugged her, and then turned to me and did the same.
Last Wednesday, we attended the first meeting of the collected NGOs in Bangkok. It gave us a good opportunity to reflect on their programs and ours. They come with jobs to do and they do them well. They develop curricula; they train teachers; they print posters, magazines and books; they are working for the people every week of the year. And the people are very grateful for what these collected NGOs do for them.
We do none of these things. We come to listen and to talk. We come to bring your messages of kindness, and support. We support students, seeing them at least once each year, and we occasionally give them advice on educational matters. We support schools and teachers and we always look for new ways we can offer help. It's just a difference in style.
Oh! I almost forgot. We also collect nice things said about us. Here is one from our border friends of water filter fame, Curt and Cathy Bradner.
Cathy and I are just sitting here in our Yangon apartment re-capping the last few years of work and realizing that you two have had it right along. After nine years of mucking about, after all we've done, after all we've seen, we now know that nothing makes a greater difference to the quality of life than education. Over and over again we see that any intervention, regardless of good planning and intentions on the part of those involved, only works if the participants have adequate education. ...
Anyway, this letter was mostly just to say thanks for being who you are, we really miss bumping into you guys yearly but we're sure we'll see you again one of these days.
Tom & Liz Brackett