A deep rooted smile spread across my face as I watched the mountains reflect my favorite deep shade of blue. The sky was a light blue with clouds ever so delicately placed in the sky. The rice fields were a vibrant green and stretched across the earth to the edge of the mountains. The landscape is beautifully stunning and I was reminded once again of my love for this country and the continued joy that I experience here.
On Wednesday, we rubbed our tired eyes and were driven over to the Migrant Children’s Center. Already by Wednesday, the children were used to having us around, and we almost became a distraction because we give them attention, and not necessarily discipline. Playing outside with them was full of giggles and the children talking at me in Burmese and Thai. Most of the children speak Burmese at home, but are taught Thai at the center. I have the rare opportunity to see how language is shaped for young children, and the struggle these children will face as they are thrust into a culture that has such diversity in language and dialect. I tried to help the House Mother, but she does not accept help. It is one aspect of Thai culture that is hard to breach. Thai people are hospitable and almost treat you like royalty, when sometimes I just want to sit on the floor, with everyone else. But often they do not let you, so it is the inner struggle of wanting to accept people’s treatment of me, but also wanting to be on the ground level with them. After the center we returned home, and I crash napped, then woke up to head to Grace Children’s Home for exercise and dinner. It was an enjoyable evening of once again chatting with the Australian couple and learning from their story. While conversing we told them our appreciation in meeting parents who foster kids with love and try to create a normal family environment. They are truly inspiring and have such wisdom. They were sweet enough to reply their gratitude in meeting us and the good things that we are doing. In my understanding, I am just a student. I am just hear to listen and learn. Yet, this couple saw us as brave girls who entered a new culture to love and to serve. It was humbling, and it was a moment of warm hearts, appreciate, and a common love in taking care of people.
On Thursday, we were at the Migrant Children’s Center again, and it was a normal day. The donor representatives from Cedar Fund Honk Kong were visiting MMF and visited the center. One of the representatives commented that it looked like we had been here longer than a week, because we seemed so settled in. We were running around with the children, laughing, and playing games. Kids just love to play, and really welcomed us in. They especially love to hand me leaves and then slap it out of my hands. Which was fine when the three year olds were doing it, but the beefy four year old had too strong of hands for that game to continue. During bath time, I was helping drying off the kids and I noticed something that set a tone of deep sadness within me. As I wiped the water off the boys face, there was a mark. As if slapped with a stick. There were marks on his back too. The boy is no older than three years of age, and is beaten. It broke my heart. And there was the sad reality that there is nothing I can do. I cannot change the poor boy’s world to be one of love and caring. I can only love him where he is at, and I know the center does a wonderful job of doing so. Both the ladies who are there everyday with the kids are loving and caring for these children. At times it seems strict, but in reality they are shaping these kids lives so they are successful in the Thai school system.
In the afternoon we attended a meeting with migrant worker volunteers and the donor representatives. In the meeting I saw first hand the struggle of translation and what the donor reps look for in seeing if their funds are being put to good use. The migrant volunteers are Christian and are known among their communities for helping if there is a problem. They bring workers who have a complaint or are feeling their situation is not within their rights to MMF. MMF has a human rights team and works in partnership with the local government so people know and attain their rights. There is only picture evidence and some written filing, because the language already is a difficulty. Many of the workers speak only Burmese, so things have to be translated from Burmese to Thai, from Thai to English. The meeting consisted of Burmese translated to Ahka, and Ahka to Thai, then Thai to English. It was conveyed in the meeting of cases in which the migrant volunteers helped bring someone to MMF. They said they are very grateful for MMF and their assistant in helping migrant workers have dignity in Thai society. I watched the donor rep nod, and I could see she was satisfied with the success of the project. I have read about migrant workers and their struggle for citizenship, but the story came to life as the men shared their struggle with the system. There is a pink identification card and a white one. The pink one lasts for five years and the white one lasts for ten years. If there is a zero in front of the number on the card, it means you are restricted to certain areas of Thailand. If caught, you either have to bribe the police or pay a fine. One case people tried to migrate back to Burma and the police took all their wages at a checkpoint before crossing over the border. MMF right now is only reacting to situations. They solve a case as it comes. In the future they hope to be proactive and have training across borders for migrants to be aware of their rights.
In the evening we went to the night market and had some Pad See Ew with the Grace Home family and the Australian couple. We wandered around the various tents and commented on how much calmer Chiang Rai is compared to Chiang Mai.
On Friday we joined the Human Rights Team of MMF and the Donor reps to first make a stop at the local Social Welfare and Labour Protection Office. We met with two people who help the people that MMF brings to the office. There are 40, 000 migrants in the area, 3,000 work sites, and only 8 people who work in the office. They do not have the capacity to handle every case, nor to spread the information to workers about their rights in accordance to the law. They are incredibly grateful to MMF for bringing people to the office to receive help. It was interesting to see the power that the translator has. MMF certainly wanted to make a good impression, but it was the people who work with MMF that spoke proudly of the organization. MMF helps migrants understand the law and help with language and translation. In the meeting I could see the immense care the people had in the office and their passion for helping people in Thailand. They are in the system that has it’s broken parts, but they seek to help people at a local government level. They believed that the government cannot help its own people just by themselves, but need to be in collaboration with NGOs to be more proactive and not just reactive. There are a couple of Christians that work in the office, but most are Buddhist and work in the office to gain merit for themselves by helping other people. During the meeting I paid close attention to the emotion of the speakers that spoke and Thai, and I tried to listen for words that I understood. I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of the meeting and to see firsthand of the government working with NGOs to create a better world for the people of Thailand. I am only twenty and I literally was sitting in a room watching social change happen.
After the meeting we hopped back in the humid van and drove to a Hmong Village. The road winded through the valley and many roads were broken up pavement or mud pits beckoning disaster. We arrived on the opposite side of the river of the church and had to cross the river. Apparently, there used to be a bridge, but the spirit worshippers in the village did not like the bridge leading to the church, so they were forced to tear it down. Now people either cross from the other bridge or walk across the river. Being the supposed dainty lady I am, I was helped across the river. We walked up a steep hill that was lined with bushes that had blooming flowers and entered a beautiful cement church with blue tile lining the floor. The pastor was an animated fellow who spoke with enthusiasm and passion. He shared of how he became a Christian and about a snake that came into the church and almost attacked him. He also shared how they have debates with witch doctors from the surrounding villages. He gathers everyone together and shares of God in comparison to the evil spirits that witch doctors claim to follow. He says the Christians win almost every time and some witch doctors have chosen to follow God. In Ahka villages, if the witch doctor becomes Christian, everyone becomes Christian because they trust him as their spiritual leader. For Hmong villages, if the witch doctor becomes Christian, the people say good for you, we are going to to our own thing. Each hill tribe reacts differently to Christianity, some take it one, others repel it. The pastor at this church seeks to help those in the village, even if they do not help the church. The donor reps asked questions and wrote down notes to report back to their agency. We took a family photo (as you do EVERYWHERE in Thailand, no matter where you go it seems), and headed back down the hill. I crossed the river and looked back across the rushing water to the broken edge of the bridge where the pastor stood. He smiled with such great joy. I looked farther up the hill and saw the women with their babies standing at the top. I probably will never see these people again, but it is a blessing to have even met them. We will go about our separate lives, but I will once again cherish the joy in my heart that I see and feel. After they had offered heaps more of food (literally you could never go hungry in Thailand there is so much food offered), we had to depart and head back the office. On the way back I could not help but smile and feel at peace. Meeting incredible people, with passionate hearts, that have a desire to help their community and continue a simple way of life.
On the way back we stopped at the Chiang Khong Border Crossing. It will connect to Laos soon by bridge, which will increase trade and also increase migrant workers. Local governments are trying to prepare for the inevitable amount of people who will be crossing into Thailand for work.
We returned back to the guest house at MMF and chatted about the day. Leah and I chatted about life far too late while doing hair wraps and finally fell asleep after watching Brave and eating random food we did not know what was from the market down the street. First week of work was exhausting with everything being new and the amount of different kinds of bugs that have bitten me, but I am still happy. Whether living in plenty or in want, I am determined to be content here.