Thailand and the Burmese Refugee Project

The following post is from Danny Hage, a 2014 Global Gap Year Fellow. UNC’s Global Gap Year Fellowship is housed in and staffed by the Campus Y. Find out more about the fellowship on our GGYF Facebook page!

Sa wat dii krap (Hello) from the land of smiles and wats (temples)!

It’s true. The smiles are everywhere. In the airports, in the streets, in the market. Same goes for the wats…maybe not in the markets. But that’s normal for a culture built so heavily on the virtue of respect that the seemingly affectionate action of touching a small kid on the head or unconsciously pointing your feet at a monk or elder family member warrants a cultural offence, even if it’s not expressed. But don’t worry; apologize sincerely, and your apology will be accepted with a smile. Of course, these cultural standards are so foreign to me, but I, as a foreigner to those standards, I would do well to adapt to them and take them seriously.

Thailand's royal family. It is a major offense to talk badly about them. Also, the Thai currency has the King's face on it, so stepping on money is also a cultural offense.

Thailand’s royal family. It is a major offense to talk badly about them. Also, the Thai currency has the King’s face on it, so stepping on money is also a cultural offense.

So for four months, I will be living in the small town of Pai, population 3,000, situated in a valley of northern Thailand’s mountains. My intern experience will lie with the Burmese Refugee Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to English and Thai language education and support of Shan Burmese refugees, a stateless people who fled from Myanmar to escape human rights violations such as rape and denied access to education, to name a few. They were also victims of economic poverty. At times, police would raid their houses and steal their crops, leaving them with virtually nothing. The Shan are stateless because they are denied refugee status in Thailand, leavng them with no governmental support and vulnerability to exploitation. Because of this, they are classified as migrants as opposed to refugees in Thailand, but the United Nations classifies them as refugees. As an intern, my job is to teach afterschool English to 6-12 year olds in their villages. My experience working only recently started.

After two weeks of being in Pai and having enough time to explore the backpacker-driven town by motorbike (I get to drive one for my entire stay!), I began my work with the Burmese Refugee Project. On my first day, in preparation for a Thai New Year celebration, I spent all day decorating and shopping for crafts and candy and gifts to give to the 50 kids that would be in attendance. The party proved successful. The kids loved the games, ate a lot of Thai food and candy, and had fun dancing. It was a great way to start off my internship here.

Super pinata, my work of art.

Super pinata, my work of art.

New Year decorations!

New Year decorations!

More New Year decorations!

More New Year decorations!

Yesterday, I began my first day of teaching. Teaching days start out with lesson planning in the morning and giving the lesson in the afternoon. My first time went well, but of course, my lesson plans were cut short by their burning desire to color. Haha.

I have really enjoyed being in the presence of the kids, and working with them gives me something to look forward to everyday! I will say, it’s very comforting being greeted by hugs everytime I go to teach 

Some of the kids I teach, having fun dancing at the New Year party.

Some of the kids I teach, having fun dancing at the New Year party.

Thanks for reading!

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