Saturday, 29 December 2012

Back to AGAPE

Official is Important 
The anticipated highlight of my last trip to Mae Sot was going to be enjoying the children’s Christmas party at the AGAPE orphanage and learning center.  I had coordinated with my friend David and understood the party was to be on the 23d of December.   Well, I got that wrong and trust me it wasn't the only scheduling glitch I had with this trip.  No problem. We were afforded the opportunity to be there while the kids prepared for their Christmas party. 
I had an opportunity to spend several minutes with David this trip with the two of us alone in the cab or his truck.   He shared a bit of his educational philosophy with me which is simply allow them to be as happy as they can be under the circumstances, teach them to respect other people, then worry about teaching them reading, writing and the like.  He tells me any migrant child is always welcome.  He refuses to penalize children for absences knowing that attendance is controlled by the parents who often have circumstances and priorities which make it difficult for children to attend.

Question:   What’s quite affordable and will work to keep these little kids engaged for some time?  Answer:  Bunches of balloons.  They had a blast with them.  At some point I became the designated guy to tie up the balloons the children had inflated.  
Blow the up

Wear them

Due to holiday scheduling I wasn’t able to be there on a school day this time but promise I will return and spend at least one day with them from the beginning to the end of their school day.  I still owe you a recording of their morning songs.
Group Photo's are very easy to arrange at Agape! 
The first article I wrote about Agape is still pertinent, so I copied it to this blog.  It’s just below this one. 

Agape - One of 74 migrant schools in Tak Province

Gentle Reader,

Agape means unconditional love.  Love will be the only thing that will truly heal the wounds of 9/11; I could think of no better tribute than on the anniversary of that tragic day in 2001, to visit Agape Orphanage and Learning Center in Maesot Thailand.
Headmaster David Min Naing at Agape
David and two other head masters 
Tak province borders Burma and is teeming with Burmese people, culture and challenges.  Three of the seven refugee camps are in Tak, but that’s a total ly different story for the future.  There are thousands of migrant workers in Tak province, here at the grace of the Royal Thai Government but without many of the basic rights and privileges of a Thai citizen.

There are 74 schools (learning centers) in Tak province which support the children of migrant workers from Burma.  Perhaps in a future article I’ll take a deeper look at the political situation in which they must survive. Today you receive only a very brief background and a quick tour of a rather amazing campus.  Fair enough?

This article contains no information on how you can contribute.  Those of you who are interested please contact me and I’ll provide that information.  Depending on your country and tax status there are different options.
Boys at study, do they deserve an education and a chance in life?
Agape is one of the 74 schools. Headmaster David Min Naing is also the vice chairman of the consortium of 74 schools that support the migrant workers in Tak province.  The 74 schools support some 15,000 children, ranging from Nursery through grade 6.  David is quick to point out that after grade 6 most children are removed from school by their parents and put to work.  He also said there are between 15,000 and 20,000 children of migrant workers who are NOT in school.
Nursery Age Children, learning the Thai alphabet
 and beiing distracted by the foreigner with the camera .
After I left his company I sent David a flurry of short emails asking questions.  The last was just to confirm that he has 300 children.  His answer tells a lot about his operation, his philosophic approach and his finances.  I love this guy!  His answer "Agape has 300 children, 10 salary teacher including me are 3,500 thb per each, me the same, 3 volunteer teacher no salary just pocket money no more 500 thb.and 4people for boarding house care and cooks are  1800 thb per each. 1 day and gate watch and 2 night watch 2000 thb per each. and finally 2 free driver like me".

David and most of the 3rd grade class
This headmaster does everything based on love, he even named his school Agape.  An incredible man, David has designed the buildings himself.  He prefers separate buildings rather than a typical elementary school configuration.  It’s like a small campus.  The construction and maintenance is done by staff, volunteers and the children.   In addition to the classrooms, auditorium, dining facility and dormitories, there is a pig pen, chicken house, fish tank and more.  Agape is to the extent possible, a self-sustaining community.   Each building was sponsored by donations from various charities.  Without their support, life would be unbearable for these children.  Still there is much to be done, and serious shortages of just about everything.
Boy's dormatory
Fish Tanks - part of being self sustaining!
Agape has 300 children ranging from nursery school through grade 6.  As I walked around the campus I couldn’t help but notice some of the activities.  In the nursery school the children were learning the Thai alphabet.  The kindergarten class was lined up to show the teacher their written assignment, in Burmese.  Other classes were studying from books that looked like readers

Writing assignment being checked
They caught me at the window!  

The sign says “Orphanage”, but that could be misleading.  Of the 300 children 14 are known orphans, 12 are abandoned (the status of their parents is unknown).  The rest of the children are  boarded at Agape while they attend school.  They are too young to work in the fields; the parents are happy to have them taken care of by the school.  The parents get care for their children while they toil and the children receive an education.  It may seem sad, but it really is a win-win scenario within an overall situation that is far less than desirable.

David tells me that the children must learn to love and respect each other.  To that end, each day begins with, and again I quote David from one of his emails  “ 1. First we bow to Thai national flag and sing Thai national song ,  happy children songs with action ,Christian  song.  and  pray Islam by Islamic children lead them self ,then Buddhist religious saying by Buddhist children them self, then for  Christian I lead to pray , then good morning song, then final song is pigeon song that all children singing with flying and sleep action and then all children go inside the class room.”  Next time I’m in Maesot I’ll record this!

Each day these children are taught respect for the nation that is their host and also to  appreciate each other’s religion and culture!   I love this powerful approach.   Much of the evil in the world is committed in the name of religion. Teach the children that we are all the same and that there is no benefit to religious persecution; that is his belief and I totally agree.   Agape is love!   Children are lovable and deserve our love and respect!

Beware of these children: They will steal your heart!
However, they commit no crime

This article contains no information on how you can contribute.  Those of you who are interested please contact me and I’ll provide that information.  Depending on your country and tax status there are different options

The bigger Issue! 

Dump Follow UP

As of December 29, 2012 enough money has been raised to replace the fallen water tank at the dump.  See the article ‘The Dump’, below. Thank you Jim!
New Cycle, Ready for Work

I still do not have a firm date for my next trip to Mae Sot but it’s looking like I’ll go back on January 15th.  There is much to learn, much to photograph and write about.  What will have changed in three weeks?  

In the meantime, Fred and other good people are there working for the displaced people on a daily basis.  

Abundant Blessings, 

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Dump

Some of the living accommodations they have created
During my first trip to Mae Sot I became very aware of the many children along the Thai / Burma border who are living in refugee camps.  I decided to look for a project to support, a project that would actually do some good.  Hoping to learn more about these people, I came upon another population, less known and in some instances even more desperate.  They are displaced from their homeland due to the ongoing civil war there but do not have access to the camps.  Some are migrant workers with Thai papers (equivalent to a “green card” in the U.S.A.).  Some are “illegal” which means that with no papers they are not recognized by the Thai government, cannot legally obtain employment and certainly can receive no Thai government support.  Approximately 400 such people live in the Mae Sot dump.
Fishing in the polluted water

I hope to learn more and write more about this situation.  For today, I submit an initial impression based on a very limited visit and very limited conservation with their good friend Fred Stockwell (Eyes to Burma).

Fred is truly one of the good guys.  Every dime he receives for his projects is spent on the projects.  He lives off of his own resources, spending a good portion of those monies on the people at the dump as well.  He takes nothing from the foundation for himself and will, in fact, give you an earful about unspecified organizations that raise money under the guise of helping, but end up keeping the money for themselves, or at least most of it.  I find Fred to be a breath of honesty and candor that is sorely lacking in the world of “do gooders” here and throughout the world.

There is a stench in this dump; there is a stench in any garbage dump.  However to me it smells like a rose garden when compared to foul people who would set up an operation claiming to help these people, especially the children, and then keep the monies raised.  These vermin are out there!  PLEASE if you want to help, donate directly through the Eyes to Burma website.
Just a little child in all of this!

The good work described on the website are projects that I want very badly to support.  I wish it were as simple as throwing money at the problem but it is not.  I quickly learned that for most of the adults, living in the dump is a conscious choice.  Simply, they put money first, earn as much or more as they would elsewhere, live rent free and are not hassled by the Thai authorities as much as they might be elsewhere.  The decision obviously doesn't consider hygiene or health.  It would be a simple matter to accept their decision, turn my back and find other causes to support if it weren't for one fact not yet discussed.  Over half of the people living in the dump are children!  These children are deprived of opportunities, health care and education; they are children who are forced to pick in the garbage to earn money for their families.   I’m told some of them go to school during the day and then work until 3:00 a.m. scavenging in the dump.  Others are not in school at all.
Her parents sent her from Burma to live with an aunt and work in the dump!
The challenge is what to do and how much.  Do too little and children die of mal nutrition or infectious diseases.  Do too much and the adults lose all motivation to try for better living conditions for their families.   I know little about this delicate balance and intend to return to Mae Sot in the next couple of weeks.  This subject definitely remains open.  I do know that Fred has grappled with this problem for over six years and from my brief conversation with him, I’m convinced it’s more complicated than I can imagine, at least for today.  A few facts that he did share with me include, in no particular order:
  1.           Children as young as 5 or 6 may be seen working in this garbage dump.   Age 8 may be a more realistic average beginning age.  Of course, all the monies earned by the children go back to the family.
  2.           At one point an infant perished from mal-nutrition.  Fred was out of the country at the time and the family didn’t know who to contact for food.  As he told me this story, you could see the pain building up in his face.
  3.           Care has to be given not to give money to adult men who have a tendency to drink or gamble.  I can only imagine how difficult living in the dump must be and what a temptation it would be to squander money on relaxation such as drink or sport.
  4.           One of Fred’s main efforts is the training of the children to be self-sufficient.  In one instance he’s training a girl to be in charge of a small supply store where she will tend to the needs of the community.
  5.           He has implemented a clean water project which has greatly reduced the incidence of disease.  While I was there, one of the water tanks collapsed and was destroyed.  This is a setback that he will use as a teaching opportunity. 
  6.           Fred tutor’s the children in English and encourages their families to allow the little ones to attend school.  (Although they are not legally in the country, there are opportunities for education, but that’s another story).

The basic needs that Eye on Burma tries to satisfy are clean water, rice and health care.  Training and education are the tools to try to get these people out of the dump and on to a better life.  Much more will be written as I have the opportunity to learn.  In the meantime,
As of the 23d of December, Eyes to Burma urgently needed to raise something like $200 dollars to replace the water tank that was destroyed.  As of this writing,  half has been raised and given to Fred.  Can you donate the other half, or maybe just part of it?  If you can, just go to the website and make your tax deductible contribution.

Abundant Blessings,

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Mae Tao Clinic

Gentle Reader,

Some time ago I posted my initial impression article which was written while I was still in Mae Sot.  I’ve been back three days and have had time to decompress, at least a little.  My initial impression was stick on accurate – Wow would be an understatement.  Today I’ll try to take a look at the scope of the need and Mae Tao Clinic’s contribution to that need. I’ll close with a bit of information on how you can help, if you are so moved.  Please note that the scope of this article is limited to Burmese migrants in Tak province. There are perhaps 65,000 registered and 150,000 unregistered Burmese migrants in Tak province (1).  This group, over 200,000 human beings, are all in Tak province.  They are just part of the bigger picture which would include the migrants and refugees all along the Thai / Burma border.  The bigger picture must also include all those in Burma who suffer at the hands of that junta. The scope of suffering and need is beyond comprehension.

Mae Tao Clinic serves Tak province and supports clinics in Burma.  The contribution made is immense.  I would invite you to spend some time at  The site is very well organized and well written.  You will see that the clinic is involved in three main areas:

First they provide health services.  “The Mae Tao Clinic, founded and directed by Dr. Cynthia Maung, provides free health care for refugees, migrant workers, and other individuals who make the dangerous journey across the border from Burma to Thailand” (2).   The daily patient load is around 300 per day and rising.  It’s worth repeating that approximately half of the patients they see each day make a day trip from Burma while the other half are migrants who reside in Tak province.  All medical services at Mae Tao Clinic are free to the patient.
The green uniforms tell me these children reside in Burma
Second they provide medical training.  “Mae Tao Clinic is viewed as an excellent training facility as it offers skilled trainers, including Burmese doctors, senior medics, and international professionals. Due to the Clinic’s high patient load, it also offers extensive practical training. Although travel from inside Burma to the Clinic is expensive and difficult, involving passage through areas of conflict and the passing of security checkpoints both in Burma and Thailand, participants come from all over Burma to attend trainings at MTC”.  (3) Their participation makes a difference in an untold number of lives in Burma.

Third they provide Child Protection: “While Mae Tao Clinic began as a humble health service delivery organisation, it has evolved into an umbrella social services network for refugees, migrant workers, and other displaced Burmese. As a focal point of these activities, child protection is the most rapidly growing area of need. The continued deterioration of services in eastern Burma, coupled with the steadily growing population of migrant families, accounts for the increased demand for our work” (4).  The Child Development Center (CDC) is Mae Tao’s own school with 1,000 students and several boarding houses.  By its self the CDC is a huge project!
"We do not tolerate gambling, illegal drug-taking
 or human trafficking"
Many organizations are suffering from financial shortages.  Mae Tao Clinic is, sadly, included in this group. Anyone with an eye for numbers and a computer can clearly see that Mae Tao Clinic spends their funds wisely and always have the people they serve first in their minds.  Mae Tao Clinic also has a 4 year grant / contract with USAID.  Stringent audits are required as a pre-approval process for any money given out by USAID.  NGO’s who have questionable accounting practices need not apply.  Actually the audits are so stringent that only three accounting firms in Thailand are acceptable to USAID.  This says a whole lot about the quality and sincerity of the Mae Tao Clinic.

One of their recent / current challenges is funding for medicine at the clinic.  Mae Tao has enjoyed a restricted grant from a foreign government which provided some 10 million baht a year for the purchase of medicine. The contract ran out in June and has not been restored.  The agency representatives say it's bureaucratic delays and there nothing to worry about.  However it's been 3 months and Mae Tao is worried.

USAID has already warned Mae Tao Clinic that they may be forced to reduce their funding in the 2nd and 3rd year of the contract.

Mother & Baby at Mae Tao Clinic
Future and present fund raising plans feature diversity.  Past reliance on big government grants make them vulnerable.  Currently 60% come from big Government grants and the governments may be changing their helping strategies.  Mae Tao Clinic wants and needs more unrestricted money.  Given the stringent auditing and reporting requirements they must meet to satisfy their big government donors, it's easy to be certain the money goes to the right place. Audits are clearly posted on their website, they are hiding nothing! Interested donors have several options, based on their country of origin.  You can see those at  In addition to requiring funds to continue operations, Mae Tao clinic is always looking for medical volunteers.  Medical students, doctors, medics and nurses are all invited to volunteer.

Since I’ve been in Thailand, pushing three years now, I’ve seen a lot of organizations that provide opportunities to donate and to volunteer.  Mae Tao Clinic is, in my opinion, the most deserving.  They need and they deserve our help!

Abundant Blessings,