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,

No comments:

Post a Comment