Sunday, 24 February 2013

Mea Tao Clinic and the Children's Development Center

Gentle Reader,

As you doubtless know by now the Mae Tao Clinic is one of my very favorite humanitarian organizations.  It’s much more than a health clinic.  It is also an umbrella organization for Child Protection projects including their own school, the Children’s  Development Center (CDC).

A friend of mine offered to collect medicines to donate to Mae Tao clinic.  I delivered the first small batch on Monday the 18th.  It was very well received and immediately taken to the pharmacy for distribution to patients.  The next day I had the opportunity to meet briefly with Dr. Cynthia Muang and learned that medicine is slow to arrive because of the procurement process.  Funding for most of the medicine comes from the British organization U.K. Aid.  Their generosity is greatly appreciated; many lives depend on it.  Still, the clinic is almost always short of critical medicines, instruments and supplies.   My intention is to do more to help procure these critical items.
Dr. Cynthia, a very busy lady.

The clinic needs surgical instruments, dental and medical.  They need supplies such as sutures and bandages.  The clinic also needs more HIV testing kits.  Currently they cannot honor all of the requests for HIV testing.  Hopefully I will soon have a more exact list of their specific needs.  More on this soon, as soon as I have it.
On the 19th of February I also had the opportunity to visit the Children’s Development Center where I met with Mahn Shwe Hnin, the President / Principle of the school and Myo Nyunt, a teacher and the man in charge of their scholarship program.   This center has been supported by the Mae Tao Clinic for 24 years.  The 19th of February was actually their 24th anniversary.
Myo Nyunt and Mahn Shwe Hnin

The school currently has 845 students in 28 classes ranging from kindergarten to grade 12.  The student population is actually down from 962 a year ago. Some students have gone back to Burma, others have moved with their parents to different locations. Classes are divided into grades 1 through 6, 7 through 9 and 10 through 12.  They currently have two English teachers.

The CDC has a special GED program that prepares students for admission to colleges.  Last year there were 15 students in the program.  This year there are 13.  They try to give preference to orphans and children who have been abandoned by their parents (Sometimes the parents go back to Burma and are never heard from again.  Remember that the Burmese Army has slaughtered thousands of ethnic minorities including the Karen who are predominant in the Mae Sot area).
Yes, they are boys acting like boys

The Children’s Development Center is classified as a learning center, not a school, by the Thai government.  This means that they do not have the accreditation needed for their students to apply to colleges and universities in Thailand or Burma.  They hope to soon be accredited by the ASEAN One Community Program. CDC is not the only learning center with accreditation issues.  In Tak province, there are 81 migrant learning centers, including AGAPE which I have written about, supporting some 15,000 students. Providing education to the displaced children in the Mae Sot area is no small task.
Girls in the same class as the boys, what a difference! 

My highest compliments to the dedicated staff and volunteers who work to give these children a fighting chance in the future! 

Abundant Blessings, 

Sunday, 17 February 2013


My good friend, Garrett from The Best Friend just  sent me a link to a wonderful video on Mae Sot.  It combines both the dump and the Agape School & home.

I hope to have the honor to interview the maker of this film in the very near future.

A small child in the Mae Sot Dump, taken in December 22, 2012

A few of the Children at Agape taken December 22, 2012

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Best Friend Library – Chiang Mai

The Best Friend was founded in 1999 by two Burmese monks from Rangoon.  There are three library branches in Thailand (Chiang Mai, Mae Sot and Nu Po), one in Burma (Sagaing Division, Shan State, Mandalay).  There is also an impressive on line library which can be found at

I had heard many positive comments about the Best Friend Library in Chiang Mai but hadn’t gotten around to visiting until I received an invitation to attend an event.  The event turned out to be a private recital by Ko Thet, an amazing classical guitarist.   The tiny library was packed with supporters and we were treated to some of the most beautiful music you can imagine.  Hopefully I will have an interview with Ko Thet on line in the near future.
Ko Thet

During this first visit I had the opportunity to meet Garrett Kostin who is the manager of the Chiang Mai branch.  A few days later I returned to the library and had a most interesting conversation with Garrett.  As it turns out Garrett had been in Mae Sot where he met the two Burmese monks who founded the organization.  Garrett was looking for ways to help the Burmese people and was considering taking information to Burma.  Somehow he was asked to open a branch in Chiang Mai, which he did in 2010.

Today the Chiang Mai branch maintains the largest English-language collection of books, reports and films about Burma in all of Thailand.  Many are available for lending; others must be read at the library.  Personally I’m working through their collection of documentary films.  Each is an eye opener.   One that I must recommend is Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country.

There are three categories of activity at the Best Friend Library – Chiang Mai:

1. Awareness-raising / campaigning.  The organize awareness-raising events about Burma for the local and expatriate community.  Activities include, but are not limited to, forums, film screenings, book discussions, lectures, etc.  The library campaigns for human rights, peace and democracy in Burma.

2. Information Sharing.  Local and international organizations who direct their efforts toward Burma often use the Chiang Mai branch of the Best Friend Library as a distribution point for their information.  The library has become the hub of pro-Burma activity in Chiang Mai.  The website shares information about Burma with people all over the world.

3. Teaching.  Staff and volunteers provide free English and computer lessons to migrants from Burma.

A final thought:  It’s right to support The Best Friend because they work tirelessly to support the ordinary citizens of Burma, both at home and Thailand.  Libraries may not be the most exciting thing around, especially when you consider all that’s going on that effects the migrant children along the Thai/Burma border.  However, this outfit is doing important work and deserves our support.  When in Chiang Mai, please visit the library.  They are located at 302/2 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 13, Chiang Mai, Thailand.   Visit them on line at The Best Friend Website.   It's no ordinary library!

Schools for Shan Refugees – An Introduction

As I seek improve my knowledge of the along the Thai / Burma border I’m blessed with new people and new experiences.  Such is the tiny organization known as Schools for Shan Refugees.  A tag line from their brochure sums it up  “By facilitating the education of Shan children, we are helping Shan refugees to help themselves”.   A Canadian friend suggested I contact Bernice Johnson, the founder of Schools for Shan Refugees as she knew I was looking for organizations that I might possibly be able and willing to help.   There are far more “do good” organizations here than any one person could possibly help so I came up with my own vetting process.

When choosing to support a group, or not I use some pretty simple criteria:

   a. Does the organization have a positive impact on the lives of children?  (I believe children are the future, besides they are less equipped to help themselves than their parents).

   b. Does the money donated go to it’s stated purpose?  (You would be amazed how different reactions are when I ask for details about monies received and disbursed).

   c. Do they want my help? (Surprise: I've realized that some would rather suffer through their situations than accept help).

   d. Does the organization need my help?  (Who else is helping?  Are they adequately funded?  Do they need help getting their message out to the world)?

Learning English can be fun
I should now report that Schools for Shan Refugees is an ideal organization for my involvement.  Let’s look briefly at my criteria:

   a. The positive impact on the lives of these children is obvious. There are a series of schools mostly migrant in Shan communities throughout Northern Thailand.  The schools meet on weekends.  One school I visited had 15 students another 37.  The children learn English as well as their own Shan language.  Math is also taught. I’m most impressed that they are being helped to preserve their own culture.  Young Shan men and women give their time as teachers and staff for these schools.

   b. The organization is open and people are more than willing to talk about monies and where is used.  On the occasion of my 2nd school visit, scholarships were being given to the parents of the children.  Each parent had to sign for the money and the Village headman warned that abuse of the scholarship would not be tolerated.
Signing for the Scholarship
   c. Schools for Shan Refugees has gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and useful.

   d. There is an interesting fact that must be considered when it comes to need.  Most Shan are Buddhist where other ethnic minorities like the Karen may be mostly Christian.  What this means in real terms is that most faith based organizations prefer to spend their efforts and monies with people of like faith.   This makes resources available to organizations like this harder to secure.

I really like the fact that the idea here is to help them help themselves and at the same time preserve their culture.  These makeshift schools do excellent work.   This little piece is meant to be an introduction only.  I’m sure more will be written in the not too distant future.  In the meantime please visit their website.  Now would be a great time to start a tax deductible giving program that will actually have a positive impact.
A few of my new friends!
Bernice Johnson is also the author of the very well written book The Shan: Refugees Without a Camp, ISBN 978-0-9817833-0-7. I highly recommend it, especially if you have more than a fleeting interest in the plight of the Shan people.
A Very Few of the Children who need our help
I put something like a hundred photo’s up at:    Enjoy!

Abundant Blessings,