Tuesday, 12 February 2013

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:  http://s935.beta.photobucket.com/user/jnelson1944/library/Shan%20Schools    Enjoy!

Abundant Blessings,

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