Volunteer

Be a part and make a difference!

Everyone has a talent – and many people are happy to share this with those less fortunate .  Many international students, professionals, housewives, backpackers from the US, Japan, Sweden, Korea, Canada, Denmark, Singapore, China, England, Thailand and India have joined us during their vacation r for a short stint, contributing their time and talents to help with dental work,  excursions for kids, wall and mural-painting, refurbishing beds and orphanage playground equipment, teaching art, dance, songs plus a lot of love, hugs and cuddles to those we serve. Please contact us if you’d like a hands-on experience, or just to make a difference to someone’s life!

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Volunteer Em teaching at Mae La Refugee camp

Visiting student volunteer experiences life as a refugee

Imagine living on 5 kg rice, 300 gm fermented fish, charcoal & one litre oil for a month? Then repeating this month after month after month? Well, this is what each registered refugee in a camp receives as their monthly ration. We’ve read about the persecuted people who’ve fled their homes in Burma, persecuted by their government, brutalized by soldiers and now, located in ‘refugee camps’.

There are an estimated 162,000 refugees living in nine camps along the Thai- Burmese border with about 50,000 registered in the biggest Mae La camp. Insiders say that there are more than 10,000 more who are not registered. Most of them are of the ethnic Karen tribe, who were once farmers who planted rice, vegetables or raised pigs, chicken and fish.

Having had their homes burnt to the ground or family members killed, raped or taken away as child soldiers/ slaves, they have fled their homeland & now live in these camps. They may be safe from the sudden attacks of the Burmese army but camp conditions are harsh. Camps are overcrowded and numbers are increasing daily. Frustration runs high with so many people together who are unable to go out or work legally. What is life like? How do people cope?

These are questions that one visiting volunteer had.When Em*– a Nicaraguan university student who is working on his Master’s degree in Taiwan  — came to us as a volunteer, he expressed just ONE wish. He wanted to work with refugees – but not just work with them, he wanted to live with them, to experience life as they did, to feel their pain, to understand their plight. In short, he hoped become one with them; a meaningful internship which would help him be more compassionate. However, in our work with the refugees, we have been kept on the outside because of legalities.

No foreigner is allowed into the camps. We send supplies & assist with a bakery within the camp, but all through a coordinator who lives in the camp . As we knew that it would not be possible, we tried to persuade Em to work with the migrant communities — similar, but where people can work as lowly-paid laborers in construction work & on rubber plantations. Em amiably agreed to this second choice but the desire burning in his heart to live in a camp.We told him that it would bea miracle because there was no way to get into the camp as a special pass & authorization is needed.

Seeing his determination, I called a friend there & told him of Em’s desire to work in a camp somehow. This dear friend said he would take care of him. The next day, our friend said they’d met & he had arranged for him to go into the biggest Mae La camp. Em was elated.He went off to his ‘dream come true’ – living in a refugee camp with a wafer-thin mattress on the floor for a bed, water trickling through a rusty pipe (more if there’s rain) for showers, oven-hot classrooms and just two paltry meals a day.With only breakfast and dinner, Em felt the same hunger pangs as his students by the time the afternoon rolled around.With the heat beating down on the zinc roofs of the school, he was not only hungry but tired & drenched in sweat by the time the afternoon classes started.

But those circumstances did not deter him or dampen his enthusiasm to give, to add value to the lives of the students he was going to teach. He was going to give all he had – they wanted him to teach English. As a Nicaraguan, that is not a language he feels he can teach. But he jumped into it and did his best! They found out he’s a top class Latin dancer, so he ended up with extra classes teaching his students waltz, salsa and modern dance – all wonderfully timed for the upcoming talent show in the camp!

The pre-university students were enthralled with this young man’s enthusiasm, positive spirit and cheerfulness.Em meanwhile, had to hide the pain he felt when he heard of students who had seen their family shot, of those who want to pursue their studies but won’t ever have a chance; or those who’ve lived 20 years in that camp. Everyone had a story and though they stoically shared their hearts, he could sense their hurt and pain.

When he returned, he wrote in his reaction: “I feel so thankful to God because I have freedom, I have good living conditions such as a home, house, bed, water, food and some other things that refugees don’t. I have had opportunities to pursue my studies n bachelor and master program, while refugees do not have this kind of opportunity. Now I have to share my blessings.” Indeed, Em meant what he said – empathizing was not enough. Em returned and wanted to see how he could work to get more fans for the school; more food, more volunteer-teachers to help teach the students, more computers….. He has returned to Taiwan where he’s studying for his Master’s degree and while there, he’s reaching out to sponsors and friends to see how he can raise funds to help improve the lives of those in the camp school where he lived as a refugee student.

If just one volunteer can give so much and affect the lives of another 50 young people in such an uplifting way, think how we can enthuse 500 or eventually 50,000? We are now trying to co-ordinate with a network of people as well as corporate partners to try to do more to help this school and those who have the ability to effect change and make that difference in the lives of these people.

 

If you would like to apply for available volunteer positions, fill out our Volunteer Application Form and send it to centhai@gmail.com.

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