Children at Unified Learning Center
With reforms underway in Burma support of migrant children’s education in Thailand is increasingly important
Reform is underway in Burma and Thailand’s Foundation for Education and Development (FED) has often been asked about any significant return migrations of Burmese migrants. However, with regards to Phang Nga Province, there have been no significant or permanent trends indicating returns of Burmese migrant workers to Burma because of Thein Sein’s reforms. Such are the reforms’ influence upon humanitarian aid, as well as political and economic interests around the world, that the FED must reiterate why our education work for migrants is still so important even though we work outside Burma’s political boundaries.
Economically, the demand for Burmese labor in Thailand remains high while job opportunities and wages in Burma remain low. Tens of millions of Burmese will continue to migrate; flowing back and forth across borders. Even as Burma develops economically, migrants outside of Burma will continue to be among the poorest and most vulnerable. Any approach to education and development of the Burmese people needs to recognize and act upon these realities and include migration and migrant children in the picture. The aid world must look at the long-term and bigger picture. We must not exclude, delegitimize, dehumanize and alienate migrants to the hidden, silent places of suffering from which we have struggled so hard to liberate them in Thailand.
NGOs and other agencies or private entities wanting to fund learning or education of children and youth in Burma should not exclude migration from their interventions. Funders such as NGOs and governments now pass up needy migrant children in Thailand because they can now legally operate with Burmese children in Burma. This is a narrow and short-sighted approach that would be unacceptable to Burmese as their national consciousness and awareness of their human rights develops along with its economy. Funding migrant children outside of Burma will accelerate Burma’s regional importance regarding human rights. As Burma develops democratically and economically, the nation will be looking more and more outside its own borders at its people, influence and rights abroad. There is a real reason why Aung San Suu Kyi’s first visit outside of Burma in decades was to visit migrant workers in Thailand during the World Economic Forum in May.
The existence of Burmese institutions abroad, such as the FED and its Learning Centres, will increase in importance. The Burmese peoples’ consciousness of their own rights expands and they come to expect more from nations that have customarily exploited their poorest and least educated. The Burmese people themselves will be expecting better treatment of their daughters and sons abroad while they have increasingly recognized the importance of Learning Centers for their children as well as other critical services like health care access and health education.
FED’s chairman, Kraisak Choonhavan, a leading human rights advocate and politician in Thailand, once said his role within in the foundation can be likened to a benevolent “spectre” on watch within the consciences of would-be human rights violators. In a similar way, FED’s Learning Centres and education projects are little strongholds or embassies for Burmese children’s rights in S. Thailand. The Learning Centres’ presence in the community has symbolic importance with powerful human rights implications. All along, the presence of our Learning Centers has exacted greater integrity for and humanization of the Burmese people in Thailand by putting children first. The rights of the downtrodden have never been awarded; they have been won through the demands of the oppressed. The LCs have been the absolute at the heart of this declaration of dignity; the children and extremely dedicated teachers, its ambassadors. As such, the support of just a few hundred Burmese migrant children has social repercussions that far exceed conventional education outputs.
In supporting the FED’s education work in Thailand, an agency or individual promotes safety and health for Burma’s most vulnerable people; its migrant children. Not only do the Learning Centres offer regular health education for children who otherwise wouldn’t get it, but the FED also facilitates these children’ access to health care when they are ill or injured. Reaching these isolated people is possible only by bringing them together at the Learning Centres. The LCs have been a powerful antidote to the heartbreak of child labour, indentured servitude, modern forms of slavery and other abuses, which were completely unchecked here in Phang Nga Province before Burmese children had a safe place to be. Diverse accounts attest that child labour and exploitation has decreased and been less passively accepted as the status quo by Thai communities here.
The LCs are an advocate and promoter of education reform in Thailand. It was no mystery why Thai govt. schools in the area began finally accepting migrant children only after our learning centers paved the way; showing that the will and unity of the Burmese community was strong and organized. It was the presence of the LCs full of children demanding their rights! Now, more than ever, the education of Burmese migrant children has repercussions for the entire region and our collective humanity.
With this being said, we would like to extend our sincerest gratitude and appreciation to all of you, who have generously contributed to our education program. We, as well as the Burmese children recipients of these fundamental gifts, are immensely thankful for the contributions you have made to this cause. While education, especially for youth, is of the utmost importance and beyond the confines of a price or monetary value, these are projects that FED will continue to provide thanks to the community of support we are fortunate enough to have made with you. As we maintain communication with our valued supporters, please do continue to look out for ways you can support the Burmese migrant community through the work that FED is doing and through our future Global Giving campaigns. Thank you again for your support and compassion.