Burmese Refugee Youth Prevent Addiction & Violence

by DARE Network (Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Network)
Volunteer Liz and our Mae La DARE Team player
Volunteer Liz and our Mae La DARE Team player

This is Liz.  Every year since 2004, Liz has made her way from Bangkok to the Thai/Burma Border.  Sometimes this trip takes her 6 hours, sometimes 10 hours, just one way.

Among her many talents as a journalist, and a social welfare volunteer, in Bangkok, Liz is an Ultimate Frisbee player with the Bangkok Soi Dawgz.  This Ultimate team plays regularly in Bangkok and runs the Bangkok Ultimate Hat tournament, an International Ultimate Frisbee tournament that attracts players from all over the world.

Liz not only has come to the Thai/Burma Border to share her skills with the Refugee Youth of DARE Network, she has inspired many other players to do the same.  Over the last 13 years, once a year the Ultimate volunteers provide training, tournaments and prizes to the DARE Network Teens for Kids program.  As well, at the Soi Dawgz annual Bangkok Hat Tournament they collect donations of team shirts, shoes, hats, and frisbee discs for the young people participating in our program.  On top of that, they donate money and make DARE Network the charity of their Bangkok Hat Tournament.  How fantastic is that?

This February, Liz, Helen and Noot came to Mae La Refugee camp to train trainers in the Ultimate game.  They concentrated on understand the game strategically and how to improve and share the skills needed to play a successful game.

DARE brought young people from our DARE Network Addiction teams, whom we felt would be able to pass on this training to others in their camps.

In addition, for the first time, we brought Addiction Workers into Mae La Camp from our DARE Centre in Karen State to learn the game and take it back to our centre.  This will mark the first time Ultimate Frisbee has been played together by Karen people in Karen State and will be a great addition to our Addiction Prevention Education program in the villages there.

DARE appreciates their volunteers and donors.  We can't do it without you. And can't thank you enough.

Helen running the drill
Helen running the drill
Learning the strategies
Learning the strategies
Theory into practice...playing the game
Theory into practice...playing the game
The Tournament Winners
The Tournament Winners


A hot and dusty day playing Ultimate Frisbee
A hot and dusty day playing Ultimate Frisbee

It's that time of year again when the great volunteers of the Soi Dawgz Ultimate Frisbee Team in Chiang Mai and Bangkok spend their time and money to come to Mae La Refugee camp to share their skills with the DARE Network Teenager Teams. They usually show up with lots of donations of frisbees, Ultimate shirts, and loads of clothes collected from International schools in Bangkok.

Ultimate Frisbee is the ideal cool game for young people in the refugee camp.  We at DARE use this game to create an opportunity to share information about drugs and alcohol abuse to hundreds of teenagers and children, who are at risk for addiction because of years of confinement in the refugee camps on the Thai/Burma Border.  The game itself provides and outlet for the boredom and frustrations of camp life.  Both boys and girls have a chance to play together ensuring gender equality.  Their is no referee in Ultimate so disagreements on the field need to be resolved in "the spirit of the game", which develops excellent conflict resolution skills.

This year we are changing things up a bit.  Now that we have started our addiction programs back inside Burma, we feel that the young people in the villages in Karen State would also benefit from learning this great game.  To that end, our International volunteers will offer a training of trainers workshop in Mae La Refugee Camp in February.  

Our DARE staff will bring young refugee volunteers from 3 camps and we will also bring young volunteers from inside Karen State, Burma to learn how to teach the game.  That is a big undertaking. The day will be fun-filled, as both the International and Refugee volunteers work together to enrich the lives of teenagers and children on both sides of the border.

DARE is so appreciative of all the help from the Ultimate volunteers in Thailand but also thankful to all of you who donate at GlobalGiving to keep this project going.  It is making a big impact.



Failure and setbacks are intrinsic to all endeavours and to the human experience at large. No matter what you do, at some point you are bound to fail. Some failures will be of little consequence, while others might impact you in ways you didn’t expect. It seems that the greater the gain you stand to gain from success of your work, the bigger the failure will seem and also the number of ways in which you might fail. The two correlate: success and failure. What matters then, is not that you fail, but how you cope with failure afterwards. Since DARE Networks inception in 2001, we have worked hard to provide drug prevention education and treatment to the refugee population in the borderland between Thailand and Burma, but there have been times of failure and setbacks.


Our preliminary scrutiny into the Burmese Refugee Camp environments had revealed widespread alcohol and drug abuse, and these findings crystalized into an idea. Our Community Based Organization emerged among the refugees and their leaders to fight drug abuse and the devastating consequences to their own people by providing drug education and treatment to as many people as possible. Our objective was to be met by setting up treatment centres in all nine refugee camps, on the Thailand/Burma Border, through which it would be possible to have a big impact. By 2004, we had treatment centres in nine refugee camps, where locally trained staff offered two different treatment programs to alcohol and drug addicts, as well as prevention education, programs for youth, and community interventions for men, women and children. The project was reaching its target population.


DARE Network is run almost entirely by Burmese refugees who both undertake most of the administrative tasks, and run the treatment and education programs in the refugee camps. The fleeting nature of the refugee population proved to be a challenge, when it came to maintain the workforce in the organization. Sometimes in life, things are beyond your control. Unfortunately for us, in the period between 2008-2009 failure began to set in, and it became clear that we could not sustain all nine treatment centres.

As refugees moved away from the camps, as result of The UNHCR Resettlement Programs, to continue their lives elsewhere in Third Countries, so did their knowledge and human resources. In 2007 our treatment centres in the refugee camps of Tham Hin and Ban Do Yang were forced to close, and in 2008 we had to end activities in Karenni Camp I and Karenni Camp II. What remained was the realization that we had underestimated the speed in which our workforce was resettling. Big resettlement programs were implemented between 2006 and 2008, and our Addiction Workers would resettle in countries far away from the camps. As such, time and money invested in the former Addiction Workers was now lost to the camps, with fewer people left to help us succeed.

It became evident that the model we had developed, of refugees working to treat and educate other refugees, only worked as long as the flux of persons remained at a steady level. One of the premises on which the organization is built is that the addiction workers in charge of treatment and education remain in the camp, where their target group resides.  Now we had a challenge before us.


This insight, that the model is conditional to stable migration conditions, leads to an important conclusion; the project is where the people are. This might seem like an obvious conclusion, but when dealing with a transient target population it carries important consequences that we had to adopt for the future. First, we have begun conducting a thorough screening processes, to make sure that we train and employ people who are not about to resettle within a period that to ensure that we are making a good investment for our program.  We then set up an on-going training program that not only provided us new Addiction Workers but also gave our long-time staff an opportunity to improve their training skills.  This training program is the backbone of our recovered success. 

Forward bonus

Former addiction workers who resettled in a 3rd country, have also proven to be able to make a positive difference in their new country of residence, where they have been able to help in Burmese communities abroad, by using their knowledge and skills that they have learned from working at DARE Network. Even if DARE Network’s workers are resettled or return back to Burma, it has turned out that they can contribute to the forward work of DARE Network in important ways. Addiction Workers who return to Burma, have been vital to the process of setting up treatment centres and programs inside Burma, where we are present in 20 villages. These programs are in place to help people already in Burma, and people returning from refugee camps in Thailand.

In the end it has proved all out important not to focus on the factors beyond our control. In the context that we work, there are a lot of unknown, and uncontrollable factors that affect our work. These have always influenced the workings of our organisation, and will continue to do so. However, as the context changes we change with it, and work hard to make sure that the time and education invested in our workers are allowed to go as far as possible, in order to make a positive change for people who need it.

Jumping high
Jumping high

Being young. On the doorstep to adulthood. The early stages in a person’s life are some of the most formative and vulnerable ones. This is the time when we develop and grow into habits that will follow us for the rest of our lives. We as human beings have no say in where, when and how we get to be born. Some are born into time and place of conflict, violence and instability, whilst others emerge into a life of stability, access to resources and a wide array of possibilities at their feet. The arbitrary event of coming into existence is one widely regarded as luck; good or bad. For children and adolescents being born in, or growing up in a refugee camp, their existence must indeed be regarded as a case of bad luck, and a hard start to life. Existence in a refugee camp can be monotonous and uniform, and these external factors might lead one to fall into self-destructive behaviour such as substance abuse. Luckily persons and organisations work hard to break down these harmful social conditions, and empower young people in the refugee camps.

DARE Network is present in five refugee camps in Thailand, housing refugees from adjacent Burma. The refugees who reside in the camps are ultimately left with three choices; seek asylum in Thailand, repatriate to a third-party nation state or voluntarily return to Burma. The camp perceived as an intermediary station where people sit and wait before they are able to make a choice, is an easy analogy to grasp at. The United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees prognoses indicate that due to the somewhat stable situation in Burma, a large number of refugees residing in refugee camps inside Thailand, will be able to return back to Burma during 2016. However for the youth population who still reside in the camps, DARE's Burmese Youth Program represent a possibility for them to break with the monotonous waiting and become important members of the camp community.

The Burmese Youth Program educates adolescents in the social consequences of drug use; both on personal and community levels, and help them develop capacity to advise other members of the community in the consequences of substance abuse. Education is just one part of this two-part project; the initial allure for many youths being the game of Ultimate Frisbee. Once a year DARE's Youth Program called Teens for Kids organises an Ultimate Frisbee tournament across the five refugee camps, where teams get to compete against each other. Before the tournament begins, participants are quizzed on their knowledge on substance abuse and related consequences, and are awarded prizes for correct answers. After the tournament, participants who are not yet a part of the program, are encouraged to participate in DARE activities.. The Teens for Kids Program also invites participants to engage in prevention education sessions in their schools, working with their teachers and other students to help young people understand the consequences of substance abuse and to explore alternatives with them.

The feeling of contribution to the community, the chance to participate in the big Ultimate Frisbee tournament and important substance education are the three legs that make the program work. By the end of 2015 the program had 250 participants in the ages between 16-25 years, in five refugee camps; Mae La Oo, Mae Ra Moe, Mae La, Umpieum and Nu Poe, situated in the border region between Burma and Thailand. Respondents among the youths in the program rank drug education and the chance to reinvest themselves into the community, chief amongst the things they took away from the program.

The program enables young people who are already in a difficult situation to start with, to help their community by teaching and participating in substance education and by practicing in a sport that supports gender equality and conflict resolution.


The Burmese Youth Prevent Substance Abuse Project is thankful to its donors, who make it possible for DARE to create opportunities for the Burmese youths in the refugee camps, and help them create a positive impact on their own communities.


Even as DARE Network continues to work in the refugee camps on the Thai/Burma Border, we are looking forward to carrying our Teens for Kids program over the border into Karen State where we have opened a treatment and training centre in the jungle.


20 Villages in Karen State now are providing Prevention Education to their communities, trained by our intrepid DARE Workers. Our next step is to have our Addiction Workers identify some Teen Leaders and start to introduce them to the process of interacting with their Peers.  These kids have never had any kind of contact with the kind of programming offered by DARE Network and the Karen people who work in the organization.


Our first tool will be the Frisbee Disc.  We use this tool and the game of Ultimate Frisbee to engage young people, both boys and girls.  Once they are enjoying the game, we add in substance abuse education.  The young people then can share with their families, friends and schoolmates. They can learn what normal drinking is and the great dangers of methamphetamines, heroin and opium.

In the meantime, we want to share with you, our donors, who make it all possible, our 2015 Annual Report.  Please take the time to read it and see what and where you have contributed and how we have used your money. We promise the report is not boring.




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Organization Information

DARE Network (Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Network)

Location: Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son - Thailand
Website: http:/​/​www.darenetwork.com
Project Leader:
Pam Rogers
Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son Thailand
$27,151 raised of $35,000 goal
688 donations
$7,849 to go
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