Burmese Refugee Youth Prevent Addiction & Violence

by DARE Network (Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Network)
A Happy Grin
A Happy Grin

Dear Friends,

Your on-going support means alot to our program and allows us to generate further support.  There is great interest in the Burmese Refugees and the root causes of their plight.  We often have visitors to our programs including researchers and donors.

We want to share with you some of the outside reaction we get from people who visit DARE Network in the refugee camps.

Refugees Seek Freedom From Addiction on the Thai-Burma Border

Posted: 24/05/2013 13:23


*Lucinda Lai [2012] is a Gates Cambridge Scholar doing an MPhil in Sociology. For more information about her work, click here. Picture caption: As part of a camp-based mental health workshop, a student's sketch of the drug and alcohol problems that she observes in her community of refugees at the Thai-Burma border.

Refugee camps are supposed to provide shelter from conflict and persecution, but, for Burmese refugees in Thailand, life in camp introduces a whole new set of dangers. These refugee camps have become a fertile breeding ground for drug and alcohol addiction.

I visited the Thai-Burma border camps last year as part of my work with a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to building up mental health services for refugees. I found that individuals turned to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope, however dysfunctionally, with the stress of protracted confinement in a place completely lacking in the opportunities for productive or meaningful living.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug in the camps. It is cheap and readily available in the form of homebrewed distilled rice liquor. These home brews can be fairly toxic with things like pesticides, fertilisers and rubber thrown in to make the concoction more potent or ferment more quickly. Research has shown that alcohol is used not only for recreation, but also as self-medication for pain and to cope with the boredom of life in camp, the depression and anxiety associated with the loss of traditional social structures and the stress of adapting to unfamiliar and austere living conditions.

In interviews with residents of the largest of the Thai camps, Mae La, some men revealed that they resort to substance abuse because they feel deprived of their typical means of livelihood. "We have only alcohol," one man said, "It's like being in a farm [...] surrounded by a fence." Many of these disenfranchised young men felt that they had no other avenues to express their frustration. "There is only alcohol to get release," said one.

Male respondents lamented the loss of their normal roles as providers for the household. Female respondents described the effects of alcohol abuse as adding stress and pressure on their families. Gender-based violence, crime, the serious neglect of children and the costs of alcohol and substance use on the family's finances all pose significant challenges to mental health. One camp resident put it this way: "The majority of addicts are men. Because of this, women are mentally ill."

On the other hand, camp-based drug and alcohol recovery programmes gather hope from their work, seeing it as an expression of non-violent resistance against the former military dictatorship. Indeed, Burma (also known as Myanmar) stands out as a major source of methamphetamine pills and opiates in Southeast Asia today, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Burma is the second largest opium grower in the world after Afghanistan.


Almost all of the opium Burma produces is grown in the eastern part of the country, in the states of the Shan and Kachin ethnic minorities. This area is also the site of long-standing conflicts between the minority groups' armies and the central government's military. The instability caused by these conflicts fuels the growth of opium and heroin production and is suggestive of a link between the highly profitable drug trade and the current plight of Burmese refugees.

One community-based recovery programme, DARE Network, has had remarkable success in the treatment of addicts in camp. They are a local organisation that developed in response to the urgent need to bring an end to the drug problems. DARE Network makes use of Burmese herbal medicines, acupuncture, herbal saunas, traditional massage and culturally appropriate therapies in their detoxification and rehabilitation programmes. They are guided by the belief that "recovery is a powerful weapon against those who benefit from the drug trade". Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction returns people to their communities, and healthy communities are more resilient to manage whatever political and economic transformations are yet to come.

At the individual level, addiction is directly related to feelings of powerlessness. But, there is also the growing realisation that addiction plays a role in the bigger story of Burmese refugees: persecution, armed conflict, instability, a profitable drug trade and undemocratic rule. It is only by supporting those who are trying to break free from the cycles of addiction that full and inclusive participation in the creation of a free Burma for all will be possible.

We feel this will give you some more insight into the DARE Network programs and we hope you will continue to support our work.

From all of us at DARE. 


Listening and Learning
Listening and Learning

First of all.  A great big huge wonderful thank you to everyone who participated in the Recurring Donation campaign in December.  It was a big success and we managed to be in the top 5 projects.  As a result, we received additional bonus and matching fund from GlobalGiving, thanks to all of you.

Our work with the Teenagers and Children in the refugee camps continues.  The Teens Teams coordinate with their teachers, leaders and other teenagers to provide monthly Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Education in the schools.

As well, they continue to use Ultimate Frisbee as a means to play with children and other youth who may not be in school to share their knowledge and create a space for kids to talk about the challenges of living in a refugee camp. Many of these young people's parents abuse alcohol to cope with their losses.  Many youth feel hopeless looking out of the camp as their future passes them by.  They too are at risk for addiction.

Last month we had an amazing time with the Burmese Migrant children.  Our wonderful volunteers from the Bangkok Soi Dawgz Ultimate Frisbee club, came up to the border to introduce the Migrant Kids to the game of Ultimate while our dedicated staff shared their addiction knowledge with the children.  Please see the attached photos.

We also did some advanced training with our DARE Teenager Teams in Mae Ra Moo and Mae La Oon Refugee camps.

You may have heard that many changes have come to Burma.  While it is true, that Aung San Suu Kyi is released and the government is loosening up, there are still attacks against ethnic groups.  Ceasefires are tenuous until the Burmese Government really works toward peace through a political process.  It still is not safe for people to return to their homeland from the refugee camps.  The place is littered with landmines and the Burmese Army, rather than standing down, is building up their forces in the ethnic areas. Rations have decreased in the camps and people are become more impoverished.  Drugs are coming into the camps in larger quantities and our challenges are increasing.

In 2012:

298 Dare Teens for Kids Program youth provided addiction knowledge to 16,000 other youth and children

5 DARE Teams and 298 Teens provided Addiction Prevention and Education to 25,846 children and youth and teachers in their schools

DARE Network Teams in 5 camps provided addiction treatment to 124 addicted teens.  DARE has a 61% success rate of non-relapse across all the camps and all clients. (300 in 2012).

Our DARE Network Teens are making a big difference in their communities. You have helped make all this possible in 2012, 2013 and some of you recurring beyond.  The DARE Teens have asked us for some new Tshirts.  To this end we have posted a Microproject on GlobalGiving to raise money for these shirts.  You can find it at  link below.

Thanks from all us here on the Thai/Burma Border to you our partners around the world.




Volunteer Jiew explaining the game
Volunteer Jiew explaining the game
Ready for the drills
Ready for the drills
Playing the Game
Playing the Game
Who will win the Addiction quiz?
Who will win the Addiction quiz?
The Happy, Hot and Tired Volunteers
The Happy, Hot and Tired Volunteers


Running from the Burmese Army
Running from the Burmese Army

Burma Facts:

  • For the last 60+ years civilians in Burma have been attacked by the Burmese Junta controlled army
  • The ethnic people of Burma have be murdered, tortured, used for forced labour and human landmine clearing
  • For over 35 years ethnic peoples of Burma have been forced to run for their lives to closed refugee camps on the Thai/Burma Border
  • Thousands of children have been born in these camps and have never been outside them
  • Culture has broken down and domestic violence is common
  • 50-80% of camp families have alcohol abuse problems

Refugee Camp Facts: 

  • 70% of Burmese Refugee Youth use alcohol and drugs
  • Alcohol and drugs are cheap
  • Refugee youth as young as 14 years old inject opium
  • Gang violence in the refugee camps sends 347 young people to the hospital each month
  • Girls are leaving their traditional roles to take up smoking and drinking
  • Unprotected sex between refugee teenagers as a result of alcohol use results in pregnancies and HIV.  This completely breaks their cultural values

DARE Facts

  • Over 12 years DARE Network has provided prevention education and/or treatment to over 80,000 people
  • DARE Network’s treatment success rate is 63%, double western standards
  • DARE Network is a culturally appropriate, non-medical program run by the refugees for the refugees
  • DARE Network’s program for youth saves lives

 Burma Myths:

  • Life is now better in Burma and the refugees can go home

 Burma Facts:

  • Their still is no Peace in the ethnic areas of Burma
  • The refugee camps endure with less funding, less resources and more need

You can help.  Give a recurring donation today to DARE Network’s youth programs


Get your donation matched by GlobalGiving and secure $500. Bonus Funds for DARE.  The Recurring Donation Campaign ends at Midnight on December 31st.  You still have time to help.  Please do it today.

Forced Labour
Forced Labour
Villages burned.  Families lost.
Villages burned. Families lost.
Everything gone.
Everything gone.
Barbed wire refugee camp fences
Barbed wire refugee camp fences
Burmese Refugee Camp Life
Burmese Refugee Camp Life


Playing around with bamboo toys
Playing around with bamboo toys

Dear Friends

Greetings from the Burmese Refugee camps on the Thai/Burma Border.  This season is a special time for the refugees.  The cool season is here and the conditions are right for special events.  Karen New Year corresponds with the calendar New Year and many people in the camps celebrate their cultures and religions, just like all over the world.

For the Burmese Refugees it is bitter-sweet as many families have suffered losses of their loved ones inside Burma.  So many families have been unable to leave the camps for decades and so many children have known nothing but a refugee camp.

Our Youth Program continues over the holiday season as it is an excellent time for the teens and kids to share their knowledge with their families and friends.  Statistics from the Refugee Camps show us that the biggest influence on parents substance abuse cessation comes from their children.  As our Teen Teams share their addiction knowledge with other teens and children, the effect is increasing substantially.

This season please consider partnering with GlobalGiving to support these refugees through DARE Network’s work to prevent and treat addiction in the camps.

We have many projects to choose from and they can be found at this link.


If you want to make your donation really count, consider a recurring donation, which GlobalGiving is matching.  If we receive 10 recurring donations on one project, before the bonus money of $25,000 runs out, we will receive an extra $500.

Our Burmese Refugee Youth Prevent Addiction and Violence Project already has 3 recurring donations made in the last week.  Help us get to 10.  Go to this link and us the recurring donation tab.


Of course, if you prefer to make a one time donation to any of our programs, we would be very thankful indeed.

If you find you can help out, make sure you get your donation in soon to take advantage of the bonus funds while they last.

Happy Holidays from all of us at DARE Network

It's the little things that count.
Making music to prevent addiction
Making music to prevent addiction
Life can be very tough...but please come for help.
Life can be very tough...but please come for help.


DARE Intern Wah Doh
DARE Intern Wah Doh


Greetings Friends of DARE Network from the Thailand/Burma Border.

 DARE Network has been providing Addiction Prevention and Non-medical, culturally appropriate treatment to the refugees from Burma for the last 12 years.

 A big thank-you for all your support to DARE Network’s programs for the Burmese Refugees.  Because of your help, we have been able to rebuild most our treatment centres and to provide Prevention Education activities for the thousands of  young refugees in 5 Burmese Refugee Camps on the Thai/Burma Border.

An example of our success working with youth is Wah Doh, who is interning with DARE right now.  Wah Doh was born in the refugee camp on the bank of the Salaween River, 20 years ago.  He was educated in the camp and had the determination to pass every educational opportunity that came his way.  He is just completing a post-high school Public Health Program in Umpiem Mai Refugee camp.  Wah Doh said that “most of the young people in the camp use alcohol and drugs, because of the war on civilians in his land Karen State.  Wah Doh lost his father when he was young because there was not adequate health care available to save him.  And yet, Wah Doh‘s passion to help his people overcome their addictions, especially the youth like him, kept him away from Substance Abuse.  He is a remarkable and intelligent young man and we are proud to have him with us at DARE. As you may have read in the news, things are changing in Burma.  But the situation remains for the refugees on the Thai/Burma Border.  We must maintain our services to them as big International Donors abandon the refugees and move their funding to Rangoon.  In the camps, rations have been reduced, education and health care have deteriorated and social problems, including addiction, have increased.

We are in strategic preparations to follow the refugees into Karen State when peace is secure and they finally can return home.  We will keep you up to date on these plans as they unfold and unfold they will.

This season we are approaching all of you who have donated in the past two years to consider becoming a recurring donor to our projects on GlobalGiving.

The benefits to you and to us of doing this are many.

  • You will know that your on-going support will have longer term effects
  • You will receive updates of the impact of your contribution
  • You can consider yourself a partner in our work
  • You will know that our energy will go less into soliciting donations from you and more into putting your donations to work
  • You will trigger matching funds from GlobalGiving
  • Your recurrent donations will be transferable to other DARE Network Projects, as we move forward

 Here is what is happening this December with GlobalGiving and DARE Network

 The Recurring Donation Campaign begins December 1, 2012 at 12:01 am ET and ends December 31, 2012 at 11:59 pm ET.

Recurring donations must be initiated between December 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012 in order to be eligible for matching and prizes

 Recurring donations created on GlobalGiving.org will be matched 1-to-1 up to $100 per donor per project. Eligible recurring donations of $101 or more will be matched at $100.

            GlobalGiving is offering $25,000 in matching funds. Matching will last until funds run out.

            The top 5 projects that recruit the most recurring donors by 11:59 ET December 31, 2012 will win $500 bonus award each. Projects must have at least 10 new recurring donors to qualify for a bonus award.

To see ALL our GlobalGiving projects, including our new MicroProjects and to make a recurrent or other donation please go to http://www.globalgiving.org/donate/6210/dare-network-drug-and-alcohol-recovery-and-education-ne/

 Please click on recurring donation and make a monthly donation that you can afford, keeping in mind what you donated last year.

Only credit card/debit card donations will work for this campaign. 

If you find you can’t make a recurring donation, a one-time donation is very welcome indeed.

Thanks to people like you, DARE Network has been able to maintain its programs as we are not reliant on big government funding.  But we still need your help.

We will keep you up to date on how we are doing in the challenge.  That will depend on you.  Wishing you all a peaceful season.

All the DARE Network Staff and DARE Teams on the Thai/Burma Border


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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
$25,816 raised of $35,000 goal
609 donations
$9,184 to go
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