My main focus during my three weeks at the Mae Ra Moe refugee camp was to teach English at two different schools.
There are three high schools in the camp and several middle and elementary schools. There is a junior college and a Bible college. There are also nursery schools in each section of the camp. Most students speak the Karen language and classes are taught in Karen until high school when texts and certain subjects are taught in English. I met a few students who were still learning Karen since they moved to the camp from areas in Myanmar outside of Karen state. These students speak Burmese as do many of the residents who moved to the camp from Myanmar. Younger residents and those who have spent their entire lives in the camp usually do not speak Burmese. Despite residing in Thailand, the Thai language is not taught in schools or commonly spoken, though I met students who were studying it on their own.
One evening, I received a visit from a young teacher at a special needs school in the camp. He could not hear or speak, but somehow was able to communicate very effectively with me. He works with students who are blind, deaf and have other special needs.
Nearly all of the funding for the schools and school supplies comes from aid organizations. This year, there was a reduction in the amount of aid being provided and as a result, students were receiving fewer supplies (mostly pens and notebooks).
I spent two weeks at the Karen Adventist Academy and worked mostly with a large class (over 100 students) of 12th graders. I also taught classes from grades 5-11 and a small class of students that would be similar to a GED class in the US. I lived above the school office building with Lauren, a young volunteer from England who already has a wealth of experience working in refugee camps.
I then moved to another section of the camp and taught for one week at the Mae Ra Moe Junior College, working with first, second and third-year students. I lived in the junior college guest house, about a ten-minute walk and on the other side of the river from the college. It was a beautiful location and I was taken care of by several college students. Two young men shared the house with me and were in charge of all of my meals and anything else I might need. They were assisted by several female students who stopped by every afternoon to help prepare our evening meal.
Students at both schools ranged in age from teens to well into their twenties. The older students did not have an opportunity to study when they were younger and living in Myanmar, so they are now catching up by attending school in the camp. It was not unusual to have students who were 15 and 25 in the same classroom.
The college students were very eager to practice English and I had several visits from them every afternoon and evening. Many of the students came to Mae Ra Moe, with or without their families, to continue their education. Sometimes they return to Myanmar to visit family. Some have lived for years with relatives in the camp or in dormitories at the schools. They spoke frequently and openly about the suffering of the Karen people, but were grateful that they could come to the camp for an education. “If I didn’t come here in seventh grade, I would never have continued my education.” This is what Roler, the principal of the Junior College told me. His mother and siblings have all received asylum in the US, but he has remained in order to help his people. Many students expressed similar sentiments when asked what they wanted to do after college. Wanting to use their education to “help my people” was usually a part of their answer.
Thank you, Donors
I received over $500 in contributions from donors who wanted to support the purchase of school supplies for the students. Special thanks to my colleague Paula Agins who collected many contributions from my school and to my former students who raised over $100 in a dodgeball fundraiser.
The money was spent in Chiang Mai on the weekend before I left for the camp, which is still about six hours away. I was able to purchase most of the items on the list provided by Project KARE, the organization that supports the students in the camp through donations and by sending volunteers there. This included a printer, toner cartridges for a copy machine, English games for primary students, twelve large mats to lay on the floor, a roll of black fabric for making dividers between classes, eight soccer balls, and many general school supplies.
Thank you to everyone who contributed. I can assure you that your donations are very much needed at the camp and the students and teachers are very appreciative of everything they receive. If you would still like to donate to the camp schools, you can send contributions directly to Project KARE or donate online through their website.
June 18, 2017 at 06:20
So happy you were able to purchase so many supplies. You are doing so much for so many. PMS is so proud of you.
June 18, 2017 at 06:35
Thanks for helping to make it all possible!
June 18, 2017 at 06:49
This post certainly reminds me how grateful I am for all that I have! Students here in the US should feel blessed to have the educational systems afforded to them… for free!!! It’s too bad that some don’t take full advantage of these opportunities. What you are doing is AMAZING!!!! God Bless and take good care!! Safe travels!
June 20, 2017 at 02:59
Thanks, Denise! I’m so impressed with the self-discipline of students here. It’s just part of the culture I guess.
May 22, 2020 at 07:31
Its like you are one with the karen people. Im very impressed mr flanagan. id actually wanna get to know one of the kids.
May 26, 2020 at 21:26
Thanks, Brent. Even three years later, my memories of the camp are very vivid. I can tell you will be a traveler in your future!
June 18, 2017 at 07:43
So impressed with how important education is to the students…..it is something our students certainly take for granted. Thrilled you were able to bring much needed supplies! You continue to inspire me, Tim!
June 20, 2017 at 03:00
Thanks, Lori! I’ve been having lots of conversations with students in Laos this week. They are on vacation and are spending their free time studying. Can you imagine?
June 18, 2017 at 14:00
I love reading your your blog and I enjoy learning from your detailed observations. It makes me eager to return to Mae Ra Moe! The commitment to “help my people” is a theme in camp and that persists among the Karen people who have been resettled in third countries by the UNHCR. Thank you so much for all you did at Mae Ra Moe and for continuing to help the Karen people by raising awareness!
June 20, 2017 at 03:02
Thanks, Ron! I hope to stay connected to the Karen community and continue to learn from them.
Vicky Ann Deledda
June 18, 2017 at 14:28
Raising awareness here and using education as a most powerful tool is a great accomplishment. And by the way -half way around the world- Happy Father’s Day!
June 20, 2017 at 03:02
Thank you, and yes, I did hear from my sons. Happy Father’s Day to you, too, since I know you did it all.
LInda A Wight
June 18, 2017 at 20:13
Reminds us how truly blessed we are in this country. Enjoy your blogs and very interesting about the students and different schools. Happy Father’s Day Tim.
June 20, 2017 at 03:03
Thank you, Linda!
June 19, 2017 at 20:01
I am behind in my blog reading! Your journey makes me again realize the value of education in other cultures. We take so much for granted in America. I am sure you are helping to change lives.
June 20, 2017 at 03:04
I hope so, but I know my own life is changing!
June 24, 2017 at 08:55
Another wonderful and moving blog post. I’m inspired by the people you encounter in other countries. I feel silly for my frustration when trying to get errands done. You go through so much to get school supplies and other basic necessities. I hope the transportation was better than what you had in the Philippines. I’m going to encourage my sons and David to read your blog from start to finish. I hope it will especially educate Jared and Ethan on perseverance, and to appreciate all that they have in opportunities, family being together, and making the world a better place.
June 25, 2017 at 05:52
Thanks, Diane. I’m also writing so that I remember these lessons when I return home.