June 2011

 

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Hope of the Next Generation
Saw Mort


A young Burmese girl takes care of her even younger
sister when their parents work in the cornfield.
(Photo by Saw Mort)

“I love to study; and when I finish high school, I want to become a nurse or teacher,” said Naw Law Eh, a Grade 4 student studying in a migrant school on the Thai-Burma border.

When I talked with the teacher, he explained to me that during the last school year as well as this year there was a difference as more students from Burma have come to our Thoo Mwe Htee Ger Nee Primary School, a migrant school located in Phop Phra District in Thailand’s Tak Province. This indicates that the children love to study and need education for their life and parents to support them.

Moreover, there has been increased fighting along the Thai-Burma border, and more refugees have been crossing into Thailand since Burma’s election in November 2010. Now people inside Burma, especially those close to the border, do not dare stay in their own village.

One of the student’s parents, Saw Bu Wah, said, “I worry and am afraid that they [Burmese soldiers] will seize us and use us as porters, or we have to show the way to fight against the Karen soldiers.”

Presently, he and his family live as refugees, and also as migrant workers, on the Thai-Burma border on Thai soil with another 51 households that number around more than 200 people who live as “illegal people.”

Because most of the schools in Burma have been closed, more children have come to study in the migrant school in Thailand. In spite of the current difficult situation in Burma with violence a part of everyday life, Naw Law Eh, the 12- year-old girl above, has hope for the future to become a responsible person to serve the people as a nurse or teacher.

My purpose in visiting the school was to collect the stories of children from the conflict area in Burma to make a short film to share their voices. I planned to interview children with three different life experiences: children living as migrants, children living in a refugee camp and children who are internally displaced inside Burma. This is the first trip to visit the migrant school to start my Children Voices Film Project. As well as learning about the lives of the children, I also learned a great deal about the situation in Burma. Even though the new Burmese government proclaimed itself to have been democratically elected, the issues touching the lives of the people in Burma have intensified, and there is more suffering.

I packed all I needed for my trip, and I took my motorcycle with my new camera to the village located in Phop Phar District. For me, I love photography; it’s a weapon for me to fight for justice and peace. It was about one hour from Mae Sot to the village. During my trip, I saw very beautiful and green cornfields. When I arrived in the evening, I stayed with the school teacher and began my documentary project the next day. I focused on the children and their education and also the life of the people in that area.

What shocked me was that some of the young children, who were about 9 to 12 years old, had to work in the cornfields during their school holidays and every weekend. They said that they helped their parents to earn the school fees to study as well as to help support their family.

“I have to work to get money to support myself to go to school,” said Naw Eh Doh Wah, another Grade 4 student. “My parents help me some, and I have to support myself some.”

In this migrant school, the student fee is 300 baht (about US$10). Previously, the parents and students did not need to pay, but now some of the educational support has been cut by donors, and the teachers thus have to find a way to run their school. Having the school facility is not enough; and with these limitations, the teachers, students and parents support each other to continue the education of the children.

The teacher said that now he had notebooks only for Grade 1 to Grade 4 but that even some of the Grade 1 students did not get a notebook. Other classes, such as three kindergarten classes, did not get any notebooks or other school materials either.

There should be free primary education for all children, but the children in conflict areas, such as those in Burma, have to find a way to go to school with hope. The new Burmese government only allocates about 4 percent of its budget for education while the military receives approximately 30 percent. However, the education budget in ethnic areas is nothing—no funds at all—and moreover, their schools have been burned down, and the children have been killed.

It is time for us to find a way to support the children in Burma, especially the children living in the war zones. Education is one of our hopes for the next generation to live in freedom, justice and peace.


* Saw Mort, a member of Burma’s Karen ethnic group, works for the organization Burma Issues in the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border in Mae Sot, Thailand. He has a passion for children and for using photography and other forms of communication to work for human rights and for peace with justice for his people and especially a better future for Burma’s children. He attended SOP in Bangalore, India, for 14 weeks in 2007.