In order to keep you posted on what we’re doing and seeing, it’s important that we delve into some of the issues facing the community here. Not to overwhelm, but there are a lot. One that this post will focus on are problems facing Burmese migrant children. Many of the people in our partner community (i.e. Burmese refugees and migrants) have trouble finding work because they are undocumented in Thailand. However, many younger people find work in factories that produce clothing, shoes, steel, etc. and so they have jobs for a certain amount of time (although many of these jobs are illegal and pay low wages for long hours–see our future posts for more information on factory workers.)
As the migrants age, the local factories and farms, two of this region’s main industries, refuse to hire them or allow them to continue, instead favoring younger and more able-bodied workers. This leaves people who were dependent on a low wage from the factory covering their living expenses and their families with nowhere to turn, except places like this garbage village.
People who have nowhere else to go live in the village and sort through the trash, looking for something they can use, eat, or sell. We were struck by many different aspects of the village: the older people who had lost their factory jobs, the parents trying to provide for their families, and the kids growing up there.
The kids we met were much less shy than others we’ve encountered. They seemed enthralled with our cameras and loved seeing themselves in the pictures; it’s quite possible they never have before. They giggled and smiled for the camera and then immediately wanted to see each one and then wanted another picture straight away.
It was a Tuesday during the day, but they were not in school for a few reasons. School costs tuition money, for one. Particularly Burmese migrant schools that are not funded by the Thai government. Another reason is that when this life is the only one they’ve known, it’s really hard for parents to justify the purpose of getting an education in the first place. For example, if your father worked in the rice paddies and your mother worked in the factories and your parents knew you were destined for the same type of work, why should they pay for another year’s tuition money, especially when there are younger children at home to be taken care of?
A BWU staff member told us that frequently Burmese parents don’t have enough time for their children because they have to work so much, and so the oldest child drops out of school and cares for the younger ones full time. We met one girl who was 8 years old and not going to school because she needed to watch her 6 and 2 year old sisters.
It has been shown time and time again that education is one of the very best ways to improve quality of life in any given population. Lack of education is not only likened to poverty but also to lack of access to health care. The people living in this garbage village unfortunately have neither education nor good health care and they are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They are forced to live day to day to make ends meet rather than being in a situation where they can work towards a better future for their children and their children’s children.
Colleen, Katie, and Abbey