Two weeks ago we were fortunate enough to spend 6 days in the Mae La Oo refugee camp. Due to security reasons there are many hoops for foreigners to jump through, (some involving money) in order to be granted access to the refugee camp. We were especially interested in visiting this particular refugee camp because two of the BWU staff members we have grown close to have spent significant portions of their lives there and it is home to the second project that GlobeMed at Whitman is funding–a nursery school!
The journey to the camp was exhausting and long (to say the least) but after six hours of riding in the back of a pick up truck and four hours bouncing along the muddiest “road” (road is a generous term) we’d ever seen, we arrived in Mae La Oo. As we understand it, there are anywhere from 16,000-50,000 Burmese refugees living in this camp, most of them having fled from Karen State. All of the houses are elevated to avoid flooding and are made almost entirely of bamboo. The camp is high up in the mountains, which means two things: 1. walking anywhere is a bit of a hike, and 2. the views are incredible.
The nursery school has 30 students (on a good day) ages 2-5 and three teachers (who are also BWU members). The students arrive between 8 and 9 am and get to play/generally goof around until about 10. Then they have brief lessons on the Burmese and English alphabets and practice writing the letters until lunchtime, which is a surprisingly orderly production. The students all bring rice from home (because this is provided by the camp free of charge) and the nursery school teachers cook a curry each day to supplement the rice. After lunch is nap time, followed by more play time and thanakha application (the Burmese face make up that helps protect the skin from the sun and is just generally cute.)
Perhaps our favorite part about visiting the nursery school was meeting the three teachers. They were excited, patient (no small feat with 30 rambunctiousness 2-5 year olds), and genuinely cared about each child. We are so happy to know that the BWU nursery school has such dedicated and compassionate teachers.
After an equally tiresome journey back to Mae Sot, we made it ‘home’ safe and sound and spent the past week writing reports, doing laundry, and revisiting our favorite places in the city. Now our bags are packed (well, almost) and we’re ready to head to Chiang Mai bright and early tomorrow! We are sad to leave Mae Sot and the people we have grown to love here, but also excited about getting to meet more BWU members, explore a new city, and possibly ride elephants…
Chiang Mai here we come!