Living on the Margin: Orphans, HIV and Trafficking

(Not so) fun fact: In Burma, if someone needs a blood transfusion, the person has to go find a donor himself/herself or go buy blood from the blood market. Aside from the blood type, the blood is usually not screened so some patients end up contracting HIV, hepatitis or jaundice from blood transfusions. (And as a side note, for those of you who are wondering about why some people use Burma and others use Myanmar, Myanmar is actually the name of an ethnic group. That’s why even though the country is often referred to as Myanmar in the media, there’s a lot of resistance from Burmese people towards calling their country “Myanmar” because they feel that it is not inclusive and does not represent all the different ethnic groups that live inside Burma.)

That’s just one of the many things we learned today at SAW, which stands for Social Action for Women. SAW has 5 shelters, a school and a boarding house and we were able to visit almost all of them today. The five shelters are: Safe House (an orphanage), Women’s Crisis Center, Children’s Crisis Center, Green Hope House (for victims of human trafficking), and Health Care House (for HIV positive women and children).

The orphaned children who live in the Safe House attend Thai schools because they do not have a place to return to in Burma (missing their legal papers), so SAW wants to make sure that they are prepared to live and work in Thailand when they grow up. Many of the children were referred to SAW by the Mae Tao Clinic or the Mae Sot General Hospital and their distant family members do not know about them. Unfortunately, the children do face discrimination in the Thai schools, both by their peers and teachers, because of their Burmese background. The women at SAW also told us that there tends to be tension between the Thai and Burmese students when the schools teach them about the history of the relationship between Thailand and Burma in 4th and 5th grade.

The kids in the other shelters attend the SAW school, which has 300-400 students ranging in the ages of 4 to 18 and currently has 18 teachers who teach English, Math, Science, Geography, Thai and Burmese. In terms of school curriculum, all of the schools we have visited so far have covered the same subjects. About 50 of the students live in the SAW boarding house and the rest either live in the other shelters or are kids of migrant families that live in the area. For students who live far away, SAW has a truck that helps pick up and drop off the kids everyday.

Here are some of the questions from our meeting (they are mainly related to HIV):

Q: All of the women receive vocational training and SAW also helps the women find jobs in factories. Are there any stigma around HIV positive women and can they also go work in factories / are they able to reintegrate back into the community? A: Most of the HIV positive women are trained in weaving and knitting but they cannot go work in the factories because they have to take medicine everyday. Factory workers live in the factories so if the other women saw the medicine and finds out that their co-worker is HIV positive, there will be discrimination.

Q: Do you know how the HIV positive women contracted HIV? A: Some trafficked and forced to work as prostitutes and others were raped or contracted it from their husbands. Also, in the past, hospitals in Burma reused needles – they would just clean the needle with hot water between patients so some women contracted HIV at hospitals. (Later we learned that blood transfusion is still a big issue and cause for the spread of HIV, hepatitis and jaundice because of the lack of screening)

Q: What do the HIV positive women tell their family when they have to come back to the Health Care Center to receive their medication? A: It’s very common for Burmese people to come to Mae Sot to work and some people make the trip everyday, so the women just tell their family that they are going to go work in Mae Sot.

Q: How much do HIV drugs cost? A: Right now, it costs around 3,000 BAHT ($100) per person but it’s constantly increasing.

Q: Are there co-infections of HIV and Tuberculosis? A: Most people who get HIV already have TB.

Here are some pictures from today!

SAW staff and a little boy at the Safe House (orphanage)

SAW staff and a little boy at the Safe House (orphanage)

Little kids watching TV at the Safe House (orphanage)

Little kids watching TV at the Safe House (orphanage)

The field at SAW school where the kids play

The field at SAW school where the kids play

SAW School

SAW School

SAW School

SAW School

On Friday we wrapped up our last visit to local Mae Sot organizations. On Monday, we are going to be starting interviews for our research project entitled, “Assessing the Lifestyles of Burmese Migrants Living in a Thai/Burma Border Community.” We will first interview six BWU staff members and then reach out to the organizations we have visited to see if they will be willing to interview with us. 🙂 Our desired outcome: present at the Whitman College Undergraduate Conference in April!!

GlobeMed Love,

Dandi, Morgan, Rachel and Rachael


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