Mae La Camp

We had the opportunity to visit the Mae La refugee camp and tour LMTC, a technical college in the camp that Burma Humanitarian Mission helps provide scholarships for. Visiting the camp was unlike anything I’d ever seen. It gave us perspective on how massive the crisis in Burma is and how important it is to help empower young people who have spent their entire lives in its shadow.

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Photo by Paal Nilssen

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Photo by Paal Nilssen

Mae la is around an hour’s drive outside of Mae Sot city. We passed through military checkpoints on our way through windy jungle roads. The checkpoints had armed guards and “danger zone” signs with pictures of guns and skulls. Once inside the camp we passed schools, convenience stores, barber shops, and a number of other places you might see in any normal city. It gave the sense of how the camp is a self-contained society. Mae la has a population of between 40,000 and 50,000 people. The word “camp” has connotations of makeshift houses and temporary shelters, so I was surprised to see how permanent everything seemed. Though, with the heavy rains, it seemed as though everything would just slip and slide down into the mud. We also noticed that their building style was incredibly resourceful, it was very clear that they utilized any available materials. Waterproof leaves and pieces of cardboard were incorporated into some of the buildings.

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Photo by Paal Nilssen

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Photo by Paal Nilssen

The most striking thing about the camp was the stark contrast between the beautiful and the sad. The valley was absolutely beautiful, surrounded by karst mountains and lush greenery. However, it was hard to see the natural beauty when we could see the rows of rickety houses, and knew the situation that brought about the settlement. The administrator who was giving us a tour took us to a view point on the side of a mountain that overlooked the camp. I noticed someone had carved the words “I am so sad” into a bench that overlooked the valley.

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Photo by Paal Nilssen

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Photo by Paal Nilssen

LMTC, which stands for Leadership and Management Training College, is a school that provides university level English and physics to students who would not have otherwise gotten the opportunity to attend college. When I was in college I would sometimes get caught up in the difficulty of organic chemistry or the irritations of group projects, and forget the true value of education. Some of the students we talked to had never left the camp in their entire lives. I have nothing but respect and awe for students who have worked so hard and overcome so many odds to receive an education. Visiting an organization like LMTC reminded me that education is the best hope for creating a positive future.

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Photo by Paal Nilssen

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Photo by Paal Nilssen

Speaking of education and positive futures, we’ve taken up teaching several classes at the Minmahaw post-ten school. I’ve been getting really into making up fun activities and assignments to do in our intermediate English class. It’s amazing how even after only a couple weeks of teaching, I feel so comfortable and happy around these students. They’re beyond inspiring!

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