I have not yet written much about the school or the camp. The reasons are complex, I have not seen much of the camp, indeed until yesterday afternoon had only seen the guest accommodation and the classrooms of the Bible School. Since the assassination in February there was a curfew in the camp after 9pm, which was lifted only around the time we arrived, and locals are still nervous of foreigners wandering around casually. People seem glad of the presence of visitors, and certainly we are fed very well. Rice with delicious vegetables and fish is the commonest meal, though yesterday pork was added, and earlier chicken. I’m greatly enjoying the variety of fish, from quite large ones cut into steaks to minnows that are dried and salty. We also worry that if we are eating well someone else is eating less! A place like this risks being the world in a microcosm.
The children’s playground is a much appreciated addition to the school area!
The camp houses some people who have been here for many years, including youths born here, and also new arrivals either from across the border, or from other camps. For example, many of the students at the Bible School have come here to study from other camps or from within Burma/Myanmar. There are also children in dormitories here for schooling whose families still live in Burma. Some of the children in the home are orphans.
The KKBBSC (Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School & College)*1 is in Zone C of the camp, in a mainly Christian area. Nearby are teachers’ houses, dormitories for students, the church, primary and middle schools, as well as a boarding house for children and a home for handicapped landmine victims. All of this is on a small piece of land between the stream and the main road, with the steep rocky cliff of the hills marking a third side.
Dr Simon Htoo supervising the building
The Bible School has a preparatory class, followed by three years leading to their BTheol. Programmes are taught in both Karen and English. There is a strong emphasis on learning English with much singing in both languages. There is a lack of trained and qualified teachers. The principal Saw Simon Htoo has a doctorate in Practical Theology, coming in from supervising the building work – a task he obviously enjoys and takes pride in, he commented: “My theology is very practical!” 😉 But the others have been locally trained, two (Saw Tee Toh and Saw Waddo) are working to upgrade their qualifications at the college in Bangkok. This, however, makes them less available for teaching at KKBBSC.
Although it is after the usual term-time Barbara is teaching the second-year class and I have the third-years each morning. The students are delightful,and with care the typical Karen reserve and shyness can be overcome so that most of the class will participate and make their contribution. We do wonder how those Karen resettled to noisy extrovert cultures cope, perhaps in their own way they have as much difficulty as those learning to deal with cold climates (many from this camp are going to the USA & Australia or to Scandinavia & Canada – you can work out for yourself which are noisy extrovert places and which are cold 😉
View from the hill over teachers’ houses
We are experiencing our own version of one of the frustrations of life in the camp, not being free to wander we are beginning to get fed up with seeing always the same few rooms and the same (lovely) views. We are also feeling the lack of physical exercise. The students’ enthusiasm for building work, and cane ball, is less surprising after a few days feeling cooped up!
There is one other Western luxury we are really missing: quiet! We think of modern Western city life as noisy and full of bustle, however between pre-dawn sweeping and other duties, dawn brass band practice, all-day building work, occasional choir practices, services, and evening prayer,*2 followed by conversations that continue late into the night (and in a building with only partition-type walls these carry even when they are not in the cubicle next to ours!) we have headaches that are only partly caused by the heat, and think wistfully of the peace and quiet of the average Western day!
1. NB. Spelling of Karen (or Thai) names in Latin script inevitably varies, and often there is no standardised equivalent, since these languages use a different range of sounds from those in English (or other Western languages). E.g. the Thai city of Mae Sot is also often written Maesod. Kawthoolei – the name of the Karen homeland – is particularly subject to variation, with each syllable presenting possible Western variants in an attempt to get a pronunciation closer to the original. [RETURN]
2. If it does fall quiet during the day we can always rely on the generator or the water pump to fill the momentary lapse! (Though we do really appreciate the facilities they supply us with…) [RETURN]