Category Archives: idp school

Child labour?

The teens and their vege patches

The question of when child labour is a traditional form of community self-help has come up a couple of times for me recently.

The example nearer home came from a friend of ours working on the border in a village that runs dormitories and a school for teens and kids who otherwise would miss out (falling between two countries systems, an ongoing war and just plain remoteness). She writes(with a few identifying details changed)  of a new project at the village, a vege garden:

As I have watched the transformation of scrubland into well ordered farm, a conundrum has arisen in my mind. My Western Social Work self asks if this is a form of abuse and exploitation of a captive youth labour force compelled to do whatever their elders “ask” of them. As one new 18 year old student assertively told the Principal, “I have never had to get out of bed at 5.30 a.m. and have never had to work like this in all my life. I came here to study  so I can go to university”. Then my K’nyaw wah (white Karen) self sees one boy playing guitar and singing alongside of other boys who are splitting bamboo stakes 1, and I see the bwadawar (community) at work and it all seems perfectly normal – a  community that sows together, reaps together, producing nutritious food,  developing new skills and combating the passive donor aid mentality that so permeates the border – just one of many casualties of this 62 year old war.

Please share with me your thoughts – I would appreciate some dialogue on this.

My “take” is simple:

  • if the labour is for the children’s benefit, as in this case since they will eat the results instead of eating a more minimal diet
  • if no one but the children is profiting from the work, as in this case since the food is grown as food not for sale
  • if the children learn and grow themselves – as in this case for growing (even a little of) your own food is rewarding and builds a sense of one’s own worth as well as practicing skills of collaboration and dependability

then it is not child labour but community development.

The first example came up in a discussion on Fair Trade chocolate and the accusations of slavery in the Ivory Coast. David Ker pointed me to a post by a friend of his (a link which I have somehow lost 😦 The friend had spent time working in Ivory Coast and argued that (at least) many of the cases of supposed child labour there were the common African phenomenon of children being sent to live with relatives for their schooling, and while there helping out the family with family work.

On the whole the case he described, which fits with what we knew in Zaire/Congo, is similar to the case above, with the added benefit that the adults involved are relatives, but the complication that it is a cash crop being grown.

(On the general case of Ivory Coast I am not convinced, there are what seem to be well-documented reports from reputable organisations, e.g. the US State Department, that claim regular trafficking of children for work in cocoa plantations.)

What do you think? How would you answer my friend?


Teaching Initiative for Refugees and Migrants around Mae Sot

The Burma Education Program are looking for teachers.

In 2011-2012 BEP will provide a Training Award for migrant teachers to include for the first time an accredited certificate. In the refugee community BEP will continue with materials development to provide EL curriculum materials for all primary schools in the refugee camps along the border. In support of this programme, BEP will provide a Mobile Unit offering professional training to the refugee teachers.

They need people with British or Irish citizenship plus a degree and ELT certificate. If this is you or someone you know do look at the job description.

More fighting, more (possibly temporary) refugees

The Thai website Prachatai reports that there is renewed fighting south of Mae Sot (just 10-20 Kms away) and that villagers from that area have sought refuge in a Thai temple. This is again a clash between the DKBA’s rebel brigade 5 and the Thatmadaw. Like the fighting earlier in Myawaddy and also further south still (from which there are still refugees on the Thai side, both villagers and family of DKBA soldiers).

The election is over, thousands of new refugees

Now that the election in Burma/Myanmar is over the military junta that rules the country has returned to fighting the ethnic minorities. Fighting between the army and the DKBA (a group that before the elections had accepted a ceasefire and were to be integrated into the Army structure) has driven thousands of people from the town of Myawaddy (across the river from Mae Sot in Thailand). The Thai military are trying to stop them crossing, so many are camped on the riverbank.

Further south near a DKBA headquarters many villagers have fled across the river, and are now sheltering with friends in Thailand, who do not have enough resources to feed and shelter them. Pastor Peacefully from a village near Pho Phra writes:

…our area here (Pho Phra) which 5 km from DKBA headquarters, so many people from that side now crossing to Thailand. For sure the fighting will start sometime. That why many villager are now crossing.

Some of the villagers contact me to help them and prepare some place for them to stay. It is really hard for me because it is depend on the Thai authority. Any way as you know we are the only school which is close to this border, so for those children who want to continuous their study will come to our place.

We need your payer and your help.

Share the news to keep pressure on the government not to do any action of war if their election is true democracy and peace.

We are nothing but we can do something through the One Who strength us.

In His Service


Partners NZ (a relief and development agency who help support the school Peacefully runs) are sending supplies and food to PhoPhra. I’ll try to post updates as I get information. Please do pray for him and his friends at this time! As well as for the overall situation in Burma.

News: FBR REPORT: Burma Army Attacked a School Killing a Child and Wounding Two

Saw Eh Kaw Taw and Saw Ree Re, the kids wounded in SPDC (Burma Army) attack

Free Burma Rangers, a group that seeks to bring aid and hope to IDPs inside Burma sends regular reports. As you’d expect they are often graphic and usually news of yet more atrocities. Somehow their latest report brings home the inhumanity to which the Burmese Junta’s war on the ethnic minorities has descended over the years. On 19 February, 2010, Burma Army troops from MOC 7 attacked the school at Ta U Plaw and wounded Saw Eh Kaw Thaw, 12 years old, and Saw Ree Re, 10 years old.

You can read the full report here. If you look at the pictures or use your imagination it will bring tears to your eyes.

Update on our travels: Bangkok to Klee Thoo Klo

We left Bangkok on the night bus as scheduled, and since this time we travelled VIP arrived on time at 5am in the morning, got a Tuktuk to the Green Guest House hoping for a shower and a rest. It was understandably shut up for the night, so we sat down in the cool early morning to wait. After 15mins or so a guy arrived in a Ute, and was dropped off. He asked about the guesthouse and about others, we took him for a fellow future guest, though he looked very smart and had highly polished shoes. We should have booked ahead, about 5.30 someone woke and the guy asked and was told (in Thai) that the guest house was fully booked 😦 We settled down to wait for the day to start to get a Tuktuk to another place, our mysterious friend received a phone call, and a few minutes later another Ute arrived to pick him up. He offered us a lift and we were taken to the DKK Hotel, one expected to be fairly basic and fairly cheap, but comfortable.

Hills round Klee Thoo Klo

After a shower and a doze we TXTed Shirley to say we’d arrived, hoping to go to Rev Newton’s village the next day after a nice quiet day relaxing in Mae Sot. After buying flip flops/jandels and tooth paste for me we stopped at the Canadian Cafe for Coffee (real beans and hot water coffee, well made) and breakfast with bacon 🙂

Shirley phoned to say she would be in to pick us up soon, so we scurried back to DKK and checked out (our shortest ever residence in a hotel 😉 I just hope our friend with the shiny shoes was not a security man (Mae Sot as a border town neighbouring an active war zone is a hotbed of espionage and stuff like that) or that he did not check up on us at DKK later on…

Karen Farmland

Rev Newton is a 70ish man who trains fine choirs and has an infectious smile and a nice sense of humour (can I say a “wicked” one of a thoroughly pastoral pastor?), his wife Bu Po is the pastor of the village church as Rev Newton is something like a district superintendent, she is a charming and lively lady who also enjoys life to the full. Together they must be quite a handful for the KKBC (Kawthoulei Karen Baptist Convention) but a real tonic for the churches in the area. Their village, Klee Thoo Klo, is mixed Baptist, Animist and Buddhist and surrounded by active farmland, though many residents work in Mae Sot or elsewhere. It is also surrounded by the most lovely gentle hills, made more lovely because we are not far into the dry season, the plants are green but the ground is firm and dry.

We were not the only tired people by the Church Christmas Concert

Hospitality is a key virtue among Karen, so we really enjoyed the tasty food and meeting all the people who popped in or came to stay. It was Karen New Year, though on Karen New Year’s Day we went to Pho Pra (not far away) Pastor Peacefully’s village with the dormitories and schools for IDP children. They were hosting a big youth event, Border Connection 500, and there were more than 500 Karen young people there from up and down the border. Praise and worship, food, seeing the projects again (while the young people played sport with more enthusiasm than the heat might suggest), more food, and a final rally before we set off back to Klee Thoo Klo arriving around midnight.

Then the Christmas celebrations started over the next three days (in Thailand Karen celebrate Christmas on the weekend before 25th as children in Thai Schools or people with Thai employers will be working on the 25th itself). Choir practices and a concert for all the people (and especially children, young people and grannies of the village on Friday). A service and Christian concert on Saturday night, after sports all afternoon. We skived off the sports and visited Sonia, the Partners person in Mae Sot, as well as fascinating conversation I got to play with her baby for hours 🙂

The girls' dormitory many of you helped roof

Sunday, being Christmas day we were woken by carols, Newton had arranged On Sunday as well as several Christmas services at one of which I preached, was also a baptism shared with local Seventh Day Adventists in the new baptistry, and the installation of Newton and Bu Po’s eldest son as assistant pastor. I was invited to speak a short word of encouragement. At this service. Barbara had relayed the invitation as “short”, Shirley (whom all, except Bu Po obey) re-iterated both invitation and instruction, and then Rev Newton himself invited me and also said “short” – recounting this triple instruction to be “short” was much appreciated by the congregation, as were my illustrations for God sometimes saying “wait” (Pastor Peacefully has composed a well-known and somewhat tongue in cheek song in which he reminds Jesus that he promised to prepare us a place and asks him for a skyscraper in Kawthoulei (a free Karen State) or even saying “no” when Rev Newton or I ask for an eighth day in the week. The punch line of the talk was that there is one thing we can ask God for that he always supplies, his Holy Spirit for those times when we are at our wits end, and cannot cope.

[I’ll deal with Monday and today in another post.]

Candle in the falling rain: children

A Karen pastor has a dream:

Boarding houses are established to protect children from IDP (internally displaced people) areas within Burma. Children arrive, often unaccompanied, in the refugee camp to seek protection from the violence within Burma and to receive an education. Many of the children become workers during their pre age. There are a lot of the migrant parents workers who can not protect their children to seek for education. Children’s future is becoming a candle in the falling rain.

As a Karen people from Burma we are seeking for peace and justice to change the situation in Burma. But it already more than 60 years, our dream is wandering in the air and we are living in the imprisonment of injustice. The only effort that we can make for our future generation is just to protect them for gaining the skill and receiving education.

We now would like to establish a new dormitory, especially for the Karen people whom no one care when they attend the Thai school. They are not refugee, they don’t know who they are, they can’t read and write their own language, they don’t know how to dream, they don’t finish the high school, they can’t go to the university, they don’t receiving any care and health and they don’t even receiving the parent’s care. Can read and write is the only motto that enough for their whole life. Children should communicate with their wishes and feeling effectively for their vision. We would like to let them carry the candle with light toward their goal for gaining the high school certificate and degree in any field.

Towards this dream (with money donated from UK and Australia) two dormitories have been built. Some people have committed to a monthly amount. A lump sum from the USA also helped. But, last
week the children arrived. The project budgeted for less children than have come!

There is funding for a dozen children but 26 are living in the dormitories. It costs about 1000 baht (US$ 30 NZ$50) per child per month. If you would be willing to sponsor a child do contact me.