Tuesday's meeting at the Hong Kong Lucky Restaurant saw CMIRC members Bob Carroll return from a month in Vietnam and club president Joe Evans return from farming in Isaan and visiting family in Hawaii. While we welcome Bob and Joe back, we will be playing "man-down" in the coming weeks as Mike Lake, Peter Bell, and John Schorr, among others, take their summer leave. However, all of this coming and going hasn't stopped the club from carrying on with its work. Club treasurer John Schorr has tallied the results of the survey concerning club meetings, and there appears to be a consensus to reduce the number of meetings from four to two per month. This important topic is at the top of the agenda for the club's next assembly, to be held May 24th.
CMIRC CP Roger Lindley (right) chats with new member Tom Johnson before the start of Tuesday's meeting.
The Burmese Karen refugee plight was the topic of guest speaker Jane Abbey's talk to the club Tuesday evening. Abbey is a technical advisor for the Karen Women's Organization (KWO), which was formed in 1949 and has been helping refugees in Thailand for more than 30 years. While the KWO consists of more than 60,000 women from seven refugee camps in Thailand and all districts of Karen State in Burma, the group helps men, women and children with a variety of problems. The group advocates for community support of all education activities in the camps and in Karen State, and funds specific projects such as the Karen Young Women's Leadership School, Early Childhood Education (nursery schools), student dormitories, and a Special Education Project for children with disabilities.
The KWO's Jane Abbey points to a Special Education teacher helping a disabled child with mainstream schoolwork in one of the seven Karen refugee camps found along the Thai/Burma border.
Recent severe funding cuts from international NGOs have left the KWO scrambling to find ways to support the 85 Special Education teachers living in the camps (all refugees themselves), as well as the 18 nursery schools in the camps, which try to care for about 2,350 children under the age of five. Those kids get a nutritious meal and learn about personal hygiene and basic literacy skills. The cost of supporting one SE teacher is only 1,000 baht a month (hint, hint...), while the nursery schools would need a little more material support for food for the kids. Abbey noted that rice rations have dropped from 16 kilos per adult per month two years ago to nine kilos per adult per month today. And since the refugees are not allowed to grow their own food or legally forage outside of the camps, finding enough to eat every day is a big problem.
The budget cuts to the camps have forced younger family members to sneak into Thailand to try to send money back into the camps, but often these young people, with no papers and little language skills, are taken advantage of or simply disappear. Abbey noted that once the refugees feel it's safe to return to their homeland, they all want to go back to Burma, but who knows when that time will come? Helping KWO support the Karen in these camps in Thailand seems like a worthy project for CMIRC.