You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Thoughts From Thailand’ category.

So I have just finished a big week.

I have been hosting a study tour for a group of Australian unionists. As it is my job to inform people about the situation on the Thai Burma border and of course about our projects and project partners!

It has been a big week up here in Thailand for me. Making sure everyone was looked after, that we were getting from place to place and everything was worked out in advance so that their meetings had meaning and purpose. Lots and lots of work.

But it was a bigger week for the study tour participants – they were on a very steep learning curve. And although I am sure it was an enjoyable experience, because… how can you not love these smiles;

of some children at the Mae Tao Clinic;

and these cool old guys at Mae La camp;

and this gorgeous baby at the Shan camp;

But with all the eurphoria about the ‘changes’  in Burma at the moment. It was a lot to learn that aside from the election of Aung San Suu Kyi into Parliament there has been very little change for ordinary Burmese to experience.

In fact there has been for most people;

  • An increase in militarisation in their area.
  • An increase in violence against women and rape in ethnic areas by the Burmese military.
  • forced displacement of people from their villages due to mega-development projects such as dams and oil and gas mines (where the profits of the development go to companies owned by ex-military and the electricity from the projects overseas to China)

The group saw first hand the results of these realities;

the treatment board at the prosthetics department of the Mae Tao Clinic

And the prosthetics for all the people on the board.

There was more to see and it was a big big week. It is important for peope to understand what is going on up here. There are many many people who genuinley need help. And the whole worlds attention seems to be turning away. To be pretenting that the election of Aung San Suu Kyi into a minor role in parliament can overnight undo 60 years of violence and opression.

It cant. There is still so much more to do.

So I have ben a little quiet lately… on this blog at least.

It is partly because of the usual story – very VERY busy at work, lots going on with the renovations (more on that soon).

But also there is more to it.

I am just so sad and heartbroken. It now happens every time I go overseas for work. Before I don’t know… I held some little flicker of hope in my heart that some of the stateless children – the Burmese children would make it through ‘the system’ and would be going to forever homes… and that maybe one of these babies would become our baby. That is what I hoped.

But each time I visit I meet another baby who is stateless and abandoned and in need of a mummy and daddy. I know that I could be that person. I know others who have been waiting with their file in the Thai system for years… who keep getting told by authorities in Australia ‘your wait is long because there are not enough children needing families” HA! Where do they get this from? Who is telling them that? Because all I can say is… What a bloody lie! The truth is that not enough of the ‘right’ babies are needing families.

Well I don’t care about that. I care about the babies that are at the bottom of the heap. And I can tell you this it does not get any more bottom of the heap then being a refugee baby, abandoned and sick.

I met two babies like that this trip. I would mummy to them both right now. Why not? My file is in Thailand – these babies are in Thailand – they were BORN in Thailand. Husbot and my file says on it ‘fit to be parents’ and that is what these babies need – so badly!

Like this little boy, 11 months old. Born and abandoned at the Mae Tao Clinic. This is a good clinic, which my organisation funds, who take care of over 100,000 patients per year. There are over 3,000 babies born there every year and maybe about 30 are abandoned. The clinic keeps the babies and cares for them for months in case the mother comes back.

While this baby boy was waiting (to see if his mother came back) he contracted TB. He is now one sick little boy.

He is tiny tiny tiny. Like a baby only 4 months old – not 11 months old. I tried tickling his foot and touching is leg to see if he responded to some gentle touch. But he was just too sick. heartbreak. HEARTBREAK.

When he is well (please little boy, please get well) he will probably go to live at Compasio in the babies home: http://www.compasio.org/Compasio/Blog/Entries/2012/1/24_Safe_in_His_Arms.html

Then there is this beautiful little girl. She has a serious illness. She was abandoned at 2 months old because of her illness. I think from memory it is a congenital heart disease. On our paperwork Husbot and I are approved to adopt a child with congentital heart disease – her illness could probably be fixed in Australia quite quickly with our advanced medical facilities. But this little girl is a refugee, she is abandoned, without parents or an advocate.

As you can see she is being cared for very well. Not only is the Mae Tao Clinic looking after her, but because she has a special needs illness she is also being looked after by another partner organisation of ours, the Burma Children Medical Fund. They have become her advocates.

watching her breath while sleeping was very sad for me. She is so small and so alone. She really needs a mummy and daddy. It does not make sense to me that a system can just shut these babies out.

You can follow this babies story on the Mae Tao Clinic’s facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/215094205197206/#!/photo.php?fbid=349092045113096&set=a.144640118891624.22043.142846872404282&type=1&theater

Which is what I will have to do too. Because even though I have seen with my own eyes babies that desperately need loving homes. Babies who have already been cast aside by the policial unrest in Burma (causing their parents and now them to be a refugee) and then cast aside again by a system that does not care for them because they are stateless…. babies who are truely on the bottom of lifes heap. I still get notified every now and then that the long delays are because “there remains a greater number of applications in Thailand than children in need of intercountry adoption.”

If only I did not know the truth.

So I think a lot about birthmothers. Already. Maybe this is heightened by by being in Thailand right now. Maybe not – I do actually think about it all the time.

I don’t know my child/ children yet so I don’t know who their birthmother is yet. It may be difficult for us to find this out, or the information might be available, we don’t know. There may also be a photo, maybe not.

I hope, I truly hope that our family will know as much as we can about our child’s birthmother right from the beginning. I think that this will make things easier for our children, especially as they get older and go through adolescence. But I also think it will make things easier for me.

Because I worry.

Already I worry. I worry that right now she is going through one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences of her life, and that she may feel completely alone and unsupported and scared. I wish that I could intervene in her life, to help somehow. It may be possible or it may not be possible for me or anyone else to intervene in a way that would allow her to keep her baby. But if not, then at least to be able to let her know that her baby will be loved and cared for – for the rest of its life – if that baby was to come into my family.  I worry that she is worried for her future and her baby’s future.

But I know that it is impossible. Not because such interventions cannot be made. I work in humanitarian aid and everyday myself and others are doing important projects that are about empowering people, providing them with opportunities, and choices, and hope for their future. Lives do get changed. No not because of that do I need to worry.

But because that the only way I will ever come to know the birthmother of my children is when decisions have already been made. When ‘the dye is cast’ so to speak.

Our lives will only intersect at those crossroads where the baby she has cared for becomes the baby I will care for – for the rest of my life. And I hope that there is some way that I can at that point assure her that this is my commitment. My vow.

I know that my children will think about their birthmothers. That they will be curious about her. I hope I will have some of the answers for them – but I know I won’t know enough, probably.

But I feel a great love for her. I feel so much sorrow and compassion for her situation. If the world was a fair and just place then all babies would stay with their mummies. But it is not a fair and just place. So I just pray for her and  hope that the difficult situation she is in now does not remain with her. I will keep her in my heart and hope that she can believe later that her child will be safe with me.

Whoever she is, wherever she is, whatever she is going through. The birthmother of my children.

So maybe it is confusing for people that when I go to Thailand I work with Burmese people?

Why are there so many Burmese in Thailand? What are they doing there? Why do they need someone like me there to work with them?

Maybe you are asking those questions – maybe not! But anyway I think it is worth answering.

I work for an International Humanitarian Aid Agency based in Australia. We have a partnership approach to aid and community development, which means that we work with local community based organisations who implement programs based on community strengths and needs. We work with about 16 organisations all along the Thai Burma Border doing about 30 projects. Most of the projects are focused on health, migrant worker empowerment, womens capacity building and education.

I have written a little on the situation for Burmese in Thailand before (Burmese orphans in Thailand and Refugees and Migrant workers) but I think there is still some confusion about why the Burmese are in Thailand. I know that Thais are told a lot of things about it – The Thai Authorities like to portray Burmese as job-grabbing, drug-smuggling illegals. Many communities worry that they are sick with disease – as Thailand has done a lot of work on public health and Burma’s military regime has spent the last 50 years destroying all public infrastructure alowing only 3% of national expenditure on health, while the military, with a standing army of over 400,000 troops, consumes 40%.

The health care programs that my organisation and work supports shows that indeed people from Burma are suffering at this gross negligence, but it is rarely anything that would cause a public health concern at an individual level in a community. Yet there is a lot of intolerance there.

As to why there are up to 160,000 refugees in refugee camps in Thailand and between 1 million and 3 million Burmese living as migrant workers (or working refugees) in Thailand? Well most are fleeing what is the regions longest running civil war. Where the Burmese Government has been relentlessly attacking its own people now for decades.

But this video says it better then I ever could (note: some content is quite graphic):

because of this gross human tragedy I go to Thailand frequently, to do what I can to help.

So I am sure you would know already that there are horrible horrible floods in Thailand at the moment. Much of Thailand is underwater, Bangkok is affected, thousands of people are evacuated and in temporary/emergency accommodation, hundreds of people have died. People are losing their belongings and their livelihoods.

 The situation is bad.

Maybe you remember that when I was here in Thailand last time it was flooding (see With the Rain Comes Sadness and Refugee Camp Misery). Well what has happened is that all of that water (plus some) has slowly slowly moved its way down south and is now inundating Bangkok and surrounding areas.

Is it affecting me at all? No not really this time. In August it affected me because my work is in the North and that was the area flooding back then. But it is not affecting me now because I am not in Bangkok – the only problem will come if the airport floods and I won’t be able to fly out – so cross your fingers that this does not happen!!

But it is not raining – not really, I have only experienced one or two bursts of rain. This flooding is not from ‘new’ rain or constant downpour. It is from an inability or failing to deal with the floodwaters from the north.

Inability or failing?

Yes. I am not sure which and I think it depends on your point of view.

There is much discussion of it, in the news, on the streets etc. Some things sound a lot like rumours, some maybe more plausible, things like;

  • The floods are because the government did not prepare enough for all the water coming from the north
  • It was the previous government who failed to prepare (as the current govt was only inaugurated in August this year) because the previous govt were bitter about losing the election and want the new govt to look bad
  • That the govt should have been able to predict better the amount of water and its path
  • That dams were holding water when they should have been releasing it so that the flood water could have been captured

Etc etc

What does this all mean for Thailand? I don’t know

I don’t think that it will be good for national unity. When people talk about it. The conversation is something like this “wow the floods are terrible, so bad” “yes” “but if I was flooded I would just feel, so… ANGRY”

And yeah I totally understand.

I would feel angry too. People have died. People have lost all their belongings, they have lost their livelihoods.  Factories are underwater and will not be operational for months – the factory owners have been offered compensation – but what about the workers?

People here work hard for what they have and I don’t think that many would be insured. And considering how difficult it has been for people in Australia to get their insurance claims paid after the big floods there this year I can’t see the companies paying up here… Many people will be starting again. You see people with plastic boxes of things, maybe their photos and some household things – but you can’t take a motorbike in a plastic box – you can’t take your fridge Imagine how much people work for those things and how they will have to start again.

The government have been trying to do things to stop the floods getting firstly to Bangkok and then to central Bangkok. They have been ‘sacrificing’ other areas to try to save Bangkok. I tell you, I would be damn angry if I was from a place that was flooded to try to save Bangkok. I would have two questions for the govt;

– why was my life/ livelihood so much more expendable then those in Bangkok?

– what was the point anyway? Since the floodwater ended up hitting Bangkok.

People are worried for their pets – there have been pictures of people caring for their dogs which is really nice; http://www.globalpost.com/photo-galleries/planet-pic/5679556/bangkok-flooding-putting-pets-people

People with their doggies in little plastic buckets:

But what about the street dogs? So many of them without someone to care for them.

Organisations like Care for Dogs are trying, you can help them via their website: http://www.carefordogs.org/flood-rescue-teams-need-help/

Also it seems that Burmese migrant workers are going to cop it. With nasty people using these desperate times to exploit their vulnerability. http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=22329

I don’t know what will be happening in the next little while for Thailand. But something tells me political unrest may be here to stay for a while. And things might get worse before they get better.

Yes! In a heartbeat.

I love being here in Thailand, even though I am working and not doing all the fun stuff! And the question, would I move here is asked to me a lot by my colleagues.

I would and I predict I will one day. I am just not sure that now is the right time.

Of course I could move here quite easily and work, my work is here already s I don’t think that would be a problem at all. Husbot would also be qualified to work for many of the NGOs and CBOs over here. We both love it here and we are both looking forward to living in Asia together one day…

So why not now? Hhhmm It is just not the right time at the moment. It has not been the right time for a little while.

We want to get our house sorted out and there is no way we could do that long distance.

Husbot is actually still kind of settling into his role at work and his career and he needs a bit of time to get that established.

I love my work and what I do. When that phone rings *fingers crossed it is soon* and I take time off from work to be with Bubs I am grateful that there will be so much to do at home and I will be so busy or else it might be hard to keep my nose out of work!

Plus we can’t leave our darling girl Indai *sniffle*

But it is definitely something we think about a lot. We don’t think about it in terms of our adoption though. I really don’t think it would change things or make it any easier (would it make it harder???). I know a person who adopted as an expat while living in Thailand and her wait was over 2 years. I don’t think there is a way to make it go faster and we just have to wait it out.

But Husbot and I definitely think it would be great to live in Thailand when the children are still young (am I getting ahead of myself here or WHAT!). When they are in primary school but before high school is probably the right time.

But who knows… maybe something will change overnight and we will pack up and leave right away. You never can tell what is just around the corner – can you?

When I am here in Thailand you might expect that in every baby I see I potentially see the face of my future baby.

But actually I don’t really feel that way.

Of course most children I see here are with their parents, or grandparents. Children here (as in many places) are so cherished and adored that there is no sense in me that they could be my child. You don’t see the children who are in Thai orphanages – those orphanages of course are not places for the public to drop by and so I have not been there.

It reminds me of when Husbot and I were on our honeymoon. We were in Dharamsala, India. This is where many Tibetan refugees live, where the Dalai Lama lives. Husbot had not spent so much time in Asian countries as me and he surprised me by saying “Do you think Tibetan people love there children more then other people?”. No! I said laughing, everyone loves their children. But he explained that he had never seen people being so affectionate and caring to children so openly before. The way people carried children in their arms or tied to them, the way they held hands with little toddlers and walked slowly with them talking to them, listening to them babbling away. The grandparents who were all waiting for their grandchildren to walk them home from school etc it is actually really beautiful to see. It is mindfulness parenting, it is what we aspire to do.

I understand that he was comparing to the west where we so often have babies away from us (in public) in pushers, separate, at arm’s length. So that they don’t slow us down or because we are worried they might be tired or because it is what we are taught to do or whatever.

Thailand is another place where you see people adoring their children. Holding them in their arms, letting them toddle along the paths and shopping centres (in their squeaky shoes!). Where parents and grandparents hold hands with them as they walk and chat to them.

These are the children I see. And while they are beautiful they are also so clearly part of a loving and happy home that they are not my baby. I cant imagine that they would even need to be in state care or in the care of a new family – and I hope that their circumstances allow them to remain so adored by their families.

I have been to orphanages in Thailand. As I discussed here but these orphanages are for Burmese children, who are the orphaned or unaccompanied children of refugees or Burmese migrant workers (working refugees) .

I DO see my future child in the faces of these children. I would love if one (or two) of these children were able to become a part of our family, that would be our dream. But alas, these children are not able to be a part of the DSDW program currently. They do not have official status in Thailand so it makes it difficult. My heart weeps for them and their situation.

It would make sense for us too because even though I am in Thailand most of my time is spent with Burmese (Karen, Shan etc) people, as that is who our aid programs are assisting. In Australia too Husbot and I spend most time with both the Tibetan community and the Burmese (Karen, Shan and Mon) communities. Not as much with Thai. These two things are making our language progression difficult (hahaha).

I know that it might be possible still that our child might have a Burmese parent or something but we understand that this might not be the case too.

We joke that our child will be really confused when each year we celebrate Australian (western) New Year, Tibetan New Year, Karen New Year, Shan New Year and Thai New Year. Our child will be like ‘How often per year can it be New Year??” and “which one is the REAL New Year?” hahahaha.  What is the answer? Um…. Just pick one? Whichever one you like? Hahahaha Or… They are ALL the real New Year! Yay!

The real answer is “who cares? Just keep going to the celebrations and eating the yummy food!! :-)”

Who knows where my baby is now. What parents my baby has, what circumstance they are in and what is happening that will mean that our paths will one day meet. It is hard because I know that something difficult must be happening for their family, for their birth mother – otherwise our paths would never cross. I wish that the difficult thing doesn’t happen. But the sad part is that life is full of difficult things. I only hope we will be able to overcome it, altogether as a family.

I am staying with a friend of mine while in Mae Sot Thailand.

She, like me, is a dog lover. She lives here and has a very stressful job. During the day she cares for children with complicated medical problems. These children are from Burma, some a refugees, some are internally displaced people who come out of Burma for medical care.

These are children who already have a very hard life living as refugees or in a conflict zone… and then on top of that they get to have a hole in their heart, a cancerous tumor, eye problems etc etc.

The organisation she works for is called Burma Children Medical Fund .It is supported by the aid organisation I work APHEDA  if you ever want to make a donation (which is tax deductable in Aus).

So she has a tough job.

However around this she fits in caring for street dogs. Just some – there are too many to take responsibility for! She does it by raising awareness about the streetdog through the facebook page ‘Benny the Streetdog”

But also by being kind to the dogs.

I have never understood people who are unkind to animals. Animals are not as smart as humans, it is not possible for them to have the kind of complicated thought that we humans have. They cant plan for the future; they are reactive, they cant operate complicated things; like traps and weapons and in fact they can do very little to protect themselves – even from the elements.

Humans who are unkind to animals might feel like they are being tough – by throwing rocks at them or keeping them in cages and taunting them.

But really they are just showing how callous, stupid and weak they are. It is easy to be unkind to animals because they are not smart and often vulnerable.

It is much harder to reach out and be kind to animals. To gain trust of those who have been mistreated. To have compassion for their suffering.

here are some of the animals she cares for – who this week I have been hanging out with too;

Jet who is skinny and pregnant at the same time

Jet only has one eye because people threw rocks at her which made her eye pop out. Luckly because of my friend she was able to get surgery to have the damage eye removed so it did not get infected and now she is a one eyed gal.

Jet is about the give birth and my friend is trying to organise with an animal shelter in another city (because there is not one here) for her to be de-sexed once this litter is born.

Verna - a puppy having puppies

Verna is only about a year old – but already pregnant. I had another friend who did a project in Samoa de-sexing street dogs for free. Thailand needs that. It is a really human way to deal with the problem, for the sake of the dogs and the people.

Verna has an injured leg – me and my friend have been helping her.

Udders - skin and bones

Udders has given birth too many times. She is SUCH a sweetheart! But she has just had another litter of puppies and when she does she gives them all her nutrition. And gets very very sick. So sick that she needs anti-biotics. She used to have westerner owners, who just turned her out on the streets (maybe when she stopped being cute?) and although they are still in town and give her pats they do not care that the other day she was so sick she could not lift her head.

After some TLC this week she energetic and able to care for her puppy again.

I think compassion is a worthy persuit. Compassion toward all humans is good. But compassion towards animals is more special, because it has no narcissistic traits. I can care for something not because it reminds me of me – or because it can voice thanks to me. Just because all beings deserve love and happiness.

Here is where you can get more information about the flooding in the refugee camps.

http://karennews.org/2011/08/heavy-floods-battered-refugee-camps.html/

very sad situation indeed.

Driving through the north of Thailand as I move from Chiang Mai to Mae Sariang to Mae Sot the effects of the very heavy rains are obvious.

Flooded towns, flooded schools, houses that are collapsed – just piles of wood now, trees down, roads partially collapsed. I did not see it myself but I know that tragically there was a town where a landslide burried houses and killed people.

The communities affected by this disaster are out trying to fix things themselves. I think in some areas there are army personell out trying to help – but I did not see that. There is no SES. Mostly it is just communities trying to fix things themselves. These are rural communities, poor communities.

Unfortunatly these communities are not alone.

The refugee camps, which are already some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people residing in Thailand have not escaped the rains and floods without effect.

In one camp alone more then 300 houses have been lost.

A nursery school for children is damaged.

The rice storage facility was flooded and the rice rations for thousands of refugees for 8 months have been ruined. Before the floods the agency who provides the rations was already facing a funding crisis to feed the refugees and was potentially going to have to make cuts. There is no easy way to replace this essential, staple food provision for thousands of families.

This is a sizable tradgedy.

Hopefully the Thai government will assist the Thai communities affected by this flooding to rebuild their towns, roads, bridges etc. The people of Thailand will probably respond generously (as they have before) to there Thai countrymen and women with donations.

But for the refugees there is no public outpooring of goodwill. So what will happen? Well, that is very uncertain.

with the rain comes saddness.