Why did no one talk about the Myanmar-Thai issue?
Have you ever had this feeling when there’s so much information to be processed you feel like you are stoned? Things are happening so fast — yes it’s overwhelming, but definitely in a good way.
Today, we had a meeting with representatives from Shan Youth Power in the morning, did an interview with a Shan migrant Marena, and had dinner with a social activist whom we absolutely adored.
“Real social development stems from the sharing of resources and community empowerment.” — Shan Youth Power representatives
Shan Youth Power was founded by a group of Shan students in 2002, and their work consists of 4 main areas: media and publication, migrant education, health empowerment, and community development. We learnt a lot about the current projects they are launching in the Shan community, as well as the challenges the migrants are facing. We have always known that Shan migrants have a low mobility in Chiang Mai because of their legal status, yet little did we know this is a deep-rooted social problem which is highly related to political conflicts, labor exploitation, fear of persecution, and unfamiliarity with the city. Apparently the migrant/refugee registration process in Thailand is extremely complicated and pricey (which we will describe in detail in later posts), even migrants who have lived here for decades do not fully understand the procedures and their basic rights. Almost all Shan migrant workers are considered “stateless” and are working illegally without proper working permits, and are commonly exploited and locked in working premises by employers. Even when they are lucky enough to leave the working sites, they often get checked by the police and subsequently arrested. With the fear of prosecution, the migrant workers and their families rarely travel around the city and that highly limits their mobility and access to resources.
“Education is the only exit.” — Marena, a young Shan migrant
Being raised in a poor Shan family who was forced to leave Myanmar due to armed conflicts, Marena described herself as a typical young Shan migrant. Marena is a second-generation Shan migrant in Chiang Mai; she started helping out at her parents’ farm at the age of 4, got employed at a local massage salon when she was 10 — and she used her hard-earned money to support her own education, without a penny from her parents. She told us how much she values education, and that she believes education is the only way to escape from poverty. She recently graduated from university with a marketing major, and would like to give back to the community by volunteering as a teacher. It is very heartwarming to see how education embarks a chain reaction that changes the lives of many, from generation to generation.
“I am thankful they put me in jail.”— John (nickname), a Shan-Chinese social activist
John taught us a lot about Myanmar-Thai history, social movements, and the Shans’ condition in Chiang Mai. He is a social activist, a programmer, a journalist, and a full-time teacher. At the age of 10, he left his family and started his migrant journey in Chiang Mai. In 1996, when he was 16, he got checked and arrested by the police at work due to his illegal employment status. He had no money to pay the officials (i.e. bribery), and got accused of being a spy and a Burmese terrorist. During his time in prison, he witnessed how the Burmese, especially women, were severely abused by jailers. As a journalist, we kept a journal which he recorded his everyday encounters, but unfortunately he was threatened to give it up when confronted by the military force later on. After his inmate release, he was expelled to the border with literally nothing with him, worked very hard with a bare minimum wage of USD$1 per day, and eventually got back to Chiang Mai as a refugee.
*Sneak Peak* Wondering what we are up to 9 o'clock in the morning? (hint: it's a way to summarize field trip/ interview findings!)