It’s been another incredible week here at the most northern point of Thailand. The trafficking incident aside (a full report has been made so I’ll update you as things progress), Bangkok was outrageous. Four girls, one birthday, many rounds of sheesha, and an amazing night at Bed Supperclub. Let’s just leave it at what happens in Bangkok stays in Bangkok!
The crew that courageously ventured into Burma made it back safe and sound. We had no contact with them for four days but hoped they’d be okay and they were. We now know that if you plan on venturing into Burma, you will be forced to hire a guide at $33 per day plus the cost of your visa and your transport. Bottom line: Burma ain’t cheap and you can estimate that 50% of your money spent is going directly into the hands of the government. You will also be registered daily at immigration so the Burmese government can keep tabs on your whereabouts at all times. You will also be restricted from going into areas where conflict ensues because Burma doesn’t want you to see that. In fact, the guide you hire may even go so far as to tell you that Burma is now a democratic nation. As if. I’m happy the crew went in and had an eye-opening experience. I wish I would’ve gone in but I’m glad I didn’t for two reasons: It would’ve busted me financially and I just can’t support their government without being able to offset that support by aiding the people in a serious way.
The Thai school year started up on May 18, so DEPDC/GMS is teeming with children and the energy is magnetizing. There is a load to do and I’m working tirelessly to get it all done before I leave. It’s a juggling act balancing English classes, granting writing, designing handbooks, attending meetings, et al. I’m loving every minute of it even though I get stressed out from time to time but it’s important for me to participate fully and leave here knowing I made valuable contributions. Exciting things are happening these next weeks. The International Department (“Team ID”) is gearing up for new volunteers and interns, visits to exciting places, new projects with the kids, and the big MTV EXIT human trafficking awareness concert in Chiang Mai. As usual, there is never a dull moment!
As for returning to the U.S., I can say with certainty that I have no desire to leave Southeast Asia just yet. I am in my element here, working on the ground in anti-trafficking, surrounded by people who inspire me, and children and young adolescents I absolutely adore. Yes, I am running out of money and long-term, unpaid volunteerism is not sustainable unless you have deep pockets. Although I would love to see my crew back in Zootown and eat some killer Mexican food, I’ve decided leaving is unacceptable to me. One of the sure ways I can find employment here is to – you guessed it – teach English. So I registered at Ajarn last week and to my utter shock and awe, the calls started rolling in within minutes. There seems to be a plethora of work and even though I don’t have a TESL certificate, I have a degree, 10 years of professional experience and on-the-ground teaching experience in Thailand. It boils down to this: If I find work, I’m staying. If I don’t, I’m forced to leave. Que sera, sera.
There is NGO in Mae Sai called Baan Doi Home and Healing Center for Children. It was founded in 2009 by a former DEPDC/GMS volunteer and her associate. Baan Doi (literally “mountain home”) serves children who are HIV positive and without family members to care for them. It has grown substantially over the last couple of years due to full-time dedication and determination of the Baan Doi team. Team ID is often invited to Baan Doi for special occasions which we love because the founders and the children who live there are amazing. A few days ago we got a call that Baan Doi had received two new children both infected with HIV who had just lost their mother, one of whom was a three-year-old boy who was very sick and in need of a blood transfusion. DEDPC/GMS, being the altruistic group that it is, immediately rose to the occasion. A van of blood-type matches went to the Mae Sai Hospital to donate. The boy only needed one pint yet the hospital was left with six thanks to the staff and volunteers of DEPDC/GMS. Job well done!
Amazing things happen here and yesterday was another reminder. I was taking a cool dip in a hotel pool to shed myself of sweat and apathy when a group of kids arrived and jumped in. I’ve been to this particular pool many times and there is never anyone there so this was a first. While some of my companions were annoyed by the splish-splash of the kids, I was interested in knowing where they were from. I swam with them, introduced myself, and found out they were mostly Burmese and Akha. Then I met Florence, a Burmese woman who runs the Drop In Center for Burmese street kids here in Mae Sai. I first learned about the Drop In Center by two young volunteers I met through my blog. Many thanks to Stephanie and Paulina! I’ve since been trying to locate the DIC but have never been able to find them. Finally, we make contact! Florence informed me that the majority of the kids swimming were street kids, some are homeless, others come from impoverished families in Burma and have parents who are addicted to opium. Most are forced by their parents or traffickers to come into Thailand daily and beg on the street. They then return to Burma and surrender the money. The Drop In Center provides them food, safety, children’s activities, and hygiene. While it does not offer accommodation, the DIC works with the street kids daily to teach them not to steal and give them the basic necessities they need. One boy, who I was instantly interested in, is one-and-a-half-years-old and lives on the street. How is this possible? Florence invited me to the DIC on Monday and I will be there first thing. Make every moment count.