Waiting For Life To Begin In A Burmese Refugee Camp

by Sean Aiken Nov 29, 2006

Part III in a series exploring the experience and responsibility of the traveler in the 21st century. Read the introductory post here then read Part I and Part II.

I wake up realizing the familiar acquaintance of feeling lost accompanies me and I see a long day of passing time ahead.

I think of home, my purpose, where I should be right now, what I should be doing. I begin to think how difficult life can be, its finality and even feel a little sorry for myself. I go downstairs and sit down for breakfast with my friend, an illegal migrant from Burma who runs the guesthouse I am staying in.

His face appears more burdened than usual so I ask him how he is doing? He tells me things could be getting unsafe for him and that he will be heading to live in the jungle at one of the nearby refugee camps for six months to a year at the end of February.

I am speechless.

I realize instantly how trivial my questions are and that asking myself such questions of life is a freedom many are not so lucky to have. I learn a valuable lesson I will not forget.

I am in Mae Sot, Thailand, a town on the Thai/Myanmar (Burma) border. Like many towns on the same border line, its surroundings serve as a “temporary” home for some 100,000 refugees and migrant workers of the total 1-2 million internally and externally displaced people the oppressive military regime in Burma has created.

Governing by fear, the military has been in control for the past 50 years, forcefully suppressing the several pro-democracy movements by the Burmese people and arresting or killing those that oppose.

It is a grim situation here with a definite lack of global awareness and attention. Yet it is this global awareness that could create international pressure on the dictatorship that would serve as a crucial stimulant for change. The Thai government tolerates the resulting flood of refugees, yet they are restricted to a certain area by military checkpoints preventing them from venuturing further into Thailand.

Neither citizens of Thailand, nor can they return to Burma, the majority here are quite simply waiting for life to begin; to get back a life and a home that might only exist in their memories.

The majority here are quite simply waiting for life to begin; to get back a life and a home that might only exist in their memories.

As a volunteer, I have been teaching English in a nearby village called Boarding High School for Orphans and Helpless Youths (BHSOH). It is one of the many illegal migrant schools in the area for Burmese refugee children and serves as a home for just under half of the students; school by day, kitchen, play area, and sleeping quarters by night.

Although these children have suffered so much and have so little, it was not evident in the smiles and positive attitudes of those I encountered. These children had no control of their past and what happened to place them in their current situation, but it is evident that only they control how they respond to it.

I believe it is a matter of acceptance.

Don’t get me wrong, I am talking about acceptance, not resignation. The moment we accept our present reality is the moment we can take measures to change it.

A very different reality from my own exists here, a reality very difficult to grasp.

It is now time for me to leave Mae Sot.

My friend drops me off at the bus station and we say goodbye. In a fair world I could ask him if he wanted to come with me, and that it would be his choice, his freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But, this is not possible in his reality, not today.

Meanwhile, my reality quickly changes, one day I will be in Cambodia standing in wonderment at the Temples of Angkor Wat, one week and I will be lying on a beach in Southern Thailand, just over one month and I will be back in Canada. A country where I am free to choose my own reality, democracy prevails, and freedom is not just a word providing hope that better days lie ahead.

I feel helpless, guilty, hopeful and incredibly thankful for the freedoms I am so blessed to have. It becomes painfully clear; these same freedoms I take for granted everyday are the same freedoms for which lives are lost for everyday, and the same freedoms that keep many alive, in hope that one day they might be as lucky as I.

If you are reading this, chances are you are one of the lucky ones too.

To learn more, visit BHSOH

What do you think about Sean’s experience in the town of Mae Sot? Please share you thoughts in the comments.

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.