Khin's inspiring story featured in Caritas Australia's Project Compassion 2012.
Khin, 10, her mother and younger brother live together in a rented room in Ranong, Thailand. Her family is just one of an estimated two million people who have fled poverty, violence and instability in Burma. But despite their hopes of a better life in Thailand, Khin’s family are amongst the poorest in their community.
Along the Thai-Burma border, Caritas Australia supports a range of programs for those communities made vulnerable by displacement, violent clashes and inadequate social services. One program, coordinated by our partner – Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), focuses on the unique vulnerability of Burmese children whose parents have migrated for work. For many children, language barriers, a lack of documentation, and costly fees prevent them attending Thai schools. JRS’ community-based learning centres offer migrant children primary education and a bridge into Thailand’s school system.
The obligation to earn one's bread... presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied... cannot be justified..., nor can that society attain social peace."Pope John Paul II, 1991
Khin is in grade four at Ban Klang learning centre, one of six JRS schools for children aged 5-14 years. With your compassionate support, Caritas Australia and JRS provide infrastructure, books and tables for students. To enhance their dignity in the classroom, each student also receives a uniform, textbooks, stationary, and lunch each day.
Khin has embraced the opportunity to learn, especially Thai and English. “I like to read in school. I like everything about the school,” Khin told us. “I like English the best, because English can be used everywhere.” Although Khin’s parents did not attend school themselves, they are supportive of her education: “They cheer. They push me to learn.”
Khin’s mother explained, “I like that my two children can go to the learning centres. I want them to be educated because it’s so difficult to find work.”
Life for Burma’s refugees and migrants is rife with uncertainty. For many it is a daily struggle to make ends meet. As Khin’s mother said, “When we first came to Thailand, we wanted to save money to go back to Burma and build a house. But just having enough money to live day to day here is difficult. I work every day from 5am sometimes until 10pm.”
Many of Khin’s friends’ parents must also work long hours in the informal job market and there is considerable pressure on children to contribute to family income and care for younger siblings. Khin knows some students whose family commitments have kept them from attending school. “Some of their parents have no money and they want to work to help their parents. In Thailand, the Burmese have to work very hard. I want to work also to help my family,” said Khin.
As instability fluctuates in Burma, so too does attendance at JRS’s learning centres. “Sometimes it’s too loud and difficult to concentrate – there are three classes in one room,” said Khin.
But Khin and her parents are determined for her to finish school. “My children have no papers for Thailand, no birth registration. I want them to learn Burmese, Thai and English. That’s a very important skill,” Khin's mother said.
The Burmese community is strongly supportive of the teachers, offering gifts in kind and volunteering where possible. Last year, less than 5 percent of children dropped out of the schools – a remarkable achievement.
More than 1,000 children have now attended the community-based learning centres. In the long-term, JRS hopes to see the learning centres as transition facilities, enabling children to attend Thai school. Last year 176 students, with JRS scholarships, began studying in Thai schools and with your ongoing support, many more have the opportunity to do the same.
Thanks to your solidarity with Caritas Australia, our local partner JRS continues to advocate for Burmese children’s right to education. In meetings with parents, principals and teachers, JRS encourages the community to value primary education and provides information so that families may access work permits and healthcare services.
Khin’s mother is proud of her daughter. Although she is the smallest student in her English course, Khin listens and speaks confidently in class; she is rarely without a smile on her face.
Thanks to Caritas Australia’s support for JRS’ learning centres, Khin has great ambitions.
I want to be a teacher when I grow up. Maybe I can go all over to teach – I’d like to go to other countries. Please open more schools like this one. This is very good for poor families who cannot afford to send their kids to Thai schools” Khin