World Refugee Day - Getting an education in the Thai/Myanmar border refugee camps

Aiya* lives with his parents in a refugee camp in northern Thailand, near the border with Myanmar.

Aiya was born in the camp and it’s all he’s ever known.

He is one of over 93,000 people, mostly from the Karen or Karenni ethnic groups, who live in nine camps along the border, who have endured decades of displacement, after fleeing widespread conflict in Myanmar.


Photo credits: Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)

Aiya is determined to do well in his studies so that he can become a teacher himself - and support his parents when he’s older.

“Though we are poor, they don’t fail to teach me good values in life,” Aiya says. “They always advise me to respect my teachers, as they are like my parents when I’m at school,” he says.

As we mark World Refugee Day 2020, the United Nations says that the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record, with an estimated 70.8 million people forced from home by conflict and persecution. Among them are nearly 26 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

Schooling is one of the biggest challenges about growing up in a refugee camp – and without an education, children face an uncertain future.

Caritas Australia and its partner, Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), are working to improve the quality of education for children in camps in Thailand, as well as in re-settlement sites in Myanmar.

The program also provides training and support for teaching and non-teaching staff and runs community-building activities and cross-border initiatives to help potential returnees to prepare for their education on their return to Myanmar.

During these COVID times, Caritas Australia, through JRS, has distributed posters and videos to raise awareness about COVID-19, as well as hygiene kits, including soap, sanitisers and masks throughout the camps. School closed for summer holidays when the pandemic was declared but is soon set to reopen. In spite of these challenges, Aiyaremains a dedicated student who consistently receives the ‘model student’ award.

“I want to become a good teacher in the future. I want to help the younger generation so they will change and improve their lives,” Aiya says.

“I have a big dream for Aiya” says his mother, Lue . “I want him to finish his studies with a good education so he can find a good job and have a good life. I don’t want him to suffer like we parents. We didn’t have education so it is hard also for us to find a job. He is clever, and that is why we gave him the nickname of ‘Peter Clever.’”

“I am very grateful for his education. My only worry is when he goes to the higher level after high school here in the camp there are tuition fees but we have no source of income.”

Aiya’s mother also has a goal. She has joined the Family Friendship Group Meetings, run by Caritas partner, JRS, so that she can take part in the Pig Raising Community Project which will bring in a small source of income to support her son’s education.

The theme for this World Refugee Day 2020 is Every Action Counts.

Through your support, Caritas Australia can continue to work with the Jesuit Refugee Service to help children in the Thai/Myanmar camps and also protect and educate the most vulnerable people around the world. With your help, vulnerable children and their communities will have the opportunity for a bright future.

Along with your generous support, this project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

* pseudonym