Why Mae La?
The Trust was set up by Gill Thackray in 2005 after returning from working on English Language Programmes in Mae La United Nations refugee camp on the Thailand/Burma border. Whilst working in Mae La, Gill was struck by the genuine humility and hospitality of those that she met and worked alongside. The friendships that were made during this time have continued and the Koru Trust is a very practical way of maintaining the educational support that began during those lessons in the camp.
For many of the children and young people this is their first experience of education and they are eager and enthusiastic to learn. In their villages and towns in Karen State the Burmese military junta have frequently closed or burned schools down, leaving them without teachers or a place to study. Their commitment to learning is humbling, many of the children seizing what they see as their only opportunity for an education.
In addition to their schooling within the camp, the young people wake at 5am before sunrise to begin extra lessons. As you can imagine, without electricity or lighting this is no mean feat, but without exception, the makeshift classroom is always crammed with willing students, even though for the first 30 minutes there isn’t enough natural light for them to see the white board.
Who is the Trust for?
The children who benefit from the Trust have fled to the camp from their towns and villages in Burma (Myanmar), crossing over the border and into Thailand. Many Karen villages have been burned or destroyed and their inhabitants massacred by the military junta in Burma. Some of the children are orphans, some have left their parents seeking refuge in the camp from the ever present danger of the junta. Many of the children are homesick and miss their families, hoping one day to return. Communication is difficult in the area and many of the children go without contact with their families for weeks and months. As a result they often rely on each other and form strong bonds of friendship, sharing and helping each other whenever they can.
What are conditions in Mae La like?
Conditions in the camp are harsh and it is difficult to picture the grinding poverty that the inhabitants of Mae La face every day. There is no running water or electricity. The United Nations provide rations of 1 cup of rice per person, per day, the rest of the children’s diet is made up of lentils and sometimes fish provided by NGOs. Food, medicines and clothing are scarce in the camp and many of the children are malnourished. The schools and medical clinics in Mae La are limited both in number and resources. Supported by NGOs, with 125,000 people to serve, there is never enough to go around.
Books and other teaching materials are also in very short supply. This is the main purpose of the Koru Trust to provide books and teaching materials for the young people which otherwise they would have limited access to.
If you would like to learn more about Mae La or the situation in Burma, the following websites are a good place to start!
The Burma Campaign UK www.burmacampaign.org.uk
Free Burma Coalition Mission www.freeburmacoalition.org
Moving to Mars (documentary following Karen refugees from Mae La to Sheffield) www.movingtomarsfilm.com
Free Burma www.freeburma.org