JAcOB in Mae Sot

What I learned in Mae Sot

In Blog entry by JAcOBLeave a Comment

Dear All

As always I must thank you for taking time to read this blog and for sharing as you see fit.

I type this blog on the eve of flying back to the UK after being in SouthEast Asia for 4 weeks, where I have seen such wonderful acts of human kindness and caring.  My eyes immediately well up just thinking of them.

I have had the PRIVILEGE of sharing my music on my old faithful guitar (Olivia) with a number of groups of people, who have even asked me to return !!! (That’s my feeble attempt at humour again).

Mae Sot, is on the Burmese/Myanmar border with Thailand.  Over the last 30 years, hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees have fled here and have been “encamped”.  Some have managed to escape these camps, others have been granted citizenship and a number have been given authority to travel to other locations in the world.

Mae Sot, is about 50 kilometres south of Mae La, which is now the biggest refugee camp in Thailand. Although the exact population is unknown it’s thought to be home to approximately 60,000 souls.

Mae Sot has Non Governmental Organisations dripping with money and resources.  I am SURE some of these organisations are really efficient in terms of the funds which help the most needy.   However, I have seen at first hand an uglier side and unfortunately this seems to be the MAJORITY.  Fat Cat Management who sit in their corporate air conditioned offices and never venture to grass roots level to get their hands dirty.

Don’t misunderstand me, I know that sometimes to be effective we need those who can concentrate on the people who are most at risk and figure out ways to help.  However, it sickens me, when I see and FEEL the arrogance, carelessness and the elitism of some well known and hugely funded organisations.

I could talk of some of the ugly and saddening things I have experienced at first hand, but to do so would be to “lend” energy to these events instead of focusing on the many acts and examples of down to earth, decent folk and their good will.  It’s highly likely that some of the ugly stuff will come out in the coming months in completing volume 6 of “The Ramblings of My Madness – The Voice in My Heart”, but for now, I would like to celebrate the positive influences of straightforward, honest, trustworthy, considerate, sensitive and caring folk.

Jo, Millie, Matty, Giv, Lilly, Laddawan, Ing, thank you for having faith in me and allowing me to work with you.

During my time here I connected early on with a fabulous organisation called the Youth Connect Foundation through Ing and Jo.

There are many aspects to YCF, not least of which is to facilitate and offer educational resources to displaced Burmese people within the age range of 14 to 25.  Additionally this foundation takes on the responsibility of placing young people within employment opportunities, giving them a “leg up”.  After all, we all need a leg up from time to time don’t we (?).

As already mentioned I have been asked to write a song for education to promote a positive social change and awareness of mental health. This is truly the greatest honour bestowed upon me and I just hope I can do the guys proud.

While in Mae Sot I met with the Director of a short movie being filmed for humanitarian awareness and offered the songs off “the naked truth” album to the Director for use as they saw fit.

I had the pleasure of meeting Giv and Lilly at the Orphanage and playing my guitar a couple of times for the children.  I was and am humbled by their warmth, hospitality and welcome.

We met a beautiful lady called Maria, who runs an art “school” for displaced people, who are able to express the horrors of their own stories through their art.  Kickstart Art is a fascinating, self funded project run by an amazing and kind human being.

We saw hundreds of people living on a garbage dump who pick through trash for plastic and glass to sell to recycling organisations. This garbage tip covers an area of 2 – 3 square miles, and is piled two or three storeys high with waste of ALL types.  The folk on the dump start work from the age of 5 or even younger, working mainly in the night as the temperatures reach close to 50 degrees Celsius (with a humidity index).   The smell is beyond anything I can describe.  Feral dogs run around in packs and the occurrence of rabies, HIV and AIDS is high.

If you look at the legs of the youngsters they are nearly all very badly scarred from the wounds sustained through picking garbage.

On a positive note, we did manage to assist (empower) four families living on the garbage dump in unimaginable conditions to build their own houses.

We met a family where a mother was in a makeshift hospital.  It was in fact a tin roofed shed with bamboo partitions.  This lady had HIV and tuberculosis and this is for many, here and around the world, an everyday reality.

We visited a refuge for women and children who were victims of domestic violence called SAW, Social Action for Women.  The instant we appeared we were engulfed by warmth and were made very welcome.  How is it that such amazing love can come from such adversity (?)

Lilly runs an orphanage for 85 children with ages ranging from a few months to 16 years old.  Lilly bears an uncanny likeness to Aung Sung Suu Kyi and displays that care and warmth too.  Furthermore it shines through in “her” beautiful family.

Jo, brought to my CONSCIOUS attention an obvious concept in working with local organisations everywhere be that in the UK, Burma, or wherever. “Totally Local”, the OBVIOUS, yet for my part, so often overlooked.  If you need expertise try to source it within the community but of course there are times when this isn’t possible, but Jo opened my eyes to this and imparted many other nuggets of wisdom.

Thank you so much Jo.

What have I learned from my time here ?  Frankly I could probably write a book on it as I feel so very lucky to have had the experiences of discovering these brilliant human beings.  In stark contrast, I equally feel very lucky to have witnessed the shocking nastiness.  This only highlights the good acts of kindness further and for that I realise how lucky I am.

It won’t be long till I am back in Mae Sot…..

With love, peace and hope

JAcOB

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