HART has supported not only SWAN’s Women’s Wellbeing Programme but educational programmes in northern Thailand since 2006. This support has provided the women and children of migrants and refugees fleeing poverty and conflict in Burma with the opportunity to attend schools and receive medical care whilst raising awareness of the plight of these refugees. Without this support many vulnerable women and children would have missed out on receiving an education and vital healthcare.
While SWAN would like to gradually move some support from the children in northern Thailand to children in Burma, they do not want to abandon the children they currently support. Many of these children are orphans or come from very poor refugee families, where parents work on farms or as daily labourers for a miniscule daily wage.
Since the Burmese military regime’s mass forced relocations in central and southern Shan State began in 1996, over 200,000 Shan people have fled across the Thai border. Fleeing poverty and armed conflict, many residents of Burma continue to flow into northern Thailand, some with documentation and some without. Shan refugees have faced and still face, substantial hardship. Many live-in unofficial camps and/or work as low-paid migrant workers on farms or construction sites, working jobs deemed too dirty, difficult, dangerous, and low paid for Thai citizens.
Education for Shan Children on the Thai Border
In the late 90’s the Shan community along the Thai/Burma border started to organize basic literacy classes to respond to the needs of displaced children. The Shan Women’s’ Action Network (SWAN) education program was set up in 1999 to strengthen these existing informal educational activities on the Thai Burma border. Education for displaced children was and is seen by the community as being a key need. Many of the children that came to the border areas in the late 90s were not eligible to attend Thai schools or were in locations without schools, and families were very keen that their children should have access to education, so they had a future. The communities, with donor support, established community schools for migrant and refugee children.
Students enjoy a snack outside the Loi Htat Nursery
In 2009, Shan children gained the right to attend Thai schools but experienced many difficulties when trying to access them. Migrant children are still being ostracised for many reasons. Parents are often on the move due to the irregularity of work. Also, having limited legal status and being confined to the workplace results in parents fearing to leave their worksites to arrange schooling at the risk of potential arrest and deportation. The parents’ low income means they do not have the money for required uniforms and maintenance fees. Even if children manage to attend school, there is a risk to girls whilst travelling to and from school of being abducted and trafficked as the schools are often far away from the sites where they live. In addition, Thai schools teach in Thai which Shan children usually do not speak.
From 2010, some of the Shan community schools became a branch of a Thai government school, receiving some Thai government funds for children’s lunches and uniforms, and subject to accreditation of the curriculum taught according to Thai education standards. This means that the children’s schooling is now recognised in Thailand and the students who graduate from a branch school are certificated by the main school so can progress to higher education. However, the community schools still need to find funds to pay for most of their running costs including teacher salaries.
SWAN’s Work at Loi Htat
In 2010, SWAN became a Thai-registered organization to better respond to the needs of the displaced communities along the Thai-Burma border. SWAN’s main educational activities have included:
Supporting for schools in Fang and Piang Luang on the Thai side of the Thai/Burma border, providing teacher salaries and learning resources, and subsidising lunches and transport for students.
Supporting a boarding house for children who require additional care, including those who have been orphaned or children whose parents cannot afford to take care of them. Students are provided with meals, transportation and hygiene kits.
Providing teacher training on topics including teaching methods, child-centred learning, classroom management, special needs children and child development.
Students working hard in one of the classrooms at Loi Htat
Distributing Shan language textbooks to learning centres along the Thai-Burma border, in Shan State and some Shan community in Kachin State.
Providing scholarships for vulnerable children to access secondary and tertiary education and facilitating evening classes to teach English.
Now, SWAN helps provide students with lunch, stationary and transportation costs whilst funding the school’s caretaker salary and administration costs.
As a result, the nursery school continue to provide early childhood education to Shan children and other ethnic children in Fang area, more students can access schools close to their homes and the organization can continue to support children at risk of missing out on education while SWAN secures further funding.