On returning, I realised the many things that have changed since I was first here in 2000.
At that time the Chiang Mai Border area was difficult to visit unless you were in the military. Although it was convenient to travel by road, the lack of mobile phone signal and landlines presented a huge challenge.
When setting off to work my staff and I had to prepare everything necessary for the trip, including camping tents because sometimes the refugees asked us to stay the night. They welcomed us and took care of us the best they could even though they were poor. Sometimes we stayed over night at one of the churches or temples in each area.
We visited Shan people who had migrated across the Thai border. Some were new migrants, others had migrated before our project started.
We established lasting friendships, learnt how they lived and uncovered the reasons why they fled to Thailand. We heard many stories of misery and we quickly realised that we had to provide assistance.
We designed a project to provide refugees with essentials items such as food, clothing and medicine. We asked the Shan community leader to introduce us to the families that needed urgent help. We saw many elderly people and children in these households, but no parents. We were upset to find out that most of the adults had been soldiers; many were killed, and others captured, raped or tortured in Myanmar. We provided these families with clothing and medicine. Those that needed more urgent medical assistance were taken to the hospital in Chiang Mai.
We compared our work to planting seeds. To start with we prepared the ground for the seeds. We watered the seeds, applied fertilizer and protected them from pests. Then we watched them grow. We hoped they would soon grow into strong trees that could stand by themselves.
Almost ten years later the trees have grown, some are still not strong enough and cannot stand by themselves. Fortunately, there are still many JRS staff who have sincere hearts and continue to care for the refugees as best they can.
Wasin Chancham (Joe), Office Manager, JRS Asia Pacific
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