A women walks through camp 1 in Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son, 8 March 2012 – I am May Tho*. I live in Refugee Camp 1 in Mae Hong Son, Thailand and I work for KnED (Karenni Education Department). 

I would like to tell you about my life.

I was born in a peaceful village in Mandalay Township. My father was a soldier and as a soldier his life was tough. After he retired, he did some casual work and supported me to attend an education institute. 

After this, I worked as a public servant. After I got married, I was posted in Shan State in Pa-Oh region. I was interested in developing programs and I joined the Pa-Oh people and worked with them. 

In this region, most of the farmers plant poppy fields. They had to pay tax to Government troops but they were still not sure if they had permission to farm. Other troops would destroy their fields if they also didn’t receive the tax. There were many corrupt officials taking bribes. People could even do commercial logging and sell drugs if they bribed the officials.  

Many children attended school but when they grew up their parents took them out of school and made them work in the fields. My husband and I tried to persuade them to attend school. 

Fleeing conflict 

Unfortunately, the fighting between the Government troops and the ethnic resistance group continued, so all the villagers were forced to move to the forest. 

Most of them were arrested by the Government troops. They identified and marked the villagers who helped the resistance group, persecuting and killing them as they went. Some were shot and killed on the spot.

I had no place to live. If I had gone back to my native village the army would have persecuted my relatives and family. 

Therefore I decided to come here. 

First, my husband and our four children left. I had to hide and stayed with my two other children in Kayan village. Later I joined my husband. 

There were many troubles along the way. We were frightened of the military and landmines. Sometimes we had nothing to eat. We walked for fifteen days before arriving at the camp. When I arrived in the camp, I felt safe. UNHCR and other NGOs helped us.  

Education and my children's future

I am now delighted that my children can study at school and we are able receive free medical care at the clinic. There are various programs such as the Child Protection Program, Women's Development program and others that help refugees.

On the other hand, I am worried about my children’s future and education. I would like my children to have a degree but we only have schools which teach to post 10 level. 

Our schools are built from bamboo and leaves. In the rainy season, the children get wet because of the holes in the roof. 

There are many bamboo bridges on the way to school and when it rains heavily, the streams become flooded, the bridges and the children can easily be swept away by the current. The children don’t wear school uniforms, they have to wear clothes donated by others. 

Isolation and restrictions on movement 

We are not allowed to go out of the camp.

Sometimes I feel suffocated, we are always in the camp, always seeing the same people and always doing the same things. 

I often want to be free. 

We live in a small house made of bamboo and leaves. It is too small for eight people and it is located deep in the valley. When the wind blows strongly the trees sometimes fall on our house. We sometimes hear the news that someone has died because of a fallen tree. 

We are constantly threatened by landslides in the rainy season and by fire in the summer. We don’t have enough clean water in summer and there are no fire engines in the camp. 

Moreover, infections and diseases can spread rapidly because the houses are so crowded and close together. My youngest child has never seen a river, a city, a train, an aeroplane or wild animals and there is no space for a playground. 

Our family always eats rice, split yellow beans and chillies. 

At times I feel disheartened when I hear the news of people who commit suicide. Most refugees are depressed about their future.

I miss my mother and relatives. I have never seen or had contact with them since I arrived here. However, whenever I feel down I console myself. I believe I need to be strong for my children. 

I hope my children will be well educated and that they will be able to help others in the same boat. I also hope that our family will one day live in a peaceful village or a small town and we will join NGOs and work together in undeveloped areas.

* Name changed to protect anonymity

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