As I spent time with DS I was reminded once again how special so many of our partners are.
A self-confessed “jungle man”, he feels out of place in town. Even though we met in an area of north-western Thailand which feels fairly remote to me, he still feels uncomfortable.
We spent time going through his work supporting village schools in the south of Karenni state in Myanmar, talking through the difficulties of running schools which the government is seeking to eliminate.
The government is keen to build schools, provide teachers from out of state and help develop the area. But the price these communities will have to pay is huge: Gone will be their language, culture and any choice they have, on anything to do with their children’s education.
As I pushed for more information I asked, “Why not sacrifice a bit of autonomy for the sake of the children’s education?” He slumped in despair as he reflected on the fact that Global Care have partnered with the minority ethnic Karenni people for over 20 years and still did not truly grasp the situation.
BUT surely there is a ceasefire, there is a peace, there is more freedom for travel? The more we talked the more out of my depth I felt.
DS patiently took me through the problems: Regular fire fights between government troops and freedom fighters as the government ignores the lines drawn up as part of the ceasefire. The constant pressure by outsiders – Chinese, government officials from central areas, other NGOs who depend on government registration to enable the community to receive support. After two days of reviewing the activity and financial reports from the last two years, asking what we could do in future and how we could try to build something together, I began to realise that I was pushing for something the community didn’t even want.
We can’t build quality buildings for any of the schools, even for the largest, which provides education for over 150 children, as the government will just come in and take it over. So we will continue to help build with bamboo or timber – making sure that they don’t look too good. They will be built so that they don’t last long. Besides you never know when they will have to move on again.
We can’t help to make things too sustainable – that would just encourage the government to swoop in and impose their control.
So we will continue to support the “jungle man” as he walks for four days up and down mountains to access the villages and take support to his community. The schools will be provided with support for their teachers, teaching in their own language, keeping Karenni culture alive for another generation. The 70 most vulnerable children will receive food, soap and other rations. We will continue to support DS so he can visit twice a year to encourage and work with the six village education committees and Headmen.
But we pray that one day we can move on from just keeping their hopes alive for a better time and actually work with DS and his communities to really build a future together. Pray that it will be soon.
CEO John White