Visiting Social Development Centre – Thai-Burma border

Maw Thya Mar, Aung Sun Myint and Khu Myar

From Jane Best in Mae Hong Son, Thailand

I visited the Social Development Centre today, Thursday 6 June. It is always a great pleasure to meet Aung Sun Myint, a man with a permanent smile, and his great team Khu Myar and Maw Thya Mar.

For more information on the project see: http://refugeesinternationaljapan.org/sdc_2012

I went to the Centre in Nan Soi village outside Karenni Refugee camp 1. They were setting up the Nan Soi centre when I last visited in 2009, so it has been operating for 4 years now.

The Centre is located in Karenni camp 1 but there is no electricity or internet access in the camp so the Nan Soi Centre provides an opportunity for students to study at any time and to use computers.

The advanced training class has started and there are 16 students, all of whom have completed the basic SDC course. I sat in SDC classon an English class run by a volunteer.

SDC can take volunteers now they have the Nan Soi Centre (foreigners are not allowed to work in the camp). Lynette Nam, a previous volunteer with RIJ, went to work with SDC as a volunteer last year and found it a great experience. It seems she made quite an impression because everyone remembered Lynette. Generally the volunteers teach English which is seen as a passport to opportunity: it means SDC can welcome speakers who do not speak Burmese, it allows the students to do extensive research via the internet and they can go on to work with a variety of organisations.

What always impresses me is the dedication of the students. They are clearly motivated to better themselves and build a better future. I love their passion and determination to do something for their people. I talked to Law Wha about what he sees as the priorities for change in Burma. He also mentioned the hardship that his parents had gone through and his desire to help them and others. The students are risking a lot to get a good education as none of them are in the Centre legally. Imagine that kind of life – no freedom, no status but a fierce desire to learn and improve things. The teachings of SDC are centred on peaceful negotiation, the rule of law and human rights.

I came away thinking of the impact this programme has on so many: the SDC team who are dedicated and proud of the achievements of their alumni, the students who go on to represent their people in community building and negotiation, the volunteers like Lynette who are truly inspired by the students, and the mobile teams who reach out to the people of Burma.

There is so much hope for Burma if people like this are allowed their voice – a peaceful voice.

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