Visiting the Thai-Burma border (1)

Posted by Angie Alexander, Funding Director

Today (2 October) we visited the Drug Alcohol and Recovery Education (DARE) NETWORK, which we have been funding for a number of years now.  You can find more information here – http://refugeesinternationaljapan.org/dare_2014

We met with Law La Say, the project coordinator and Alex Heaven, who is managing their external relationsand travelled to Mae Ra Ma Laung camp on the Thai/Burma (Myanmar) border by car. It is not a long way to travel, but because of the conditions of the road it took us over 2 hours to get there.

The camp

The refugee camp is not what I was expecting at all – far from it. It is situated next to a river and all around are the beautiful, jungle covered, rolling hills. It is an idyllic, peaceful location, but the military checkpoint at the entrance that forcibly reminds me that the refugees inside are not free to come and go, unlike their neighbouring villagers outside the camp.

In the camp it feels very much like a bustling, village community, with smartly uniformed children coming back from school and people busily going about their day.

Preparing lunch - photo  by Alex
Preparing lunch – photo by Alex

The houses are built from natural materials like wood and bamboo with large teak leaves covering the roof. There are many posters dotted around showing different NGOs’ work but a lot are faded,
peeling at the edges reminding me that this camp has now been here since 1995, almost 20 years. Although the sign outside the camp declares it to be a ‘Temporary Shelter Area’ it is anything but.

– The treatment centre

We visited DARE’s residential treatment centre there and were lucky enough to sit in on some training for the current treatment programme in the camp. The clients are two months into their three month treatment cycle for addiction to drugs and alcohol. The treatment cycle includes a combination of acupuncture, yoga, relaxation techniques, counseling and group therapy sessions and DARE has a high success rate of 71% (compared to North America at 20-30%). This treatment cycle is being used to test a new training manual that we have supported, for use in the refugee camps, inside Karen State and in third countries, where refugees have settled.

– The clients

Discussion time - photo by Alex
Discussion time – photo by Alex

The clients were almost all young boys, with one older man. The group were very happy to share their stories with us and there was a real sense of camaraderie between them, as they laughed and shared jokes while they spoke. The overwhelming message that I took from them was how strong their sense of commitment is to the programme and their desire to return to their family and the wider community as a person ‘freed’ from drugs and alcohol.

– DARE team

We also spoke to the DARE camp staff, who are all from the refugee community. One of the staff told us how he managed to stop drinking and smoking so that he could join DARE. It was incredibly heartening to hear how DARE’s work is reaching the community both directly through the treatment cycle, but also indirectly through the ‘ripple effect’ of clients and staff who can be role models and educate others in the camp.

We heard from everyone about the challenges that they are facing with drugs supply increasing, since the ceasefire, as there has been more freedom of movement. We also heard disturbing reports of drugs being used inside Karen State to control the local population, effectively being used as a weapon of war. Undoubtedly there are huge issues ahead for DARE, but the clients and staff we met are a real testament to how much positive change can be achieved within the community when people are given a chance.

 

 

 

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