In Chiang Mai, posted by Angie Alexander, Funding Director
Earth Rights International
On the last day of our visit we had the chance to visit the fantastic school that Earth Rights International run in Chiang Mai. We have previously provided support to alumni of this programme with a start up grant to put what they have learnt into practice in their community on both sides of the border. ERI alumni are very proactive, in fact the project we visited the day before, the Social Development Centre, had been set up by one of the first alumni.
The school was very different from what we had seen in the camps and had everything you would expect, from whiteboards to air conditioning and all the students had laptops. It was early Monday morning when we arrived and all the students were busily gearing up for their day. Jane and I had the opportunity to observe a session on ‘Human Rights Defenders’. We met the students who came from all over Burma (Myanmar) and were almost all working with community organisations already and had come to study for 8 months.
The students had a practical exercise where one student had to make her way from one end of the yard to another, while the other students either were ‘supporting forces’ or ‘opposing forces’. It was a very effective way to enable the students to engage in the subject and naturally there was a lot of fun and laughter, but I couldn’t help but think of the grave undertone that lies behind this. The rest of the session focused on security – their physical, mental and information security and how they can best protect themselves. The class made me reflect on how tough the working environment is for these young people, who care so passionately about bringing about peaceful change and are willing to put themselves at risk for their community.
The way forward
We met with staff and they talked about their plans for a new school building and how things are changing in Myanmar (Burma). The school now is looking to recruit all its students from inside, as there is more freedom of movement and it’s an easier process for students to obtain a passport. There was a real feeling of hope expressed by the staff for the School and its mandate of earth rights promotion and protection. Judging by the students we met on the day and shared lunch with, I would say that the future is full of promise with such enthusiastic and dedicated young people.
Jane and I also met with HelpAge International. We are not funding any work with them in the area but we are currently funding a project run by HAI in Pakistan and we have previously funded projects with them in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and DRC, so wanted to visit their field office. We met with their Head of Programme, who gave us a detailed overview of the work happening in the area. There is a real focus on disaster preparedness for cyclones and typhoons, which is led by the communities, especially the older people. They are also building their programme within Myanmar (Burma) and actually have a staff member seconded to work with the government and advise on older people’s issues, which is great progress. They will also be going to the camps in Kachin State, Burma (Myanmar) shortly, with a view to starting a programme there.