Last month, ED Jane Best and Taka Kawada (on the left) and Shira Putrinda (in the center), both members of the RIJ volunteer team, went on a project visit to Thailand. They visited three project sites: Karenni Social Development Centre (“SDC”), Drug & Alcohol Recovery & Education Network (“DARE”) and Karen Women Organization (“KWO”).
SDC provides training in Human Rights, Leadership and Environment to young refugees. DARE provides community training and prevention education to schools. KWO provides baby kits and health message pamphlets to mothers and newborn babies.
Taka and Shira, who are on RIJ’s funding committee and events team respectively, shared their experience from this trip.
1. How was your interaction with refugees? How did you communicate with each other?
Taka reported that they took part in a group discussion with the students at SDC. The students are youth who have been living in Karenni camp 1 since they were born.
“I was surrounded by 10 or 15 boys and girls and talked about their studies. They looked a little shy to explain what they are learning at the class, but on the other hand, they asked me many questions about Japan or Japanese society, such as, ‘What is it like to learn at the Japanese University?’ ‘What was your major in your university?’ and so on.”
“The most difficult question I had to deal with was ‘Teacher, what is your ambition?”
Taka was overwhelmed by the students’ sincerity and their enthusiasm towards learning about the world outside of the camp.
Shira was very impressed with the students’ energy and how comfortable they were sharing their personal stories. Some of the refugees are fluent in English so the conversations were mainly in English with translation support from the teachers and project staff for those who could not communicate in English.
“Although they are still learning English, some of them were very eager to try to speak English, which was very impressive.”
2. What is the most memorable moment from this project visit?
Taka talked about the opportunity to join a group talk with clients of DARE.
“We sat down altogether with around 20 clients, formed a circle and talked about their stories. The clients volunteered to stand up and tell their story in their native language. At a glance, you may feel a little scary as almost all clients are male and from various ethnic backgrounds, which makes a very unusual atmosphere in the room. However, after listening to their stories, I felt connected to their personalities and hospitality. I realized that they were making great efforts to recover.”
Taka was particularly impressed when a client explained how the treatment was like a ‘Mirror’ to him.
“He said that receiving treatment and education at DARE is just like looking at himself in a mirror, which means that DARE is giving him a good opportunity to think about his life and future even though unforeseeable events are awaiting him.”
Shira said every moment was unforgettable but for her a particular memory was at SDC when students performed a traditional dance for us.
“Although they had lost their homes and live in a refugee camp, after seeing their traditional dance performance:
“I could feel the sense of their cultural identity within them.”
3. How has this experience affected you personally and your view on refugee matters?
Taka said “I was able to realize the complexity of refugee issues. In Japan, we hear the news about the democratization of Myanmar and the talk of ceasefire and policy-making for repatriation. From the refugees’ viewpoint, however, they are still facing a harsh reality, along with unstable circumstances.”
“I would like to make the most of the experience that I had in Thailand by continuing my involvement with RIJ, such as delivering presentations to the prospective donors in Japan. I hope that we will soon cross paths with the people we met in Thailand, under a much better circumstance.”
Shira said “Being able to meet refugees directly has inspired me a lot. I learned many things and got valuable experiences from the refugees during this trip. For example, one of the problems that I was not aware of before is the limitation to move freely. The refugees in SDC cannot go outside of their designated area. Their movements are restricted as they do not have an ID. When the police raided their organization, they could not say that they worked there. They would be arrested for working without an ID.”
Shira talked about similar problems with staff at KWO who visited internally displaced people inside Myanmar. The military presence creates difficulties and restrictions when crossing the border. This creates challenges for implementing and monitoring the baby kit program.
“Despite the difficulties that they are facing, the people that I met there have strong motivation to do something for their communities.“
“They want peace. They want a better life.”
“I would like to do something more, to be able to support them. As a first step, I think it is important to open people’s eyes and raise their awareness about refugee issues.”