Sadly, today was my last day volunteering with Help Without Frontiers in Mae Sot. One of the highlights of my time with the organization, which delivers education programs for Burmese migrant youth, has been working with the Rays of Youth team. It’s focused on offering skilled training to migrant teenagers from Burma who are in the stages of thinking of post secondary school and their future careers. My job was to help with journalism training and English teaching. About 20 students have been selected for the Rays of Youth program, which is led by some dynamic Rays of Youth leaders. Joli, 24, is passionate, driven and full of ideas. Kiki, 21, is a whiz with computers and a video camera and she can often be found snapping photos or shooting video of the various activities. Kat, 18, Kiki’s little sister, has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met. She’s silly and got a great sense of humour. She wants to be a fashion designer or a presenter.
The students’ summer holidays spread over April and May but for the Rays of Youth students, these months are perhaps more jam packed than the regular school year. During the month of April the peer youth had a summer camp, where they participated in workshops ranging from HIV/AIDS awareness, human rights, education, documentary filming, radio and project management. Experienced trainers from across Thailand volunteered their time to help the youth. Most mornings would start with my English lessons and Julia’s computer lessons before the youth would dive into their next workshop.
Many students said their favourite but most challenging workshop was the four-day citizen journalism workshop presented by Thai PBS in early April. The youth were split up in four teams and each team had to come up with a story idea. The topics ranged from migrant workers, to child labour, to life on the Thai-Burma border.
I helped the team assigned to the migrant workers topic with their story planning, interviews and editing.
One of the students, Saw Yu Mai, arranged for us to go to her father’s construction site. We interviewed him, and as the sound of machinery whirred in the background, he told us about the difficult situation facing migrant workers.
Many of the student’s parents are undocumented migrant workers and face exploitation, low wages and even arrest. They have to pay a bribe of around 200 Baht to prevent being deported, but sometimes this fee can be more than their day’s wage.
Benjamas Boonyarit, with Thai PBS’s department of citizen media network said she was impressed with the youth’s curiosity and energy. She said the topics they chose show that they want to tell their own stories and struggles as Burmese migrant students.
“[Their topics] really reflect what’s happening here [in Mae Sot], they’re concerned with what is happening in the community not just with themselves,” Boonyarit said. “Their parents are migrant workers so they can relate. That’s what citizen reporting is all about, they tell the story they know best.” The most impressive thing about the peer youth is their unshakable ambition. They want to learn English and have their sights set on professional careers such as doctors, teaches, translators and engineers. Ye Min wants to be an engineer. He has a maturity much beyond his 18 years. His English is very impressive and he often sat next to Julia and I and translated while some students presented their documentary plans in Burmese.
Pawk Mai, an 18-year-old who grew up in Nupo refugee camp, wants to be a translator. She’s well on her way, as her English is great, she’s personable and she did a great job translating for Julia and I when we visited the refugee camp just before Songkran. It’s clear Pawk Mai will succeed at whatever she puts her mind to.
Kyaw Min Tun, 17, who is originally from Mon state in Burma, said he really enjoys working with computers but also sees his future working with an NGO. Someday he wants to go back to his village in Burma and pass on some of the practical training that has made a difference in his life.
“People in my village, they don’t know anything. The teaching is not so good. All they think about is work and how to make the money. I want to go there and be a trainer and help them.”
With the drive, and the skills they've been taught through the Rays of Youth program, these students will go far.