From Somboon Chungprampree (Moo), International Program Director, Spirit in Education Movement(SEM)
I first encountered Ecologia Youth Trust while attending the 1st Ecovillage Training at Findhorn Foundation in 1999. The training was inspiring and helped form the foundation of my understanding for social and ecological movements and its work by community members around the world. It was during that time that I learned about EYT and their work with Kitezh in Russia. I made a good connection with a friend from the Kitezh Children’s village community and later on made an exchange internship programme from Kitezh to Wongsanit Ashram in Thailand.
That connection helped us to develop a deeper partnership through various projects in South East Asia. This relationship has been built for more than a decade, beginning in 2007 until today. Our collaborations have been in Thailand and Myanmar, through the work of Spirit in Education Movement (SEM) and its partner in Myanmar, Kalyana Mittra Foundation (KMF).
SEM and EYT collaborated on the Cross Ethnic Integration project in the Andaman Sea area (CEIA), supported by two grants from UK Big Lottery Fund. Their work over the past 6-7 years has contributed to improving the quality of life and increasing access of the rights of the migrant workers from Myanmar, in addition to developing a better relationship between Thai and Myanmar communities. More details about the project outcomes can be found in the report ‘Migrant Workers – are Human too!’
Whilst the project primarily focused on the rights of migrant workers there were two significant youth focussed activities in the Big Lottery Funded project. The inter-ethnic Peacebuilding for Youth Empowerment camps brought together Thai Christian, Muslim, Buddhist & Mogen (sea people) and migrant worker youth who had been impacted by the tsunami for reconciliation, friendship and learning. Teachers at migrant worker schools set up in the rubber plantations were also supported to enable Myanmar children to get an education and be prepared to join Thai schools.
I vividly remember the situation one month after Tsunami struck the coastal area of Southern Thailand bordered by the Andaman sea in January 2005. At that time, the plight of the Burmese migrant workers was not raised. It was as though they did not exist and no reports included the numbers of persons among them who were affected – alive or dead.
I organised a Buddhist ceremony for those who had died, especially the migrant workers from Myanmar. Two Buddhist monks from Myanmar were invited to chant and make merit for them. More than one thousand migrant workers joined this ceremony. We were shocked that the head of sub-district came to the temple with a gun and shouted to migrant workers saying that their gathering was a risk to Thai national security. His actions made me very upset as the migrant workers had been promised support for developing a better relationship with Thai authorities with the hope of gaining their rights.
When the project was phased out of the area, in Ranong and Phang Nga provinces, the Thai communities always invited the migrant workers and their families to join them for cultural exchanges and formed friendships among them. This is one tangible result of SEM and EYT‘s deep commitment that has lasted for more than a decade, and hopefully will last far into the future.
Lastly, I would like to say that this organizational partnership has been made possible through the personal relationships with Jane Rasbash, Pracha Hutanuwatr and Liza Hollingshead which have been developed, and expanded through the years. It is with deep gratitude to all of them and best wishes to EYT, as they more forward to support disadvantaged people, especially the youth worldwide.
And from Janejin Ema (Ame), Coordinator and Project Manager and Human Rights Activist
After the 2004 Tsunami, Thailand was one of the worst damaged countries. In that situation, the most vulnerable groups of victims were Burmese migrant workers and their families. They had very little access to help. Being “outsiders” we therefore created a joint project between Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation (Thailand) and Ecologia Youth Trust, with me as the Coordinator of an 8-year (2-phase) project in which we drove our operations together. The goal of the first phase was Restoring and Healing life – where there is hope and the opportunity to rise up to continue fighting. Then, during the second period, we aimed to create a common space for people in the same society, meaning coexistence in happiness and peace under ethnic diversity on the basis of respect for the dignity of Man. The major challenges were the negative attitudes between Thailand and Burma owing to its war-driven history.
Although it was in a small operation area on the Andaman coast, the impact was enormous. Because there was a change in attitude or mind-set in living together in the community that developed generosity between the ethnic groups. Local governments also recognised the “existence” of migrant workers and their families. This led to the issuance of local ordinances for the administration of the migrant workers, so that they would be entitled to the rights they deserve. The wider economy and society of Thailand has also resulted in some violations of the rights of Burmese migrant workers and their families. But the success model of our project is still present and has been gradually expanding. And there is always hope that the understanding and recognition of ethnic differences on the basis of human rights can bring happiness and peace to the world society.
It was a wonderful experience to work with Ecologia Youth Trust and to develop my knowledge and my life skills. I have to thank Phi Jane, who is my sister and coach.
Now, I work with Khun Htoo Chit in the Foundation for Education and Development(FED) in Phang nga. I’m the Deputy Director, and take care of the Strategic Plan and drive it into working with the team in the same way as I learned in our project.