Tag Archives: Migrants

Spot the Problem

There’s a dump here in Mae Sot and, like many dumps, it’s dirty and it smells. Trucks deliver garbage, and a Hyundai excavator moves things around into very high mounds of trash. Here’s a photo of the excavator at work:

The dump in Mae Sot, sadly similar to those in a number of other developing countries, is not only frequented by excavators and garbage trucks. In the uncropped version of this same photo, there’s one clear problem. Can you see what it is?

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Over 300 people live on the trash (many of their homes are literally sitting on top of refuse), earning money by picking out recyclable plastic to take to a recycling depot a ways away. They used to earn 5 baht per kilo brought in, but that’s now down to 1 baht per kilo (that’s CAD 3.6 cents per kilo or CAD 1.6 cents per pound). If you weigh 200 pounds, you’d need to carry your own body weight in recyclable plastic about a mile to earn CAD $3.20. Not the kind of work your average ten year old girl should be doing to help her family survive.

The people living at the dump are illegal migrants from Burma, a country where life is so difficult for them that they are willing to live (if you can call it that) on a garbage dump. They’re not pitying themselves and crying, and they’re not begging in the streets as some able-bodied people do here. They’re working hard, for little pay.

There is no official funding to help pay for better food, warmer clothing (it’s VERY cold here at night), better footwear, medicine for the common diseases (tuberculosis, worms, malaria, dengue fever, bronchial infections, etc). Publicity is hard, because too much attention causes the Thai government to periodically send in the police to clear all the people out, who then sneak back in a few days later, rather than try and help the people.

There is one kind man who has been going in multiple times a week for over a year now, doing his best to help the people with some of the worst problems they face. If you feel like donating a small amount of money for his efforts while I’m still in Mae Sot (until the end of this month), send me an email and let me know. There’s no charitable donation receipt, so it’s up to you if you want to trust me to receive the money from you and withdraw it from my Canadian bank account on this side, then tell you what it was used for.

A number of people are currently working together to try and find a durable solution to help the people on the dump relocate to a new home away from the garbage, earning money doing other things. This planning will take quite some time and is only really in its infancy, so at the moment there is still a significant need to help meet the basic daily needs of these people.

Another meal on wheels

2 paragraphs and 27 photos:

Many of the migrant schools around Mae Sot do not have enough funding, for various reasons, to provide acceptable food, accommodation (usually a number of students, including many orphans, sleep at the schools), etc. It’s difficult to receive funding from international NGOs because of the legal grey area in which the schools generally operate. They are tolerated by the Thai government as long as they don’t cause problems or bring attention to themselves publicly. With donor money, at times, certain people in certain schools have managed to buy nice new pickup trucks and crisp new clothing while their students still face unfair living / studying conditions at school. This, of course, means those schools lose their funding because no donor wants their money ‘disappearing.’ Adding to this, there is almost no publicity for these schools in the outside world. Even if there was, that in itself could be a problem: last year one such school was shown in a film outside Thailand, and the Thai government shut the school shortly afterward.

In my spare time here, I’ve helped a bit in delivering some meals and blankets to a few different schools where the children needed a bit of extra help. Although I haven’t given any money toward this, it’s been a learning experience and I was able to take photos for the people here to send to the people elsewhere who have sent the money that paid for these deliveries, as evidence that their money actually went somewhere. Here are a few photos of a meal delivery to New Blood School on Monday:

Food on the stove keeping hot:


Loading the food into a truck:

Carrying the food to the school:

Guess what she was doing?

These kids sat in a circle tying elastics together with their fingers and toes, until they had a rope about 15 feet long tied end-to-end with which they played an interesting game that looked something like a blend of hopscotch and skip rope.

These two boys played kung-fu for about half an hour right in front of me. It was intense, but very good-spirited fun with smiles on both sides the entire time:

The tattered Thai flag:

That evening, unseen in North America or Europe, Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon formed a rare “Smiling Alignment” which will next occur in 2036.


On Saturday night we had a sleepover! Erin invited us to join her for a party and sleepover with the kids at her Burmese migrants school not far from our guesthouse. We played around with the kids for a long time, then had a meal of rice noodles with spicy sauce from some kind of fish and and veggies and stuff, then marshmallows to roast on the bonfire! Finally, the younger kids got toothbrushes and toothpaste and went home. Then about 15 or so of the kids around age 8+ watched School of Rock with us before we all went to sleep on the floor. Just before bed, as I sat outside talking to one of the two other Westerners staying the night, staring up at the stars in the night sky, we saw a plane which we originally thought was a shooting star or something. Then, right as we had noticed its flashing lights, just to the left of it in the sky we saw a meteor streak through the sky! It was a very clearly orange ball of fire with trailing tail of smoke. So cool!

Here are some photos from the night. The stuff on many people’s faces is thanaka. It’s traditional for Burmese women and children of both sexes to have thanaka on their face pretty much every day. It’s made from sandalwood and apparently keeps their skin very smooth and nice.

“You put your left hand in.” Erin leading the kids in a round of the hokey pokey.

Hong Sar providing the musical accompaniment:

Some of the students took turns taking care of April, who was featured in a previous post on the 16th.

I met Matt last week and he joined us for part of the evening at the school. The kids loved him of course.

Roasting marshmallows:

He doesn’t actually know how to play, but he still does a great job and sings with a lot of gusto!

Toothbrush and toothpaste distribution:

Up just after 6am! Just before I headed home after 7am, got my standard flag photo. The Thai national and royal flags are found all over this country.

The school is called Good Morning School. Who would have guessed…

In the afternoon I rented two motorcycles, one for me and one for Hong Sar ($5 for 24 hrs), and we took Claire and Rachel on a trip to the two dams outside town. We also taught them how to drive motorcycles!

Looking west from atop the dam:

Looking north along the top of the dam:

Posing for the camera:

Across the water:


Sunset approaching:

On our way home we stopped to take this photo as the palm tree was perfectly positioned!

And Hong Sar took a short vid that shows me driving in a straight line. Not impressive or anything, but it wasn’t convenient to film when we were offroading on the bikes.

And that was another weekend in Mae Sot!

Meal on wheels

On Thursday I was woken up at noon by a phone call from Pieter and within 10 minutes I was in the back of a pickup truck. Tommy kept his head shaded with a towel and Pieter stayed hydrated with a water bottle, while I tried to figure out where I was and what was going on.

We picked up a huge pot of food and some toys, and off we went down the highway. Two random pics I took on that ride:

This is the massive pot of meat and potatoes:

After a while we reached a small school for migrants from Karen State, in Burma. We were invited to stay for their Baptist Christian worship service, which was already underway it seemed. It took over an hour nonetheless, the vast majority of which owed purely to the sermon and final prayer (which itself was 8 minutes of uninterrupted speech by the pastor with his eyes closed). Quite painful due to our sitting arrangements, but the children were great and the singing was nice and it wasn’t too hot.

Everyone’s shoes outside the classroom used for the service:

Some of the kids:

With that over, we headed past the takraw court (like volleyball but only feet, knees, chest, and head can be used to hit the ball)…

…and on to the dining area. Here, the kids lined up and received a bowl of rice prepared by the school, and meat and potatoes (with great spices, it was really tasty!). The servings were huge and every hungry kid seemed to finish it.

You can’t tell unless you zoom in on my full-sized version of this image, but this boy’s shirt says “Wasilla, Alaska” on it. Yep, the town where Sarah Palin used to be mayor.

On the way home, Pieter showed off two mosquito bites on his arm which caused him great anxiety. Unlike the rest of us, he never gets bitten.

That evening, Federico visited us again. He seems to come by every night and hang out in a couple of different places. As I write this I can see him walking over toward my shoes. I hope he doesn’t take up residence inside one of them.

On Friday I heard a loud commotion out on the street, so I grabbed my camera and put my shoes on and found a series of marching bands. It was some sort of national sports day, and each school prepared some sort of parade group. Some of the outfits were very strange (mainly the shoes).

Others were really fancy and neat!

Saturday night was another, even bigger, adventure but that’ll be the subject of the next post.