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Counseling Victims of Trafficking and Child Abuse
In 1999, BBP initiated the first trauma counseling training program along the border. This early program was initiated and supervised by Dr. Kathy Allden. Since then, BBP has been to “go-to” NGO when it comes to addressing any issues related to child protection and abuse and also in the delicate work of counseling victims of trafficking. Trafficking of children has become an increasingly troubling reality along the border with children being taken in the middle of the school day from the neighborhoods around their schools and spirited away to fates unknown. Occasionally, these children are returned or rescued in which case the emotional and psychological trauma of their experiences needs to be skillfully addressed. BBP has multi-lingual counselors who have been providing this service for many years.
When Burma (Myanmar) evolved into a slightly more democratic country, many, if not most, of the NGOs working along the border and in the area of Mae Sot in particular, elected to move their operations inside the country with the expectation that funding would be more readily available in the suddenly “democratized” nation, where new investments and funding for non-profits, long discouraged by the government would surely begin to flow.
With much humanitarian funding suddenly drying up along the border, many child protection programs such as safe houses and prevention programs were abandoned leaving this vulnerable population even more exposed than before and with fewer resources available to help them.
We are now seeing more examples of extreme exploitation and neglect, sexual assault and other forms of physical abuse and the number of child sex workers has exploded. With Mae Sot now being the east end of a new 850-mile Trans Asia highway linking India with Thailand and several casinos being opened in neighboring Myawaddy, many thousands of outsiders now pass through Mae Sot on a daily basis, placing our vulnerable children squarely in their sites.
Trafficking Rescue Services
Trafficking of humans rears its ugly head in many forms.
Trafficking for forced labor
Victims taken can be forced to engage in agricultural, mining, commercial fishing, and construction work, along with working as domestic servants and in other labor intensive jobs. Often their identity documents are confiscated leaving them susceptible to arrest and imprisonment if seized by authorities without possessing proper identity papers.
Trafficking for forced criminal activities
Victims are forced to carry out a range of illegal activities which in turn generate income for their abductors. These can include theft, drug cultivation and selling, selling counterfeit goods or being forced to beg in the streets. Victims often have quotas and can face severe punishment if they do not perform to the satisfaction of their abductors.
Trafficking in women for sexual exploitation
Often girls as young as 10 years old are abducted and sold into forced sexual servitude. Young boys are not immune to this form of savage exploitation.
Trafficking for the removal of organs
Can there be anything more hideous or inhuman than abducting a person, often a child, for the purpose of slaughtering them and harvesting their organs? This happens every day.
Helping Victims is a Three Part process
The help that BBP provides consists fundamentally in three steps—Rescue, Restoration and Release,
Our Rescue Service
Once freed from abduction or abusive situations, most victims have nowhere to go. They must be kept in a safe place where there can be no fear of being taken or abused again. They must be well-fed and cared for in every important way and all of this takes place at a Safe House in Mae Sot operated by OIA—Overseas Irrawaddy Association.
Restoring shattered lives
The most important component in the Restoration process is trauma therapy—one-on-one counseling which is provided by experienced multi-lingual counselors and is informed by the work that was pioneered 20 years ago along the Thai-Burma border by BBP Co-Founder and long-time Board Member, Dr. Kathy Allden. who co-authored The Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma. Counseling takes place at least once a week for a two-month period with a view towards encouraging survivors to make therapy a part of their life on an ongoing basis for as long as needed in order to help rebuild their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Other services such as transportation to medical appointments and providing access to the appropriate level of education needed are also available to survivors.
Resuming a normal life
Once a survivor’s life has been stabilized additional services will be provided on a case-by-case basis including seeking training programs appropriate for the client’s needs, capabilities and interests.
Treating the community
BBP also provides capacity building and child protection training to community based organizations and to teachers in migrant schools. By being properly trained, a responder will be better able to initially deal with possible cases of child abuse in an informed manner and one which provides for the child’s, as well as their own, safety. This training and capacity building helps to create a strong communication network among the various actors in the local community so that nearly everyone who encounters a case of likely child abuse will be trained in the proper response.
Children also receive training. They are taught how to ask for help and to whom to ask. They are also instructed on what constitutes safe or appropriate touching and what is inappropriate and should cause concern.
There are over 2 million migrant workers from Burma living in Thailand. Many of these people have children who for various reasons cannot attend Thai schools. To help these children, a network of makeshift schools called migrant learning centers has sprung up in the north of Thailand along the Thai-Burma border. These schools are seriously under-resourced.
We believe that education is key to helping refugees and migrants reach self-sufficiency and independence. Working with the New Wave Learning Center in Mae Sot, Thailand, Burma Border Projects is empowering the children of Burmese refugees and migrants through English learning classes and general financial support for the school.
English language proficiency is essential for those wishing to do business around the world. Whether working in the tourism industry, international development, or any other field, knowledge of English increases employability, critical thinking skills, and adaptability. With this in mind, BBP has sought to make English language classes an essential component in the curriculum of any school we support.
About New Wave Learning Center
The New Wave Learning Center was created in 2009 as a way to help support migrant and refugee children in the Mae Sot area who have little to no access to educational services. With over 30,000 children in the area, the task of providing them with a basic education has become a massive challenge. Currently, many children in the area are not attending school regularly because of a combination of distance, lack of space in public schools or the fact that their parents would rather have them working, even at abysmally low wages, to help support their families.
Little or no education presents additional threats to these children. Without access to education, children have an increased risk of drug abuse, human trafficking, and forms of exploitation. When considered in the context of migrant and refugee issues in Thailand, lack of education is at the top of the list.
New Wave Learning Center works to address these challenges by providing free education to children of migrant workers living in the Mae Sot area. Today, with the support of Burma Border Projects, the school educates 150 children in K – 8th grades, with 33 boarding students.
Financial Support for New Wave Learning Center
Before children can gain equal access to education, the infrastructure and support system must be in place. Children deserve to have access to a well functioning and supported school. Equally important, staff and teachers deserve to work with honor and dignity. In order to make this all happen, we provide financial support to the New Wave Learning Center in the form of teacher and staff salaries, fresh drinking water, rent for the school, electricity, food for the boarding students along with other resources.
Beyond financial support, we at Burma Border Projects believe that the children and teachers of New Wave Learning Center deserve to have access to clean water and electricity. Access to clean water is essential on many different levels and has an impact that extends beyond the immediate. When clean drinking water is readily available in schools, the occurrence of illness and disease is substantially reduced as are the number and frequency of school absences.
New Wave Learning Center currently provides classes for children in grades K through 8. But the standard curriculum in Burma extends through grade 10. In the near future, we plan to add grades 9 and 10 thereby better preparing our students for working back in their home country. Currently, children in grade 9 must choose to either migrate back Burma to continue their education or remain in Mae Sot where they may not find placement in a high school. Help us achieve this goal by making a donation today or by joining our Teacher Sponsorship program.
English Language Classes for Burmese Children
Our English program focuses not only on English language education but on the practical, real-world application of these skills through cross-cultural interaction. In partnership with the Harrow International School in Bangkok, our English language learners are paired with a pen-pal in another part of the world. These children exchange letters, ideas, and cultural points of view. Through this unique program, not only are Burmese migrant children learning English, but they are forging a connection with the wider world.
Are you an educator, school administrator, or parent and interested in getting your students or children involved in our pen-pal program? Please fill out this form and we will be in touch with you soon!
Parent Teacher Association for New Wave Learning Center
In order to further support the New Wave Learning Center and empower our community of Burmese refugees and migrant workers, we helped establish the New Wave Parent Teacher Association. This PTA performs a wide variety of functions vital to the overall management of the school.
Perhaps even more importantly, this Parent Teacher Association encourages the families of our students to get involved in their children’s education. By creating this PTA, we are able to engage the parents and make sure that everyone in the community understands the value of a good education. This has an impact on everyone: teachers, parents, children, even neighbors, and friends.
Extra Curricular Activities at New Wave Learning Center
Working with the local organization PlayOnside, our students have supervised weekly football trainings, allowing them to learn the value of teamwork, all while improving their physical fitness. Currently, we have three teams eligible to enter a yearly football tournament. This gives children an opportunity to work hard towards a specific goal and feel proud of themselves and their achievements.
To provide children with additional learning opportunities and other programs vital to their development, we work with Right to Play, who offer life skills training and exercises. We also work with the organization Kickstart Art, a unique organization providing art therapy lessons to help our children work through any trauma they may have experienced.
The children at New Wave Learning Center all come from difficult backgrounds and many live without their parents or families. And yet, every day they come to school full of smiles and joy. They teach us perhaps even more than we teach them.
Over the years, Burma Border Projects has run and supported a wide variety of programs in both the mental health and education fields. Here is a brief summary of some of the programs we have run in our work with Burmese Refugees in Thailand.
Mental Health Assessment Project (MHAP) (2010 – 2012)
The MHAP was a collaborative research project led by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, funded by the USAID Victims of Torture Fund and carried out in partnership with Burma Border Projects, the Mae Tao Clinic, Social Action for Women, and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The aim of the research was to improve mental health services to survivors of torture and trauma using evidenced based approaches. Burma Border Projects supported the overall management of the project in Mae Sot through support in administration, finances, and logistics.
Reproductive Health Initiatives (2008 – 2012)
During these four years, BBP worked with a team of researchers, consultants and volunteers on several initiatives to improve overall access to reproductive health services for Burmese migrants. These initiatives focused on both adolescent and adult women.
For adolescent girls and women, the ongoing conflicts in Burma created a lack of knowledge and access to women’s healthcare. We teamed up with other organizations to launch the ARHN Youth Center to provide access to adolescent reproductive health. Read more about this work in our 2010 research report: Protecting Our Future: A Report on Adolescents’ Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices Related to Reproductive Health and Rights on the Thai/Burma Border.
In 2010, BBP’s reproductive health team partnered with Ibis Reproductive Health and the Global Health Access Program to conduct an assessment of unmet reproductive health needs among migrants, displaced persons, and refugees from Burma living in Thailand. You can read the full report here: Separated by borders, united in need: An assessment of reproductive health on the Thailand-Burma border.
Beyond these initiatives, Burma Border Projects has long dedicated itself to improving access to women’s reproductive health services. These initiatives include:
- 2011: BBP began a one year multi-methods project in Mae Sot to address barriers to IUD utilization among post-abortion care clients at Mae Tao Clinic
- 2011: BBP worked with UN Agencies to improve reproductive health services in Mae Hong Son and Tak Provinces.
- A four-year project with Mae Tao Clinic and Mae Sot Hospital to protect undocumented women from unsafe abortion practices.
- BBP initiated program to support local groups working to improve reproductive health along the Thailand – Burma border. From 2008 to 2012 we raised more than $75,000 for community based organizations.
Karen Women’s Organization (KWO)
Beginning in 1999, Burma Border Projects began working with the KWO to finance the construction of a “boarding house” orphanage at the Mae La Camp, the largest refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border. After construction was completed, BBP continued to support the orphanage thanks to funds from the B.K. Kee Foundation. BBP concluded its work with this orphanage in 2008.
Social Action for Women (SAW)
From 2000 to 2008, BBP supported SAW in the operations of its schools along the Thai-Burma Border. With a grant from the Worcester (MA) Rotary Club, we helped SAW construct and begin operations of its first high school.
From 2012 to 2013, BBP supported SAW to strengthen the skills of its Child Crisis Center (CCC) with funding from Children on the Edge (COTE). CCC provides for the basic needs of Burmese children who have been abandoned or whose parents are unable to care for them. The ultimate goal is reintegration, but when this is not possible, CCC is able to house up to 70 children at one time. BBP helped to build staff knowledge about child abuse, trauma, and the skills necessary to work with at-risk children.
One Dream One World
One Dream One World provides education, child care, and support to displaced children in Mae Sot. Since 2008, they have worked to provide educational opportunities to street kids, to improve living standards, health conditions, and educational standards of these children , and to restore and cultivate a healing environment for them, and lastly to prevent these children from being exploited or subjected to human trafficking. BBP was for many years the main source of funding for this initiative.
Youth Connect works with young men and women in Mae Sot to achieve safe, productive, and independent lives through technical training, apprenticeships, and career services. From 2011 to 2013, BBP worked with Youth Connect to develop a life skills curriculum to provide youth with the confidence and emotional capital to build healthy professional and social lives.