Studying in a permanent home

A surprise success, Dear Burma School has been warmly welcomed by migrants

Dear Burma School came into being 10 years ago. On the first day the school opened, classes were conducted in front of Ramkamhaeng University's student club building, where they stayed for several months.

Migrant workers apply an artistic touch to drawings that reflect their feelings about work and life in Thailand and as students of Dear Burma School.

The workers organised the classes themselves although it proved quite a hurdle to draw people at first. Refugees and activists also joined the classes eventually.

Perceptive to the Thai authorities' nervousness at witnessing many foreigners gathering in one place, Myint Wai, who would later be named the school director, discussed with the Thai-Burma Coordinating Committee, which included many organisations on Myanmar affairs, the best way to proceed in organising educational activities.

The Thai-Burma Coordinating Committee later decided the school should move to the Christian Students Centre in Bangkok and Myint Wai took the helm of the school.

The school remained at the centre from February 2003 to May 2005. After May 2005, Myint Wai and the Thai Action Committee for Democracy of Burma made arrangements to have the classes move to nearby Sammachivasilp School, a private institution, next to the Asia Hotel. It has remained there since. The private school is opened to the Myanmar workers on Sunday.

After class is over, the workers clean up the rooms so the school will be spotless for normal classes on Monday.

"We pay the school a token fee just to show our gratitude. The school has helped contribute to the success of the classes for the migrant workers," Myint Wai said.

A similar migrant worker school opened a year ago in Soi Petchaburi 11, not too far from Sammachivasilp School. Sponsored by the International Labour Organisation, it holds classes on Mondays and Wednesdays so those who work on Sundays can take courses.

Dear Burma School is thought to be one of the biggest and oldest schools for Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand. Similar facilities have been set up by non-government organisations in Chiang Mai, Tak and Samut Sakhon's Mahachai district, also known as Little Myanmar for its large population of Myanmar workers.

"I'm pleased with how far we've come. Gradually we have been able to talk about human rights and democracy with the workers who don't have much education. We have helped hone their skills, which will be useful for improving their quality of life," Myint Wai said.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
Position: Senior Reporter