Since the last report, things here have continued to occur at a crazy pace, due to the fact that I received some unexpected extra help. Rather than a day-to-day account of what has happened I will give an overall summary of the events that have taken place.
Soon after the last report, I met fourteen young artists who had come into Mae Sot from various locations (New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia) to paint schools. Two videographers were with the group to document their work. They were an enjoyable group of young people with good attitudes, and they ended up spending more time with me than they did on their original project. The brief partnership came about through conversations whereby I agreed to help them achieve their objectives in return for four bags of rice (which was a great help).
A few days later I met a very nice couple that now lives in California. They are both professors, he formerly of Burma and she of Indonesia. Initial contact was made due to the fact they are staying in the same guesthouse as I am. Through conversations regarding the money that is wasted in large organizations, we realized we had similar thoughts on the matter, and I took them for a visit to the dump. He is a very compassionate man who really wanted to help; within a few days, he decided to donate money to Eyes to Burma which he had originally intended for one of the larger groups in Mae Sot. He provided the funds to buy 200 pairs of boots and 100 baby outfits. When he left, all the items he no longer needed (e.g., old clothes and shoes) were given to me to use rather than throw them away (as many people would do).
In the same week, a friend of mine in Chiang Mai met a friend of his who was looking to make a donation in Thailand. He mentioned my name and the friend was interested, so they took a bus to Mae Sot. We had a good meeting and I took them to the dump to show them what was happening. He commented that he had found the right place to be. He did have some preconceived ideas as to how the money should be used, namely for blankets. However, after seeing the situation first-hand, he was kind enough to give me the freedom to use the money as I saw fit to meet the needs of the people. He was confident that it would be used effectively once he saw the situation himself. Although the extra help was time consuming it has been very good due to the extra finance and being able to do more. I am now supplying both oranges and tools on a regular basis.
Also during this period I had to deal with about thirty cases requiring first aid. These included various cuts, eye and ear problems, and fevers. As you know, I have set up an emergency phone system. As a result of this, I got a call at 2:00 am to say that a pregnant woman was about to deliver; I have had three other calls at odd hours to do emergency runs. I feel this is a major step forward, as the people at the dump now have a system to call for help when it is most needed, regardless of the hour.
Song’s house was hit by a fallen tree and sustained a lot of damage. We agreed to rebuild the house and bought all the materials locally in the jungle.
It was an exciting trip into the jungle to meet the people who live in the middle of nowhere and produce the roofing slats. It’s not unusual for things to take longer than expected, but after five days we got all the material and labor and the house is now finished.
The enormous benefit of actually being here on a regular basis, as opposed to coming and going as some organizations do, has been invaluable in building the relationships with the people and gaining their trust and confidence. I know I talk about this a lot, but the value of trust cannot be underestimated. For instance, a family that works and lives on the dump, which generally keeps to itself, came to me with a problem. Moy, my interpreter, and I were taken to the family’s hut where I was presented with two little girls. After some discussion, we were told that the two little girls had just been brought from Burma by a monk, because their mother had died and the father is in the Burmese army. He is a drinker and, by all accounts, not a very nice person. The monk brought them to this family in the hope of keeping them safe. The bottom line is that the family needs a little bit of extra help in order to support these two little girls. So I am supplying them with clothing and a little extra food. Although their future is grim, I will spend more time with them and hopefully, in the near future, may come up with a better solution for them.
Song and I have become friends again – she is still a bit of a pain, being a teenager. I wanted to give her a bit of a treat, so I told her to choose a few friends to take to the Mae Sot Saturday market. I arrived at the dump at 5 o’clock to collect her and her friends for the twenty minute journey to the market. It turned out to be seven kids and four women, one of which was a mum. This is something they never get to do. Once we got to the market, I cut them loose – you have never seen so much laughter and excitement in your life.
When Burmese are happy they sing, and on the way back to the dump there was lots of singing. A few days later, one of the girls I thought would have been on the trip, but wasn’t, came up to me looking very left out. I told her that the following week I would take her and some of her friends to the Saturday market. Every day, for the next six days, she tracked me down in the dump to tell me not to forget my promise. I showed up at 5 o’clock the following Saturday to be greeted by sixteen kids all washed, polished and ready to go! They looked great. On the way to the market there was lots of singing and excitement, as there was on the way back. It looks like I now have a standing 5 o’clock appointment. It’s one thing giving the necessities of food and medicine, but this was really enjoyable to see them actually having some fun.
I had to get the front end of the truck re-built; the roads here are so bad that it has taken quite a beating. The good thing about Thailand is that it is not too expensive. I will be pursuing the family planning clinic this next month.
Regarding the well, the water is a little worse now as it always is after the rainy season. Due to a reduction in the population of the garbage dump (which is now around 250) and the fact that we have put in extra water tanks, I personally think it would be a waste of money to put in a well at this time, and will not necessarily solve the problem of clean drinking water. If the situation changes I will re-evaluate the need.
As the seasons change here, so do the needs of the people on the dump. It is supposedly the cool season now, although you would not think so, and when the mosquitoes come I will be looking at providing mosquito nets and working on hygiene issues. The goal here will be to try to reduce levels of sickness, especially among the young and the old. The care of the elderly is a problem here as most groups and people are generally orientated towards the children, leaving the elderly forgotten.
There is so much more happening on a daily basis that there are times when I wish you could be here to see it, in order to see how the support you are giving me is really making a difference. The setting up of the non-profit and the board of directors has given me so much support. This support is so important since it has also given me credibility by providing evidence on the website to show visitors the extent of what is going on, and how other people are involved in helping. In addition, I am grateful for all the donations, both in the form of money and time. Without all of this I would be unable to offer the degree of help that I am currently providing. And on a personal level, it’s great to know that I have all of this support behind me.
It has been great to have all this extra help over a short period of time, but we do not know when the next help will come our way. This is the time people tend to visit Mae Sot as the weather is better – I’ll be lucky if I see anyone in the rainy season. I’m already keeping a careful eye on the money available.
Someone told me it was Christmas a few days ago – so Happy Christmas!
Thinking of you all,