April 2015: Suz and Geoff

From Suz and Geoff of Aussie Friends of Eyes to Burma

April is a pretty hot and humid time of year in Mae Sot and, even though the Thai and Burmese families that live in Mae Sot say it’s hot, they never appear to perspire as much as we ‘farang’ do. I swear there is something wrong with me! It’s so easy to dehydrate and you need to keep up the water. Note to self….

Suz, Aussie Friends of ETB

Community members and Fred delivering water to an ETB tank.

Interestingly though, even the families living on the dump are not immune to dehydration – it’s easy to forget to drink water and before you know it, you’re unwell. It’s something that seems simple, but could end up quite serious, and this is where Eyes to Burma comes in. ETB takes great pride in being a non profit, non religious, humanitarian organisation assisting wherever possible – even with something as simple as dehydration.

Since ETB started over 7 years ago, the Burmese community living here have come a long way. They still hold their traditions and beliefs in high regard, but they’ve taken on some new ideas, balancing them in perspective to how they wish to live.

Suz, Aussie Friends of ETB

One of the homes on Buddha Land, ETB’s rented land next to but away from the landfill.

We’ve seen first hand the difference. From our initial visit three years ago to now, there have been so many positive changes. Families still require assistance, but the help now is different. No longer worried about basic necessities, ETB’s working on the next step. This includes education for children wishing to attend school after Sky Blue, training programmes for those looking to earn a living outside of picking rubbish on the dump, sex and health education, community farming for sustainability and profit; and improving the living conditions for those wishing to stay working on the dump, but not wanting to live on the dump itself.

Once again though, these changes and new programs will not happen overnight, they will take time and they will require the community to come on board and to assist in the facilitation of these changes. Careful management is required however – it can’t be a short term fix, but a long term solution.

CDC students getting school books

ETB’s CDC students going through their new text books.

To date, the education program is going well and it’s the girls especially who are really embracing school and language lessons. The results so far have been inspiring. Some of the kids are able to speak three languages – Burmese, Thai and English. No mean feat. ETB has determined that it costs less than AUD$650 per year to ‘school’ one child who goes to Children’s Development Centre (CDC). This includes the cost of their uniform, shoes, books, transport (including a bike), daily meals, and other education costs. Pretty inexpensive in the scheme of an education, but quite a cost when you take into account the number of children looking to take part. Regardless, it’s important ETB continue to educate as many of the kids as possible.

ETB community center in progress

The new ETB community center in progress. It will double as flood relief if needed during the rainy season.

Fred has negotiated to lease some land adjoining the dump and this land has been earmarked for a new community centre, playing field, vegetable and herb gardens (for community sustainability and profit), and space for families to live (if they wish to). It’s a fabulous space with a water body along one side – perfect for watering, and some of the gardens are looking fantastic. The only challenge for this land will be during the rainy season. The water will rise and the land (and one access point) will become flooded and, quite possibly, impassable. Fred is working with the community in an attempt to minimise this as much as possible, but only time will tell. At the end of the day though, this new space is a definite move in the right direction, especially from a ‘bringing the community together’ perspective.

Another major step forward is that many of the families are now in the position of being able to purchase (subsidised) products including rice, batteries, headlights, knives, ice etc. The self sustainability vision shines through here and it’s great to see. No longer is ETB having to 100% fund these items, thus freeing up dollars to put towards other initiatives such as education and health.

Community member, and ETB staff person, Nwe Win braiding Suz's hair.

Community member, and ETB staff person, Nwe Win braiding Suz’s hair.

Without question, the organisation is here purely to help. It doesn’t impose its beliefs or will onto the families living on the Mae Sot dump, it doesn’t provide aid with a caveat, it’s just there to provide support wherever and whenever it is needed.

Although we only had a few days this visit, the difference is astounding. It’s difficult to clearly articulate just how much has been achieved, but without a doubt the donations that the ETB supporters provide have, and will continue to have, a massive impact. From 2012 (our first visit) to now, we cannot believe just how far this community has come. It is extraordinary, inspiring and truly wonderful to see and we cannot thank the supporters enough, especially our Aussie Friends. Your ongoing support is immeasurable.

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