Happy Birthday, Fred!

Happy 70th Birthday to Fred on October 31st

Halloween theme 70th birthday cake in two tiers

Image found online ~ Thank you to this cake’s unknown maker.  We tried to find who to give credit to. It was the perfect image!



Fred Stockwell is ETB’s founder who works tirelessly on-the-ground in Mae Sot with the community at the dump.

Join us in making $70 donations to ETB on Halloween for Fred’s 70th birthday!

Click here to donate online 

or

mail a check to

Eyes to Burma
709 Washington Street
Ashland, OR 97520

(Checks payable to Eyes to Burma)

 


Share Your Birthday Wishes with Fred

If you can, share your birthday wishes with Fred.

It would be so great to share your thoughts and love with him on or around his birthday, October 31st.

You can send a ‘Happy Birthday’ or a quick message several ways:

Leave a Reply below on this blog post

Email Fred at fredstockwell(at)hotmail.com or eyestoburma(at)gmail.com

Post a comment on the birthday message to Fred on Facebook

fredbirthday

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Posted in Events, Mae Sot Volunteers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

ETB Love Day Update!

On September 28, 2014, Eyes to Burma supporters from around the world shared in a day of  giving and celebration in support of the Burmese refugees who live and work at the Mae Sot Dump in Thailand. Here’s how it went!

Ashland Benefit & Celebration

Once again, the generosity of Ashlanders was manifest at our annual fundraiser held at Grizzly Peak Winery on September 28th.

Eyes to Burma Benefit & Celebration

To begin with, thanks go to Virginia and Al Silbowitz for welcoming us to use their beautiful venue for our event. And Jeff Golden and musicians Kevin Carr and Josie Mendelsohn who donated their time and expertise to make this one of our most successful fundraisers.

In fact, we raised $8,456 (!) which puts us well on the way to our goal of raising $25,000 for this coming year so that Fred can continue his good work at the Mae Sot dump. 

We are deeply grateful to all those who attended our benefit and celebration on Sunday
and so generously donated to this most worthwhile cause.

For those who missed the event, here is the video update on ETB’s Education Projects
that we presented at the benefit:

 

 Eyes to Burma Love Day Around the Globe

This was our first year to have a day of celebration that anyone could participate in
at whatever level she or he was able to, wherever she or he resides.

We are so happy with the results.

Here’s what some of our Global Supporters did to support ETB on the inaugural Love Day:

Megan Suz Geoff Aussie Friends of Eyes to Burma posted a video on their Facebook page with a slideshow featuring photos and video put together by three of the group’s founders who volunteered in Mae Sot earlier this year. Way to go Suz, Meg, and Geoff! That final song at the end of the video is so touching: “So put love in your heart / Open up your mind / And I know you will find / Yes, we are shades of the same color / We are shades of the same color” ~ song by Chris Murray, “Shades of the Same Color”

 

Jacques MaudyPhotographer Jacques Maudy shared his story and photographs from his trip to visit Fred in Mae Sot in 2013. Thank you, Jacques! Also, one of Jacques’ photographs was purchased at the Ashland Benefit! Thank you to Jacques for giving us permission to print and sell a few of your amazing images of life at the dump, and thank you to the supporter who purchased the framed image.

GivingWe had many in-person and online donations made throughout the day from supporters in Ashland and around the world. We’ll keep you updated about those results. Thank you to the donors! Even $5 makes a difference.

 

Helping handsNigel and Diane of Perth, Australia, held a house party and were continuing to raise funds for ETB. Their goal is to raise $5,000 by the end of October when they will travel to Mae Sot to work with Fred and the community. They were at $2,300 last we checked in with them. We wish them the best of luck and will help them get the word out about their efforts.

 

facebook imageThere were 16 people who joined our ETB Love Day event page. People who joined the group come from a range of locations, including Oregon, Australia, Thaliand, and South Africa.

 

Ashland Benefit continued…

Many thanks to the individuals and businesses that made the Ashland benefit possible:

Thank you, everyone, for taking part!

Posted in Events | Leave a comment

Amazing Raffle and Auction Items at Ashland Benefit

Giving

Come to the Eyes to Burma Benefit & Celebration in Ashland this Sunday, September 28, from 1:00 – 4:00 pm at Grizzly Peak Winery: You are in for a major treat!

Thanks to the amazing generosity of many individuals and local businesses (and the hard work of our two new Ashland volunteers, Dennis and Fuchsia) there are some incredible prizes to win in a raffle as well as in a live auction at the event Sunday.

Eyes to Burma Benefit & Celebration
Sunday, September 28, from 1:00 – 4:00 pm
@ Grizzly Peak Winery, 1600 E Nevada Street, Ashland, OR

$25 general admission, $10 students, free for ages 15 and under
Tickets available at the door or in advance at Paddington Station and Music Coop.

Check out the items below:

RAFFLE

Each raffle ticket is $1 and all raffle costs
are tax-deductible donations to ETB  ~ Better stock up!

AUCTION

 Check out the amazing items and offerings that will be auctioned at the event:

chanticleerinn

Oregon_Shakespeare_Festival_Tickets

 Two Nights for the Price of One and Cook Book from Chanticleer Inn
+ $100 Gift Certificate from OSF
Starting at $150

 

JQLimage

Framed Giclee Print “From the Sacred” (16 x 20 in) by Jhenna Quinn Lewis
Starting at $200

AuctionRezek2

Paella Dinner in the Vineyard for 8 at Ron Rezek’s and Janet Eastman’s home
Starting at $250

kerry kencairn

Four hours of design/planning from Kencairn Landscape Architecture 
(See full description of services here)
Starting at $250

Questions? Email eyestoburma@gmail.com

etb


Thank you donors!

And thank you to those who will be joining us to celebrate and support the vital works of Eyes to Burma,
a 501(c)(3) non-profit,
dedicated to assisting the Burmese refugees to live and work at a garbage dump in Mae Sot, Thailand

Posted in Events | Leave a comment

Eyes to Burma Love Day & Ashland Benefit and Celebration

Dear friends and supporters!

Put it in your calendars: Sunday, September 28, 2014

ETB Benefit and Celebration on September 28, 1 – 4 pm
@ Grizzly Peak Winery, Ashland, OR

Eyes to Burma Love Day, September 28, all day
@ wherever you reside

Grizzly Peak event 2013

ETB founder Fred Stockwell and Jeff Golden during a Q&A at last year’s fundraiser. This year Fred is remaining in Mae Sot to keep ETB’s projects going uninterrupted. We will have current video updates from him to share with everyone!

We are approaching our annual Eyes to Burma fall fundraiser in Ashland, Oregon. If you are in the area, we would love to see you at the event at Grizzly Peak Winery. General admission is $25, student tickets are $10, and children ages 15 and younger are free. There will be live music, a Thai food truck, wine, tea/snacks, a raffle with amazing prizes, and video updates from ETB founder Fred Stockwell, moderated by Jeff Golden of Immense Possibilities.

Tickets are available in advance at The Music Coop and Paddington Station in Ashland or at the door.

If you aren’t able to make it to the benefit, we hope you will take part in Eyes to Burma Love Day.

We have supporters in 18 countries around the world, including the US, and we want to invite all of you to join together with us for a day of celebration and giving on Sunday, September 28, 2014.

GivingOur goal is to raise $25,000 to fund the upcoming year’s projects in Mae Sot: continuing to provide the dump community with clean water and first aid, as well as supplemental food, clothing, housing materials and work tools. Education has been made a priority this past year, and many children are attending English, computer and music classes at the dump. Additionally, ETB sponsors six children to attend the Children’s Development Centre (CDC) in Mae Sot, and ETB founder Fred Stockwell is working to get six new students enrolled at CDC in the next school year.

To reach our goals, we want to share ETB with as many people as possible, and we need your help to do it. Attached is a digital packet that enables you to share the many accomplishments of Eyes to Burma with family and friends. Several of our supporters have shown these videos at house parties, and we encourage you to consider hosting a house party as a way of spreading the word about our work.

If someone wishes to donate to our non-profit organization, they can easily do so through our website: www.eyestoburma.org/donate

For those who decide to host a house party, we would very much appreciate hearing about it. With your permission we could then share your story and photos on our website and Facebook page.

If you do not host a house party, consider taking a moment on September 28th to support the hard-working men, women, and children at the Mae Sot Dump in other ways: with positive thoughts, sharing ETB news, posting our videos below on your social media pages, volunteering, or donating. Even donations of $5 make a difference!

You can of course support ETB and share its news at any time, but we hope you’ll also join us in our global celebration Eyes to Burma Love Day, September 28, 2014.

Here is a digital packet of videos and information to share:

etb

1) Downloadable/Printable info sheet with brief description of ETB with photos

(Here is a JPG copy ~ click the link then right click image and save for easy sharing in emails and social media)

2) Nomad Films short doc “Living on Landfill” by Helen Newman:

Click here if video does not load

3) “The World is Our Community” segment from Immense Possibilities:

Click here if the video does not load

4) “The World Is Still Our Community” segment from Immense Possibilities:

Click here if the video does not load

5) In-depth Q&A with Fred Stockwell by Dennis Remick:

Click here if the video does not load

Thank you in advance for all you do to support ETB’s work
for the hard-working Burmese refugee community at the Mae Sot dump.

Sincerely,
The Board of Directors, Eyes to Burma

Questions? Email eyestoburma@gmail.com
Like us on Facebook for current updates!

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Rock Band at the Dump in December 2013

Many thanks to volunteers Cal and Jack for helping Fred get this news typed up back in February 2014.

From Fred:

I departed Ashland, Oregon, [October 2013], and returned to the Mae Sot dump. After only a week of being back, I noticed there was a lot of disharmony in the community, which occasionally happens. It’s not an easy life for these people, as they have a lot to put up with. I felt like I wanted to do something to bring the community back together as a whole. One of the best things we could do was to set up a party.

RG003Setting up for the party is a huge effort, and requires the whole community to get involved and working together to find pots, pans, table and chairs which come from the monastery, school, and all over the place. Back in town there’s a local Burmese rock band. The owner was an acquaintance of mine, so I asked him if he was willing to put on a gig at the dump.

He was happy to put on a show, and made plans to arrive and set up at the dump. That Saturday they arrived with two trucks with their equipment- speakers, lights, seven piece band, the works. The band was extremely professional and eager to set up and get to work. By 5:30pm they were set up, and ready to go.

Joe and his band

Joe and his band

After about 30 minutes of playing, the crowd was still quite small, but people were slowly trickling in. People were standing around, watching and looking, but didn’t seem to grasp what was happening. Then I realized, as I’ve seen before, because this has never happened, no one knew how to respond to their performance.

RG006

Fortunately after about an hour, the sun went down, the lights were flashing, and people really started to get into and enjoy the rock band. By the end of the night everyone was dancing and having a blast. Weeks after their performance, the community were still discussing the night. It was clear that the event was a big hit, and was successful at bringing the community together.

Nowadays people continue to ask me when the next performance will be.

LATEST NEWS
Joe now teaches community music and computer lessons at the dump!
Click here to watch the Music Project story.

Posted in Fred's Letters, Mae Sot Volunteers | Leave a comment

Article About Burmese Women Refugees (And How You Can Help)

We recently saw this great article highlighting issues faced by Burmese Women Refugees. The article gives a good overview and context for the harsh realities of being a female refugee, and links you to humanitarian aid organizations, including Eyes to Burma. We see these issues at the dump and do as much as we can to help with any problems and emergencies that arise.

For the full article with links, visit Epicure and Culture’s website here:  epicureandculture.com/burmese-women-refugees/

The Plight of Burmese Women Refugees (And How You Can Help)

By Mariana Ruiz

Photo courtesy of Steven Evans via Epicure & Culture

Photo courtesy of Steven Evans via Epicure & Culture

Imagine a life as a victim of gender based violence and discrimination where you are living in constant fear. With a military regime that uses sexual violence against women as a weapon of war this way of life is an all too familiar reality for Burmese women refugees. To the soldiers it seems women are seen purely as entertainment. Some are openly kept as sex slaves or impregnated and left behind with no support, often suffering from pre and postnatal complications. Acts of rape, abuse, torture, and human trafficking are all a reality for those who are trying to seek a safe haven from a distressed home in neighboring countries.

Assessing The Situation

Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, has an estimated population of 57.6 million people and is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Southeast Asia. According to Irin News, over half the population are Burmese with the rest being made up of Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Chinese, Chin, Akha, Danu, Kachin, Kokang, Lahu, Naga, Palaung, Pao, Rohingya, Yavoyan, and Wa people. While they battle against a brutal military regime, internal conflict between many of the ethnic groups also keeps the people of Burma from the unification they seek. Issues such as power struggles and tension over the resources — including gold, gems and timber — and an overall distrust are at hand. Each group wants to protect their individual languages, customs, culture and natural resources that make up their national identity.

The military has ruled the country since 1962 and seems to think that an oppressed, sick, and uneducated citizenry poses less threat to their power. Since 1988 the military has doubled in size and currently consumes almost half of the annual budget—all while spending less than $1 per citizen a year on necessities such as health care. For example, the patients pay for more than 90% of health expenditures making healthcare an unavailable option for the majority of the poverty stricken population.

An article written by Reportage stated that education has also been left neglected due to corruption and low teaching salaries. Though the regime has built a number of universities they don’t allocate nearly enough funds to keep them operating. In order to deflect from this the government provides educational degrees of suspicious quality, which in turn raises the country’s educational statistics. Therefore, it is not uncommon for a taxi driver to have a master’s degree in subjects such as philosophy or law.

Faulty economic policies have resulted in a massive double-digit inflation that leaves little to nothing for the people’s wages and salaries. An average Burmese lives on less than a dollar per day and the minimum wage is worth almost 10 times less than it was 20 years ago. The country has gone from being one of the richest in the region to one of the world’s most impoverished, all while the military exploits the country’s riches.

As with every ethnic conflict civilians become the targets of the monstrosities committed. As Sheena Kumari explains in depth with her article for Women In Security, unfortunately women tend to suffer greatly as they are not only oppressed due to their ethnicity, but gender as well. Women are extremely vulnerable and subject to countless violations of their basic rights, ranging from the widespread use of rape as a strategy of ethnic cleansing, to the denial of their economic, social and cultural rights, to the obligation to serve as porters for the army and forced laborers for infrastructural projects. Many have fled from Myanmar to escape ethnic civil war, ethnic isolation and discrimination, severe human rights abuse, ruthless military regime, religious and political discrimination, and lack of educational and employment opportunities. In short these women, many of whom are widows and single mothers, all flee in search of a better life.

Seeking Safety

Photo courtesy of Mikhail Esteves via Epicure & Culture

Photo courtesy of Mikhail Esteves via Epicure & Culture

Refugees seek asylum in neighboring countries such as India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia. Thailand is said to be home to upwards of two million refugees and migrants; Bangladesh, a country struggling with its own poverty issues, is also home to almost a million Burmese; however, the safety they seek is often not found in these neighboring countries, as the refugees are forced further into poor living conditions and poverty. The women, who are often also supporting a family, struggle to receive basic necessities such as food and shelter.

According to Cultural Survivor, due to extreme poverty in the countries they have fled to refugees are unable to use public health and legal services. They also seldom report any of the assaults or acts of discrimination for fear of being shamed. Even those that do have the courage to report to the local police rarely have their cases registered and are often pressured to drop prosecution in exchange for a small amount of money.

Refworld has touched on the fact that treatment from locals and government is also far from fair. Even though the Burmese women have come to escape the aforementioned brutality in their home country they still face a similar situation where they are seeking refuge. Sexual and physical abuse, exploitation from locals, being underpaid or not paid at all and forced to work in extremely unsafe conditions is a common occurrence.

What Is Being Done?

Information sourced from Reportage has said that the harsh reality is the surrounding countries the Burmese women migrate to often ignore the conditions the refugees are thrown into. The policymakers, who often neglect the basic needs of their own people, give little consideration to the rights and needs of the foreign victims, elevating the risk of further human rights abuse.

Policymakers often try to force repatriation to the country of origin since voluntary return isn’t common. The problem with this is that repatriation into the refugee’s home country isn’t a safe option and many often return a second or third time seeking refuge. By returning the women are swept into a repetitive cycle of violence and exploitation. Many times, this cycle leaves them in greater debt and in an even more vulnerable position to corrupt practices.

Integration into asylum countries and resettlement are the most viable option in these cases. Though even settlement into asylum countries is a difficult task as discussed. Thankfully, more developed countries such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have begun offering a safer place for the refugees. There are high hopes that resettlement will lead to a better life full of opportunity for the Burmese, however, at this point in time it is seemingly a waiting game for all.

How To Get Involved

The Open Society Foundation has listed the following as the best ways the general public can get involved are:

• Contribute funds to support women’s organizations that are working towards justice against the violence in Burma. • Stay informed and spread the word! This is where the power of social media can come in handy. The UN and international government leaders from both NGOs and INGOs all have a web presence so get in touch.

If you would like to get involved here are a few great places throughout to either donate or volunteer with:

• The Burma Refugee Family Network is always looking for volunteers to help with things like social media, grant writing, and fundraising. Take a look at their website to find out how to lend a helping hand.

• Eyes To Burma is a small non-profit organization providing daily assistance to Burmese refugees. For more information see their donation page or read more about how to get involved with them.

• Thai Freedom House is a non-government, non-profit community language and arts learning center based in Northern Thailand. They’re committed to assisting families and individuals who are refugees from Burma and Indigenous Thailand. They offer on-site learning centers, off-site projects, and community education. Read more about how to get involved with them here.

• Projects To Support Refugees From Burma, or PSRB, is based in the UK and been taking on projects to support Burmese refugees for the past 16 years. They have done everything from building schools to creating self-help groups. They also make annual donations to similar organizations helping refugees. To make a donation please see their donation’s page.

Have you participated in a project that aids Burmese women? Please share in the comments below.

By Mariana Ruiz
Mariana Ruiz is a free spirited Midwestern girl currently living out her dreams of slowly traveling the world starting in beautiful Australia. Through her writing Mariana hopes to be able to share her travel experiences, inspire others to enjoy life, and show them they aren’t the only ones thinking those crazy thoughts. Check out more of her work via her her website or connect through Twitter or Email.

See the full article online here: epicureandculture.com/burmese-women-refugees/

 

Posted in Burma Related News | 1 Comment

April 2014: Aussie Friends Part Three

From Suzanne, Megan, and Geoff:

Well it’s our final day in Mae Sot and we’re wishing now we had the opportunity to stay longer. The more time we spend here, the more we feel like a part of this community. The only thing that could make it better would be a pool to throw ourselves in at the end of the day!

Songkran is due to start on Sunday, so Saturday is the last opportunity we are going to have to spend time with the community and do any extra shopping. We’ve already purchased 100 watermelons for around $30, cookies as treats for the kids during Songkran, more batteries, headlamps, boots, so much food, medicine etc, so Fred’s stockpile is looking pretty good. Although we’ve spent a lot whilst we were here, we’re leaving more than three quarters of our donated money with Fred for use in the near future.

megsuzannegeofflastday

The AFoETB family has been a huge support – we’re just the ones delivering what everyone else has contributed to – and we’d like to sincerely thank our AFoETB family for contributing a massive $4,200 in money and 80kgs in clothing. Without them, none of what we brought over would be possible, and Fred was truly overwhelmed and appreciative that the Aussie chapter of the ETB family is on board and also understands what ETB is trying to achieve.

We started the day with needing to fix the taps on a water tank – so Geoff came in very handy. Megan and Suz spent this time at the on-site medical centre dressing wounds, providing paracetamol and assisting wherever we could – luckily enough Atun, ETB’s interpreter, made it so much easier to assess the issues and provide correct medication. The main problem at the moment is heat – people are dehydrating so quickly. Sometimes they forget to drink water to stay hydrated as they work – it’s just that time of year.

When everyone returned to the community centre, we were so privileged to enjoy some traditional Burmese food made by the ladies of the community. This offering is traditionally served around Songkran and is called Mote Lone Yaw Paw – a rice flour based ball rolled in coconut, stuffed with sugar or peanuts, or in Megan’s case, chilli – which was hysterical to watch. Megan is usually pretty good with spicy food, but it appears that a whole chilli inside a rice ball is pretty much over her limit. We’ve never seen someone move so quickly, running around with her mouth open trying to dissipate the heat. The whole community was crying with laughter – so good to see the ‘farang’ can make an impression!

As a special treat, Fred provided an opportunity for the kids who have been taking English lessons to take a trip into Mae Sot to have lunch together. This really was a treat, not only for the kids, but for us as well. The kids all raced home to clean themselves up and put on beautiful clothes – this opportunity does not come along every day. We were going to head to a restaurant that welcomes Burmese children, but unfortunately (or fortunately in this case) it was closed. After much discussion (between the kids) it was decided to go to Tesco Lotus – the main shopping centre in Mae Sot. Bear in mind, only 2 of the kids had been to this centre previously, so this was a very big deal to the other kids.

Arriving at Tesco, we were very quickly schooled in the fact that these kids are still learning. None of them have street skills – they’re so used to just running around, they don’t know to look for traffic. This brought about the first lesson in looking both ways – and the kids picked it up straight away. The looks on their faces as we walked into Tesco was priceless, as was the looks on the faces of the Thai/Burmese people in Tesco when we walked in. Farangs and a group of Burmese kids together – apparently not a sight you see in town every day. There were a lot of stares, but as Mae Sot is not a tourist town, guess we can understand that the ‘farangs’ stood out. The kids were fantastic. Although they don’t get this opportunity very often, they were so polite and appreciative; and they were by far the best behaved kids at the centre.

megsuzannegeofflastday2

After a beautiful lunch – which the kids all ordered for themselves, Geoff purchased some tokens for them to use on the games – oh wow – the absolute joy on their faces just said it all! They were beside themselves, laughing, sharing and having such a good time. This is what it’s all about They’ve worked so hard going to school during the week and learning English on weekends –this was their extra special reward.

So many other kids want to do this program, but unfortunately at the moment, finding the right teachers to undertake the lessons is the challenge Fred faces. It’s important to have the right people on board, people that understand the culture and understand the kids. Knowledge Zone, where the classes are held on Saturday and Sunday mornings, is going really well; but is at capacity, and the private teacher Fred has engaged for Saturday and Sunday afternoon lessons is fantastic; but she can only take a maximum of 7 students at any one time (again, at capacity). Fred is working hard to find more teachers so that more students can get on this program, so hopefully in the next few months, the numbers will increase.

megsuzannegeofflastday3

Heading back to the dump was the last opportunity this trip to catch up with the families living and working here. Songkran is about to commence, so everyone is in a pretty relaxed and happy mood. The next few days will be filled with laughter and joy, but after that comes preparations for the rainy season. After 7 years, Fred and the ETB community are well aware of what lies ahead. Although you can prepare as much as possible, there will always be unforeseen challenges arise. Picking gets harder because of the weather, illness is more prevalent and it’s difficult to get to the kids to school without them ending up drenched. These are just some of the things that Fred and ETB continue to face, but he does work tirelessly each and every day to make sure that these families are given every opportunity to make a life and a living. It’s not easy, there are the heartbreaking times, and this community is no different to any other community anywhere in the world – people fall ill and no amount of help can save them, there are still domestic and social issues to contend with and there are the have and have nots.

Fred and ETB know this is not a short term fix, it’s a long term journey, but one that we are already seeing the benefits of. We have no doubt that over the coming years, this community will stand alone and be a model for other communities in the same situation. What’s important to remember is that the people living on the dump aren’t second class citizens, they’re people just like us. Everyone deserves the opportunity to make a life for themselves and this community is doing just that – being empowered – just with the help of Fred and ETB.

We take our collective hats off to Fred. Without him, this community wouldn’t be in the position it’s currently in today, but with him, the opportunities are endless. It does come with its challenges, but the rewards speak for themselves.

We look forward to returning again soon.

See more photos on Aussie Friends of Eyes to Burma’s Facebook page

Connect with Eyes to Burma on Facebook!

Posted in Mae Sot Volunteers | Leave a comment

April 2014: Aussie Friends Part Two

More news from Suzanne, Megan and Geoff of Aussie Friends of Eyes to Burma:

An afternoon of organised chaos is the best way to describe the flurry of hands, chatter & smiles as the donated clothing was brought out for the community to share around. It’s been an enlightening time for us, not only have we discovered in a community living on a dump there is still the ‘have’ and ‘have not’ element, the community decided that it didn’t want to just ‘accept’ the donated clothing, they wanted the opportunity to pay something (for those that could afford it) with the money raised going directly to providing food for the kids.

We were blown away, the community was working together to ensure that those people who could afford to pay; paid something, but those that weren’t in a position to do so were still taken care of. And it didn’t take long– the 80kgs of clothing vanished in the blink of an eye! This community doesn’t want charity forever, they want to ultimately be able to support and create a future for themselves and their families. As in our earlier upload, this community is changing so much, there is still so much to do and such a long way to go, but the efforts of Fred and the ETB team are starting to pay off – the programs are starting to achieve results and it’s becoming more self sustainable – which is the ultimate goal!

Aussie Friends of ETB

Friday started off busy – and with the heat kicking in, intense traffic on the roads due to Songkran starting soon & so much to do, we knew it was going to be a long day… Between clinic runs and shopping for the community, we caught up with the family of 7 that moved from the dump a couple of years ago & they’re doing so well! Even in the Mae Sot heat the kids were running around & excited to see Fred – maybe it was just because he was bearing icecreams….ha ha ha… The eldest daughter is learning English & her language skills have come such a long way since last year – she’s growing up so fast!! We really love catching up with them & they are at the very heart of why we keep doing what we can to assist. The support Eyes to Burma provides gives those families who wish to be independent the confidence to take control of their own destiny, but with help if and when they need it.

Friday night saw us at the Burmese night market with a few of the adults and a number of the children. Night market is huge in the Burmese community – the sights, the sounds – it’s a remarkable place and the ‘farang’ definitely stood out. Given it was close to Songkran, we decided to treat the kids and provide them with some money to purchase something for themselves. These kids never cease to amaze us, the majority, rather than buy something for themselves, purchased food and clothing for their families. Family is important to these kids. Not all of them have strong family support on the dump, but even so, they would still prefer to spend money purchasing extra food for the family rather than spend money on themselves. Just amazing to see.

The kids make us smile all the time. They’re always wary of newcomers at first, but once they get to know you, they just love spending time with you. Being able to have a conversation with them also makes it so much more fun – we were teaching them words in English and they were teaching us words in Burmese – we know who was better at that don’t we – I think we now know two Burmese words that we can actually remember!!

Another thing we found so heartwarming is that there are some young orphaned kids living on the dump site that have been taken in by other families. Bear in mind, it’s hard enough to make ends meet with your own kids, but these families are prepared to take in other children to ensure that they are fed, clothed, educated and have a roof over their heads. It’s the generous nature of the people within this community that makes it all worthwhile.

Again, there’s still a way to go, but it’s heartening to see that progress is being made. With the assistance of Fred and ETB, this community is starting to make inroads, take responsibility, be educated and assimilate into the broader Mae Sot community. It truly is an exciting time.

That’s it for today, will update again soon!

Posted in Mae Sot Volunteers | Leave a comment

January 2014: Project Heart Work and Spark! Circus

Project Heart Work assists and supports small independently-run programs like Eyes to Burma by providing the means to help them fully reach their potential. They are an early and long-time supporter of ETB. They raise funds, buy goods, and deliver them to the dump several times a year.

Project Heart Work

In January 2014, members of the Project Heart Work team, including founder Jen and her mother Wendy, worked with Fred helping with first aid and doing other necessary tasks for the community. They donated two months’ worth of fish and rice, cooking oil, soap, medicine, and other important goods, including special mosquito nets for all 100 houses! They also bought cleaning supplies and plastic sheeting for the community from local stores and merchants.

In March, Project Heart Work made another donation, which has been incredibly helpful.

Spark Circus at the Mae Sot DumpSpark! Circus also received assistance from Project Heart Work, and the volunteer circus performers were able to visit the dump in January to share some joy and silliness with everyone.

Spark! Circus has been coming to Mae Sot for the last few years. The organization is made up of volunteers from all over the world, who are circus performers, street performers, and fire dancers, led by their director and ringmaster Andrea Russell. Spark Circus puts on multiple performances throughout Thailand, and Project Heart Work helps to provide funding for transportation costs. Last year they approached Fred about putting on a fire show at the garbage dump. It was incredibly successful and they said it was the most engaged audience they had ever had.

This year they came back and put on two performances. The first was the morning of Saturday, January 25th, for about two hours. The performance was for smaller children, and included hula-hoops, juggling, music, and dancing. The performance got all of the children to participate. They were all laughing and excited. Fred had never seen them have so much fun. Additionally, ETB supplied all the kids with fresh fruit, oranges, and watermelons.


In the evening the troupe returned for fire dancing which which brought out the whole community, over 300 people. Once again, the performance was incredibly successful, and everyone had a great time. A big thanks to Project Heart Work and Spark! Circus, hopefully you will return once again next year!

If you’re interested in learning more about Project Heart Work, or Spark! Circus, check out the links below:

Project Heart Work:
https://www.facebook.com/ProjectHeartWork

Spark! Circus:
https://www.facebook.com/sparkcircus

 

 

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April 2014: Aussie Friends in Mae Sot

Aussie Friends of ETB in Mae SotThe founders of Aussie Friends of ETB, Megan, Suzanne & Geoff, are currently in Mae Sot spending time with Fred and the community we serve. Read their first update below. Like Eyes to Burma on Facebook and also follow our blog to get the most current updates as they are posted:

Typical is not a word we’d use to describe a day in the life of Fred – no two days are the same. From morning until night – sometimes until very late at night – Fred works tirelessly with the Burmese community living on the dump near Mae Sot. We are so privileged to be able to spend time getting to know more about what Fred & Eyes to Burma do here – and it is a privilege. This is not a circus or a sideshow – this is real life – and the people living here are just like anyone else – trying to make ends meet. We arrived here on Tuesday & pretty much hit the ground running. Fred showed us around again & brought us up to speed with where things were at. So much has happened since our last visit – and all for the better. Change is happening & although at times change is met with resistance, ultimately the community embrace these changes realising that they are positive & only serve to empower them moving forward. Some of the kids are now attending school & 16 of these kids are also learning English. You can imagine our surprise & excitement when we discovered that we too could have a conversation with these kids, ask questions & find out more about them – something that we weren’t able to do 12 months ago! The programmes that have been implemented since our last visit are long term but you can already see the difference – so it’s great to know that the donations coming in from around the world are making a massive impact. Self sustainability is the ultimate goal – & we’re well on track to achieve this. The first couple of days have been busy, but in a good way. We’ve been a part of Fred’s day – every step of the way. As we write this, we’re at the dump waiting for a replacement clutch for his truck – as mentioned earlier – there’s no such thing as a typical day! Fred has picked up a ride back to Mae Sot & we’re cleaning up the medicine cabinet so that we know what Fred needs & can purchase it before we leave. To date, we’ve purchased 60 pairs of rubber boots, batteries, headlamps, food, knives, washing powder & other essential items – & we’ve barely scratched the surface of the donated money we’ve brought over! Over the next few days we will determine with Fred what else is needed & purchase it before we go. The kids here are absolutely fantastic – smiling and intrigued by the new people. Some remember us from last year – so it was good to know we’ve made an impression. So much more to share, but have work to do now so will sign off. Be in touch again soon!

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February 2014: Cal and Jack from Ashland, Oregon

From left to right, Jack, Fred, Atun (Burmese Translator), Cal and some children from the community (including Pisi, Hani, Phyo Phyo three of the five girls enrolled in weekend English lessons)

From left to right, Jack, Fred, Atun (Burmese Translator), Cal and some children from the community (including Pisi, Hani, and Phyo Phyo, three of the five girls enrolled in weekend English lessons)

Cal and Jack Thomas are two Ashland High School graduates who are currently students at the University of Oregon. This past year, the brothers took a year off from their studies to travel around Southeast Asia and other parts of the world.

In January, the brothers arrived in Mae Sot, Thailand, to volunteer with and learn more about Eyes to Burma. So far the brothers have worked with Fred and ETB at the garbage dump; they are impressed by how much can be done for the community in supplying water, food, education, and health needs by such a small organization.

While on their visit to Mae Sot, the brothers have been helping out with updates, emails, photos, and general communications. They plan to return to Ashland in early June and start work at their mother’s restaurant Louie’s. Unbeknownst to the brothers, Eyes to Burma held one of their board meetings at the restaurant. They plan to resume their studies at the University of Oregon in fall 2014.

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Update from Fred

(From an email sent by Fred on Tuesday, January 21, 2014)

On my last trip home the fundraising was very successful, and with help from supporters in Thailand and other countries I have the confidence to go forward with programs on a longer-term basis.

We have put a new roof on the community center and secured the emergency food program. And although everything is important, I think one of the best investments is getting children into English lessons which take place two hours on both Saturday and Sunday. That only costs $15 for the weekend. Each week we notice a huge improvement in the children’s skills, as well as growth in the relationships between the children as they work together becoming friends and each others support. Also, an English woman named Mel comes once or twice a week in the evenings to work with them on their English.  We supply all their school needs and treat them to special activities afterward, such as a meal and perhaps a bit of shopping. Since this has started, other children and their parents are expressing an interest in English lessons, so this can only grow.

As ours efforts have improved so many things at the dump, other agencies are now coming to Eyes to Burma for advice since they see the success and know we have a method which IS making a real difference. So this year we know we are going to build on the education in addition to all our other efforts to date. The goal really will be to try and break the cycle where there is another lost generation who only have a prospect of working in the dump. I really do believe this is achievable.

The Circus and Fire Show is coming again this weekend for another exciting show for everyone. It was a huge success last year, and the entire community turned out in their Sunday best to be part of the fun. The Circus also leaves a whole kit of circus items like balls, hoops, etc. for the kids to enjoy and play with after they have gone.

A few days ago, a dump community group identified a need for a new water tank where water access was quite a long walk away. We met and agreed on a location and we are working on that today.

We are already buying roofing material in preparation for the rainy season.

So I am happy to say things are going very well this year with improvements in health, housing and morale. On the whole, the people at the dump and I are all working as a team. And this is only January!

Thanks again to everyone at home. Hope you are all well as I think of you often. Happy Chinese New Year,

Love,
Fred

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Nomad Films’ short doc “Living on Landfill”

Helen Newman Filming in IndiaIn September 2013, Helen Newman of Nomad Films traveled to Mae Sot, Thailand, and met with Eyes to Burma founder Fred Stockwell to film the story of the Burmese refugees who work and live at the Mae Sot Dump.

Helen volunteered her time and talents to make this informative and moving film which introduces you to the realities of dump life.

You’ll see the children and adults who earn meager livings picking recyclables out of the garbage. And you’ll hear from Fred about his daily volunteer work.

Fred’s goal and the work of Eyes to Burma is to help where help is needed and to raise the standard of living for the dump workers and residents. Thanks to donations from hundreds of donors from around the world, ETB is able to provide clean water, food, access to education, work tools, first aid, transportation to medical treatment at nearby clinics and hospitals, and more.

Please share this film with friends and family. Fred, Helen, and countless ETB volunteers all prove that it is possible for one person to make a difference. We all have the ability to lend a hand and improve the lives of the people living and working at the dump. 

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New ETB Update Format

Hi ETB Community!
We’re updating the website so that when we post new stories from Fred and our global supporters, they’ll be on our “blog” and our followers will get an email with a link to the new post.

We’re transferring Fred’s Letters to this new Updates page, so followers might receive an email with a link to the old letter. It’s great to re-read the old updates and remind ourselves how much progress Fred and ETB is making with the community we serve!

Thank you!

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April 2013: Megan and Suzanne from Australia

After visiting Mae Sot and meeting Fred and the Eyes to Burma community in 2012, Megan came back to Australia with a new perspective, having been both moved and motivated by what she had experienced.  Her passion to help touched me so much so that I too had to make the journey to see first-hand the work that is being done in Mae Sot to make the lives of those displaced by the issues in Burma just that little bit better. This is our story.

Life         Living Conditions         Completed House         Malnutrition

Our timing was probably not perfect in terms of the Thai New Year celebrations, but travelling to the Mae Sot dump during Songkran to meet Fred, Komyo (Fred’s interpreter) and the Burmese families who live there was very much worth it in our eyes.

Songkran is a happy time in Thailand, and the families living on the dump were all in good spirits when we arrived: the children laughing and playing, with traditional paint on their faces, throwing water from the dam on everyone and anyone coming by, and shrieking in delight when they managed to saturate you; the adults smiling and welcoming, interested in meeting the newcomers.  It is such a surreal experience.  On one hand you can see the sheer poverty that these families live in on a daily basis; and on the other hand, you witness the sheer joy of this special time of year and the embracing nature of these families – you almost immediately feel a part of this community.

Songkran is a time of giving and sharing in Thailand and we were privileged to be a part of this event – even if it involved being completely soaked from head to toe for a few days!  During Songkran, we were treated to music, dancing (a very interesting version of Gangnam Style, but in Burmese!) and offerings of food that had been prepared for all the community to share.  You cannot help but smile and adopt the enthusiasm and excitement during this time, but in the back of our minds we knew that this isn’t life on a daily basis, and once Songkran was over the real life challenges would again emerge.

Songkran finished a few days after our arrival and, even before the rainy season approaches in a few weeks, the colder weather moves in and it gets harder to pick through the garbage, stay dry, and keep warm. We noticed that temperaments started to change as people resumed their everyday lives.  You get the impression however that no matter how difficult it gets, the resilience of the people living here will win through, especially knowing that they have Fred and Eyes to Burma to support them.

Our first meeting with Fred was enlightening.  He strikes you as someone who genuinely cares about other people, someone who has faced many challenges (there have been and will continue to be many more), but someone who has stood tall throughout these challenges as he looks for ways around them – whatever it takes.  It’s hard to imagine the physical and mental drain that can, at times, take over his life, but the reward is in the genuine love and respect that this community has for him and the knowledge that each and every day, little by little, the lives of these families are improving. It’s a long, hard road, but the changes that have occurred, not only to the conditions that the families are living in, but to the mindset of the community as a whole, makes you realise that although the journey might be difficult, the end result will be worth it.

Fred is a bit of an enigma: someone who willingly shares aspects of his past and present life, but maintains an air of mysteriousness about him.  It’s not often you come across someone so passionate, so driven with such purpose, and so focused on improving the quality of someone else’s life, possibly to the detriment of his own comfort, that you cannot help but ingest some of this passion and watch, almost in awe, as he juggles the multitude of challenges that come his way.

Our discussions with Fred left us both with our heads spinning somewhat. There are just so many elements to what Fred and Eyes to Burma deal with every day – and they’re not all limited to the challenges faced by the Burmese community living on the Mae Sot dump.

Scratch the surface and you’ll find a culture just like any other, permeated with simmering tensions, boredom, personality clashes and politics. Just because these families have come from a life of persecution and conflict doesn’t make them immune to the social issues that face all of us in our everyday life. Pour this into the melting pot with basic necessities such as clean water, food, shelter and healthcare and you soon understand just how challenging a role Fred, Komyo and Eyes to Burma have in Mae Sot.

Our short time at the dump found a number of issues coming to the forefront; one of the main ones being malnutrition of newborn babies.  The hardest thing to grasp in 2013 is that children can be born into this world and not have access to the basics – even something as simple as breast milk. We cannot imagine how difficult it must be for mothers who are not able to easily breastfeed their children, and who are not able to easily communicate that they are having problems, but it does happen.

It was heartbreaking for us to see a three and a half month old baby suffering from malnutrition because her mother was struggling to feed her.  The baby looked like a newborn and the clothes that we brought over (for newborns) were way too big for her.  Thankfully, with the provision of baby formula from recently donated money, this baby is now on the road to recovery and, hopefully, a better future.

One of the other priorities well underway when we arrived was the construction of housing and new roofing to houses that had been damaged or ruined over time – all of which needed to be completed prior to the rainy season.  One particular home started to lean quite seriously whilst we were on the site one day and by the next morning it had completely slid down the hill – a terrifying experience for the family living in it at the time we’re sure.  It didn’t take long however for Fred to arrange for a group of the men living on-site to commence work on re-building the home so that this family wasn’t without shelter for too long.  Once again though, something we tend to take for granted in a western culture is something that isn’t taken for granted here – these homes can be damaged, destroyed or need to be moved quickly and this community just takes it all in their stride and gets on with the job.

This is where funding is so very important, and although many people may not get the opportunity to see first hand how their donations are being used, we can assure you that they are used to ensure issues such as malnutrition don’t become prevalent in this community, and that a basic such as shelter is available to everyone.

Other affirmative actions resulting from donations include the provision of 5 tanks around the different areas of the dump that supply clean drinking water to all of the community.  These tanks are a lifeline and ensure that the families living here do not have to resort to drinking the toxic dam water that surrounds the dump.  Access to clean water should be a human right, but one that hasn’t been regularly available to this community until Eyes to Burma came along, and you can definitely see the positive results of having such a necessity.

A combined community centre and tea shop has also been constructed in the past year from funds raised, and it was truly heartwarming to see so many families (especially women and children) congregate here to play, chat and socialise.  This is also the only place at the dump that has a television – so you can imagine that a show that is popular guarantees a crowd – and provides for a relaxed atmosphere – and some welcome light relief from the punishing schedule of picking through garbage every day just to survive.

A small ‘clinic’ has been established on the site too and Fred spends time at this clinic nearly every day ensuring that minor wounds, illnesses and health problems are quickly dealt with or, if need be, directed to the main clinic in Mae Sot.  Simple things such as dehydration (the heat is unrelenting at times), cuts and abrasions, and aches and pains are easily taken care of, but it’s with the more serious issues that you quickly realise Fred’s skills – and his ability to identify and arrange for treatment of major health concerns before they become too far gone.

Fred is now looking to construct a youth centre, start an educational programme, improve access to healthcare (and diminish preventable diseases) and, hopefully, create more employment opportunities. All of these are imperative if this community is going to continue to move forward, but it will take more funding to achieve.  The aim being to encourage the children growing up this community to want to change their own lives and, ultimately, the lives of their own children.  These children have the opportunity to gain life skills, an education and, hopefully, the will to want something better.

From Megan’s perspective, having visited Mae Sot last year, the improvements have been significant and far reaching, and to see for ourselves the difference from one year to the next not only gives you a sense of purpose, but inspires you to continue to help in any way possible.

The work that Fred and Eyes to Burma are doing in Mae Sot can only be described as vital.  They are striving to create a better future for everyone, but this will be a generational change.  Eyes to Burma are making huge in-roads, but in small steps, and, progressively, this community is learning how to take responsibility, how to work together and, hopefully down the track, how to be more self-sustainable.  Fred is creating opportunity, building self-respect and encouraging those that wish to develop skills that may help them in the future to do so.  He does not receive any monetary benefit from any donation and the Eyes to Burma team are volunteers, so every single dollar is used wholly and solely to benefit the community as a whole.

As outsiders, we can see how it would be very easy to say to Fred, just do it this way, or just do it that way and the problem will be solved, but unless you actually visit Mae Sot, meet Fred, meet the community and really get to know the challenges they face, in no way can you fully understand what will work and what won’t.  Fred has spent years on this project, and he has overcome many of the issues.  He now finds himself in the ‘enviable’ position whereby he can work through many of the problems with the community without too many difficulties, but this isn’t something that was achieved overnight and certainly not from a distance.

This visit has been a humbling experience for us, and we have learnt so much in such a short space of time. There is a long road ahead and, although many improvements have been made from the donations received, there is still so much more to do. We would like to sincerely thank Fred and Komyo for their time and sharing their knowledge and insights, and we look forward to coming back to Mae Sot and working with them in whatever way we can assist.

– From Suzanne and Megan

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March 2013: Team Rubicon with members from around the world

During our layover in Mae Sot we ran into a local philanthropist named Fred Stockwell, a well known local who has taken it upon himself to deliver aid to a local group of Burmese refugees living and surviving in the local dump on the outskirts of town.

emIMG_4694 copy   emIMG_4669   emIMG_4736   IMG_4758 copy

Fred requested our help for a day to treat a number of patients that he lacked either the supplies or medical capabilities on his own.  Dr. Eisner and our medic (and team leader) Jason Jarvis worked throughout the day with the help of mid-wife Laura MacPherson on a number of refugees, adult and children, suffering from ailments ranging from open wounds to those suffering from dengue fever and stroke.

Our team leader Jason spent a great deal of time not only treating wounds, but training our host Fred on a number of minor procedures that who could do on his own.  Our team would check in on  the same group of refugees days later as we left the jungle and began the long trip home.

– Excerpt from Team Rubicon website: http://teamrubiconusa.org/burma-post-1/

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About Global Supporters

This page focuses on the people who support ETB either through volunteer work, monetary donations, or raising awareness in their own communities.

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Letter from Fred, August 7, 2012

On- going Projects and Successes

Still raining and muddy, but things generally are starting to improve.

There are about 100 people working in the recycling factory, which is hard dirty work, but they are doing well all things considered. They earn 120 Baht, or roughly  $4 US, per day, paid at the end of the month.  Monthly pay packets are a novelty here, and making the money last for thirty days can be a challenge for many of our community members.  Most started working at the beginning of the month and won’t get paid for a month, so we are running the shop on a credit basis for a while. It is difficult for Danna, her sister and their mother, the shopkeepers, to collect the money when the wages are handed out, but thankfully the shop is close to the factory.  We are using the shop as a center for distributing at least one hot meal per day, and we can do this at the end of the factory shift.  Everyone in the community who wants a hot meal is welcome.  Individuals who can afford to pay for it do so, and all children and people in need receive food for free.  The proximity of the shop and the promise of hot food have worked well to encourage timely settling of debts.   Danna and her mother are now able to go for almost 2 weeks without a subsidy from us—a vast improvement over the everyday subsidy in the recent past.   This is due in part to the fact that the people who work at the shop are learning how to collect money, how to go shopping and how to keep inventory.

We started a delousing program last Saturday.  I arrived in the morning and showed Danna how to put the delousing cream in the children’s hair.  She helped me put the cream in the hair of twelve children.  We supplied each child with a comb and shampoo, as the cream must be washed out of the hair after 10 hours.  This is a rather inexpensive treatment (35 Baht, or roughly $1.20 US, per child) and will be needed regularly.   We expect more children this week, and I hope to train some of the family members in how to do it.

emimg_4048-copy

Fred doing his work

 

We were fortunate to meet a small group from Bangkok whose goals towards community development are similar to ours.  They are a group of professionals, mostly from Canada, the US, and France, who are living in Bangkok and believe that one person can make a difference.  They raise funds to help projects they believe are sound.  They have helped us out by donating a couple of months’ worth of rice and oil.  This will go to the shop and helps to take pressure off of our finances.  They also brought a large amount of badly-needed clothing, including kids’ underwear, long sleeve t-shirts, and baby clothes.  The long sleeve shirts are great for the work in the factories.  This group has some prior engagements and will be out of touch for a while, but we’ll let you know when we hear from them again.

Most people now have roofing materials that are sufficient and the houses are mostly dry during the rains.  We are happy to report that this is under control at the moment.

Present Challenges:

Water, both potable and non-, continues to be a challenge.  Regarding potable water, it is still a bit of a financial burden.  We now have locks on the water tanks.  Each tank has one person in charge and they unlock it from 5-7pm.  They are instructed to open the tanks whenever someone needs water.   I don’t feel very good about putting locks on the tanks, as most people use the water appropriately. But unfortunately, there are just a few people who don’t seem to grasp the importance and the limits of the resource.  The shopkeeper, Danna, requested a lock for the tap by the shop, and as much as we don’t like to lock up fresh water, she is correct.  We will continue to work on educating community members, and I look forward to removing the locks as soon as possible.

The non-potable (i.e. washing) water in the area comes from the 2 lakes situated near to the houses.  The lakes are recipients of the run-off from the garbage.  As the lakes are relatively small and the water is standing, the increasing concentration of the pollutants in the water has begun to affect the community members.   Recently, 30-40 children and adults have experienced an outbreak of skin diseases.   To address this issue, I will negotiate with the nearby factory that has non-potable water pipes in the area.   I would like to put in faucets so community members have an option of using the less-toxic water for washing and limit or eliminate their exposure to the lakes altogether.

The truck is taking a beating.  The front end needs to be rebuilt several times per year.  The tires were recently damaged by use and were replaced.  Overall, though, the issues surrounding the vehicle are under control; I am taking care of the maintenance costs from my personal funds.   I still carry too many people at times but this is unlikely to change.

The truck clearly takes a beating. Is a great multi-tasker and quite indispensable.

The truck clearly takes a beating. Is a great multi-tasker and quite indispensable.

Future plans:

With the rainy season we see an increase in cases of diarrhea, especially amongst the children.  Thankfully, the medicine is not too expensive per dose.  However, the constant expense and the need for antifungal ointments, diarrhea treatments, cough medicine, bandages, etc. for 350 people adds up quickly.

The elderly are getting older, and need more special care including food and vitamins.   I check in with them regularly and make sure they have what they need.

We will be doing a deworming treatment in the next few weeks.

Mae Tao Clinic, which is a lifeline for all of us, is losing a lot of funding, and more importantly, it has reduced many of the programs needed by the community members. The need to improve the public health and welfare is becoming a bigger issue.  My thoughts are of a community clinic that would provide basic health services to the surrounding area, including but not limited to the garbage dump community we are currently working with.  If we choose to pursue this, we would need to look into finding and maintaining the medical expertise necessary in addition to the physical structures and ongoing expenses of a clinic.

I recently became acquainted with a small school here that is teaching media, video, journalism, etc. to grade 12 graduates.   They have offered to help us put together a short video of the work we do here.  We will meet next week to go over details.   The film could be used in combination with a PowerPoint show.   Assuming all goes well, I hope to be using it for presentations in the US and elsewhere.  I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

The community at the dump has greatly increased in terms of health, welfare, and standard of living.  Unfortunately, there is still much to do; when people come out with me, I still see the look of horror on their faces.  Thankfully, it looks like it may be possible to get ID cards for the community members that will allow them to stay inside the dump.  While this isn’t a long term solution, Thai authorities are definitely taking a step in the right direction.

Conclusion

Although some days are depressing – people are soaking wet, as am I – it is clear that we have been successful in so many ways.  The changes are amazing.  I face the daily challenges within this community knowing that we are learning how to work together and create solutions.  It is essential that Eyes to Burma is always there when we say we will be: that is how we have created a strong bond of trust.

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April-May 2012, from Justine Chambers

Eyes to Burma has had an incredibly busy few months in the lead-up to the rainy season. Most houses have been in a shocking state, and in need of much repair if they are to get through the monsoons. Clinic runs to Mae Tao are nearly always a daily event and our water tanks are constantly in need of refills. Fred continues to supply the community with work tools such as sickle knives, headlamps and batteries to enable them to work more effectively and safely in the evenings. We have also been working on getting a vitamin program up and running, with a particular focus on pregnant women, infants and the elderly. This includes providing a weekly supply of fruit that is in season – a luxury which they would otherwise not prioritize in their daily struggle to provide food for their families. In the meantime, we have to start thinking about the distribution of mosquito nets, as malaria and dengue fever have broken out in the camps close by.

Out here in the dump, there is an incredibly strong sense of community spirit. Yet the prevailing conditions and insufficient income of all residents means that it can be hard for residents to offer help to each other beyond the bare necessities. We have had a few particularly sad cases of abandoned mothers and widows whose houses have been in a terrible state. Fred was invited to a Christening of a newborn, for example, whose parents were yet to find roofing materials for their dilapidated ‘shelter’ of bamboo sticks and twine. Sitting on a floor without even a mat, and surrounded in garbage and flies, Fred couldn’t help but admire how resilient this young couple was. Indeed, despite their circumstances, there is a great sense of pride among community members and rarely do they ask for help.

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You can see from this photo just how stark the young couple’s situation really was.

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Witnessing firsthand the dire situation of this young family, Fred set about gathering their neighbors’ help in exchange for distributing roofing materials to the wider community. This involved daily trips out to isolated villages close to Mae Sot, where community residents helped Fred find the best price for appropriate materials. From the photos below you can see how the men, women and children came together to help out.

We buy roofing materials in local villages as it not only keeps the price down, but it means we keep the local economies thriving.

We buy roofing materials in local villages as it not only keeps the price down, but it means we keep the local economies thriving.

One of the villagers making the thatch for the roofs.

One of the villagers making the thatch for the roofs.

After the prices for the roofing has been agreed, everyone gets involved to help carry the materials to the truck.

After the prices for the roofing has been agreed, everyone gets involved to help carry the materials to the truck.

It took over six trips back and forth to the village to get the materials required for the community in the garbage dump.

It took over six trips back and forth to the village to get the materials required for the community in the garbage dump.

Getting it all into the truck.

Getting it all into the truck.

On return to the dump we unload the materials to get the building process underway.

On return to the dump we unload the materials to get the building process underway.

Within days, nearly everyone’s roof had been upgraded tremendously, and residents were beginning to feel more confident about getting through the rainy season. A safe, dry place can make all the difference: It is the first step to preventing disease and allowing some kind of comfort in their otherwise terribly difficult lives.

One of the completed roofing projects in Area Two.

One of the completed roofing projects in Area Two.

Another successfully completed roof ready for the upcoming monsoons.

Another successfully completed roof ready for the upcoming monsoons.

A Community Center Takes Shape

Fred has formed a lot of incredible relationships with members of the community, but one young woman has always held a special place for him. Fred was aware of how tough Danna’s life has been, as she was involved in a number of abusive relationships. In late April, Fred had driven over to Area Two to check the water tanks and some of the roofs for the upcoming rainy season. Danna took Fred to her new place that she’d been trying to build with old pieces of bamboo she’d collected from the dump. With absolutely no money, and no assistance from the rest of the community, she asked Fred to help her with the somewhat precarious-looking hut. Fred had recently been considering renting an unused building (on private land within the dump) to set up as a combination shop, clinic and women’s community centre that he hoped would become self-sustaining. Unexpectedly, the building became available for purchase, and Fred jumped at this opportunity. Given Danna’s situation, Fred spoke with her about taking over the community center project, which would provide her with a house and the independence to support herself. Danna was very excited and happily accepted Fred’s offer. It took about a week to fix the building up, as it was very run down. After fixing the roofing and walls and cleaning the interior, Danna and (now) her sister had a new home and an upcoming business adventure to share. Fred also asked Danna to take care of the two orphans who had arrived in the dump earlier in the year, as they were distant relatives of hers.

The purchase of our new building has been one of the most positive projects for the community.

The purchase of our new building has been one of the most positive projects for the community.

You can see here just how much work it needed before Danna was ready to call it home.

You can see here just how much work it needed before Danna was ready to call it home.

In the midst of fixing the roof of the new shop.

In the midst of fixing the roof of the new shop.

A brand new wall and roof for the community center to keep the rain out.

A brand new wall and roof for the community center to keep the rain out.

Taking her shopping in the Mae Sot market, Fred was totally amazed at how savvy Danna was. Within a few days they had gone from selling only sweets and snacks to meat and vegetables, and later curries and other Burmese specialties. This project has been hugely successful. One of the questions that has often come up during our presentations is how to get people off the dump. Not only do we have four people off the dump now, but we have provided them with an opportunity to learn new skills and ultimately a sense of empowerment and ownership.

Dana busy bargaining at the market in Mae Sot. She is getting a fast track education on running a business and learning very quickly.

Dana busy bargaining at the market in Mae Sot. She is getting a fast track education on running a business and learning very quickly.

It is also amazing to see how quickly the shop has become a community center.  Having electricity, there is entertainment through television and music, as well as a place for people to charge their phones. Over the last month, we would come to the dump and find the shop overcrowded with mostly women and children. While the mothers sit and chat over tea, the children play together, singing along to the music and watching their favorite movie stars on the screen. It is nice to see the shop as a clean and dry place where everyone is smiling and laughing together outside of the garbage.

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Sudden Upheaval

Everything was starting to run really smoothly, and the biggest drama for us was the rising costs of water tank refills and having to take Danna to the market every day for food since everything was selling so quickly in the shop. Coming into the dump one day, an air of despondency hung thick over everyone in the community. As we walked into the shop, no one stood up to greet us and the young children who usually ran up to give me high fives sat listlessly in the chairs in front of the television screen. Danna was more than visibly upset, and through our interpreter Tom Tom, we discovered that many of the people had been told by the new manager at the recycling centre that they may be forced to leave the area. While some people thought that he was simply trying to intimidate and place fear within the community, we were incredibly worried and upset, particularly as we had just completed finishing the roofing for the rainy season.

Fred has met with the new manager now on several occasions, and we have finally reached some common ground. Whilst the language difficulties have made it particularly frustrating, we have managed to negotiate areas within the dump to which families are allowed to move. On a more positive note, intent on making sure his workers are fit and healthy, the manager has promised to supply clean water and electricity to these designated zones within the next few months. He has also mentioned the possibility of us moving the shop/community center to a cleaner area, so that we can take the responsibility of providing food for the dump residents who work at the recycling factory (which is on-site). It’s important to remain optimistic, but we are wary of the many empty promises that have been made in the past.

By the end of the week everyone was given a deadline, and under the rain residents began building anew their lives along a road close to Area Two. With the transition in management at the recycling centre, no one is able to work, so the shop has become incredibly important in ensuring that everyone had a daily supply of food. Danna is taking on a powerful role in the community, keeping us informed that everyone is being fed and has a dry place to stay at night.

We’ve been really lucky and made some new friends from Bangkok. This is Sophie’s second visit to the dump and Eyes to Burma would like to make a particular mention of the generous donations she has made. She and her husband are in the food business there and make monthly trips to Mae Sot. In addition to donation of a cot and baby paraphernalia for Danna’s new baby, this weekend they brought with them frozen chicken and spring rolls for the shop to cook and hand out to everyone. Danna was confused at first as to what to do with this food, but Tom Tom explained that she needed to fry them like KFC. All enjoyed their delicious crispy treats and went to bed happy and content after a difficult week.

With June now upon us, every day is slowed down by the constant sheets of rain that greet us here in Mae Sot. The dump is increasingly turning into a quagmire of sludge and garbage, and it is hard for anyone to stay dry or clean. The recycling centre is supposed to open again this week, so hopefully we can soon return to some kind of normalcy. In the meantime, every day brings a new family in need of some kind of help, whether it be roofing materials, food, or a clinic run.

Fred wants to thank everyone for their continued support of Eyes to Burma. As you can see, each and every day is different and every contribution, no matter its size, goes so far to improve the lives of this community. There is so much we haven’t said here, but we hope this report gives you some insight into both Fred’s amazing work here in Mae Sot and the incredible hardships faced by a population that has no political or legal rights. We also hope it has given you a moment to reflect on just how fortunate we are and how much we take for granted in our busy lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fred's Letters, Mae Sot Volunteers | 1 Comment

March 8, 2012

On 28th February, I got a phone call in the morning from a small group called ‘Clowns and Magicians Without Borders.’ They are two fellows,  one from Venezuela and one from Belgium, who travel around the world doing magic shows for kids in need. They asked if I could set up something for the kids at the garbage dump – that day! Although I already had a difficult day ahead, I couldn’t pass this up. I’d already done two clinic runs that morning and also started to break in a new interpreter. I arranged to meet them at 4:00 in the afternoon and they arrived at the dump just before five.

The problem I had was that I hadn’t had enough time to let everyone know about the show, and the kids were scattered all across the dump. I managed to get the first lot organized, then went off hunting for the rest. I headed off to the far side of the garbage dump, which took about 15 minute to get them all organized and then they started to crowd into the truck. The question is: how do you get 37 kids and adults into a small pick-up truck? The answer is: just let them deal with it and they work it out. The look of surprise on the faces of the two clowns when the truck pulled up was worth a photograph. I then repeated this at other parts of the dump and eventually managed to get 150 people all in one place. The show started around 5:30 and went on for about an hour. The whole event was absolutely priceless. This is the first time anyone has ever put on a big event in the actual garbage dump.

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After the show I took them all home to more laughter and singing. All in all a fantastic time was had. This talented duo is called:

Clowns and Magicians Without Borders: Belgium

Names: Paul Gomez and Sylvian Sluys

Website: www.cmsf.be

My deepest thanks to Paul and Sylvian for bringing smiles and laughter. Fred

Posted in Fred's Letters | Tagged | Leave a comment