Day 1: Swasdi from Chiang Mai!
Swasdi from Chiang Mai! After 36 hours of travel, all of the 5 members of our GROW team made it to Chiang Mai. Kristina, Neelima, Nina and myself (Adam) flew from JFK to Helsinki to Bangkok to Chiang Mai, while Harrison met us in Chiang Mai from Los Angeles via Seoul. Leaving on Saturday and arriving in Helsinki
bleary-eyed and tired from our first red eye, we didn’t want to spend 9 hours in the airport so we decided to hop out for a quick trip to the city! It was a beautiful and relaxing day strolling around the Esplanade on the water and soaking in the European culture, but we were antsy to get to Thailand and start our GROW trip.
After successfully figuring out the buses (and spending WAY too many Euros), we made our way back to the airport and got on our second red eye to Bangkok. We finally arrived in Chiang Mai on Monday exhausted from our traveling and met Mai (one of KWAT’s General Secretaries, and our main contact) and Eileen in the airport, taking a taxi to the guest house we would be staying in for the next 3 weeks. Driving through the city, it was apparent that we were not in Helsinki anymore, but we were immediately captivated by the rolling hills and fun atmosphere of the old part of the city, where we would be staying. After spending the afternoon wandering around to keep ourselves from falling asleep (we did spend 2 consecutive nights on a plane, after all!), we called it a day and passed out around 6:30 PM, ready for our meeting in KWAT the next morning. After Harrison arrived at 11:30 PM, the team was complete and ready to get to work!
Waking up the next morning ready to go, we grabbed breakfast and headed to KWAT’s office, about 15 minutes from our hostel. We spent the morning outlining our projects with Mai, Auntie Shelly (one of the original founders of KWAT), and Seng (one of KWAT’s general secretaries, along with Mai). After our conversations, we finalized 3 projects that we hope to complete before our short time here is done! They are:
- Teaching English to KWAT’s Interns
- Drafting the Activity Report, 2007-2013
- Health Programs Pamphlet
To explain these projects a little further….
KWAT brings 12 interns from Burma (Kachin and Shan states) to Chiang Mai for 6 months starting in August under their Political Empowerment and Capacity Building program. During this time, the interns learn English, hear from KWAT staff and guest speakers about politics and other political topics, and are taught skills to effect change within their communities and advocate for change.
Every 6 years, KWAT publishes an Activity Report (see here) outlining many of the developments in the region and programs that KWAT has worked on over the time period. The main goal of this report is to have a comprehensive publication that can be sent to donors and community members to inform everyone about developments in KWAT and the accomplishments that they have made over the last few years. We are very excited to work on this project to better inform ourselves about the different programs that KWAT has done and learn about the huge impact that the organization has had. Already, we have begun learning more about the conflict in Kachin, especially since there is such limited information on the Internet about the state of this conflict currently. Pending our completion of this project, we are also planning on making a pamphlet about KWAT’s health programs to better disseminate information to both donors and the community.
After discussing our projects, we had a delicious lunch, complete with rambutan and dragonfruit and headed to the intern house to meet the interns we would be teaching. We spent the afternoon in small groups with a few of the interns to better assess their English abilities and get to know them on an individual level. After meeting each of them, we briefly began an impromptu English lesson on numbers and time to better assess their threshold knowledge. One thing was for sure, they definitely knew their numbers very well!
For us, talking to Mai confirmed many of our thoughts before coming about the conflict. Most strikingly, she assured us that foreigners always thought that things were rapidly improving in Burma, when in reality the situation has deteriorated rapidly and is definitely not getting better. Under their documentation program,
KWAT records many instances of portering, where many Kachins are used to carry supplies and guns for the Burmese soldiers, and are subsequently killed.
Additionally, Mai also told us a story of a woman who was trafficked to China. Originally arriving in China in 2006 when she was 21 under the impression that she would work in factory, she ended up getting married to a Chinese man. Recently, she had to resort to selling one of her three children to her Chinese neighbors for $300 since she did not have enough money to bring all of her children back to Kachin with her. KWAT works with these women to help them with many of the problems that arise after the women are able to return to Burma. While we were not surprised to hear about these things, we began to further appreciate how complicated and atrocious the situation is in Kachin and the wider state of Burma. Now, energized by our activities from today, we are planning our first few English lessons. We are incredibly excited to continue sharing our experiences with you, stay tuned!