By Natalie Hobday, JW Property Hua Hin
On March 28 2015, I was privileged enough to go on a trip with Jungle Aid around the borders of Thailand and Myanmar. Before I start on the experience, I would like to introduce what Jungle Aid is and my experience volunteering with them. Jungle Aid is a private charity group that seeks to provide healthcare, education, and basic needs to the displaced people living in Thailand. Most of the people that have settled down around the boarders come from neighboring countries such as Myanmar. Jungle Aid’s objectives are to install infrastructure within these communities so they are able to self-sustain, and most importantly provide them with knowledge and materials.
I am an undergraduate student at Webster University Thailand currently studying International Relations, so imagine how excited I was when my professor asked for volunteers to help participate in one of the trips to the villages and meet the people who are so untouched from the urban city. On the day of the Trip, we were introduced to the Jungle Aid staff, which they briefed us on the agenda on what were we going to operate on, and the task assigned to us were very basic and simple such as helping the nurse take medical notes help give away the clothes people donated, and basically interact with the villagers. On the way to village, I had a small talk with the driver whose name was Samsung and he was been involved in helping Jungle Aid communicate with the villages for more than 20 years. Samsung himself is a Karan, and lives in one of the villages near Pala-U area. During the drive I asked him a questioned and was stunned by the response, I asked him “so how many Burmese people live in this area”, he instantly replied “we are not Burmese people, we are Karen people”. Little did I know that Karen people get extremely offended when we call them Burmese even though Karen state is located south of Burma. Samsung further explained that Karen people do not speak the same language as the Burmese people. The reason that they have to move around so much is because everywhere they settle down, the ‘Burmese’ people come take over and basically colonize their land, which is why they have to constantly move and find new land to settle down. It is no secret that in Myanmar there are a lot of internal conflicts going on since the country is comprised of varies different ethnic groups, but to get to experience this first hand was definitely eye opening.
Once we started to drive off the main road into the forest we saw that we were not driving on any type of road and going driving through streams and dirt. Upon arriving to the village, we did not see a single soul and everything was dead quite. I asked Samsung where were all the people? Yet another surprising response “they’re all hiding because they don’t know who’s coming”. Because the villagers have migrated from Burma illegally, they often get chased out by the Thai military so if any one enters the village without letting the villagers know first, they assume it’s the soldiers kicking them out. Once we parked the car and settled down, people starting to show up from nowhere and most of them are children ranging from 5-16. In fact, the number of kids that appeared was astonishing compared to the number of adults that were visible. So, I started to investigate and ask one of the girls (age 16) who was holding a child, “where are your parents?” She said I am the parent and that this is her second child. As surprised as I was, all the girls in the village aged 16-18 were parents to 2-3 children. Because they live in such a remote and isolated area, it was normal for a family to start as young as 14.
To conclude, this trip did not only give me firsthand experience in delivering humanitarian aid but it also helped provide a better understanding of the political situation in Myanmar including is why there are so many displaced Burmese refugees living in Thailand. Jungle Aid group is doing performing a great act by helping the people that needs help the most but unfortunately neglected. If I have the opportunity I would love to volunteer again because it was such a pleasure to work with an amazing team.
For more information on Jungle Aid, please CLICK HERE.