East London students reach out to Burmese refugees

As the oppressive regime in Burma is currently causing hundreds of children to escape across the border, pupils at Our Lady & St Joseph Primary School and Cardinal Pole RC Secondary School, both based in Hackney, were being encouraged to correspond with a school for 'forgotten' refugee children on the north western border of Thailand to mark this year's Refugee Week 15-21 June.

The children worked from lesson plans drawn up by teacher, Ruth Flanagan, of the UK-based Thai Children's Trust, for Geography Key Stage 2 and Human Rights Key Stage 3 classes. Teachers illustrated the plight of refugee children and their desperate need to escape poverty and receive an education.

 As well as taking part in lessons about Burmese refugees, pupils at Our Lady and St Joseph RC Primary School created colourful paintings of their school and local area to send to children at the remarkable refugee school supported by the Thai Children's Trust on the Thai-Burmese border called Hsa Thoo Lei situated in the border town of Mae Sot. The school currently takes in over 700 refugees pupils.

Cardinal Pole RC Secondary School students were invited to send letters to older students at Hsa Thoo Lei who are learning English. The school became involved with Hsa Thoo Lei after receiving a visit from Ruth Flanagan and hearing how the school was struggling to help the children despite the huge odds. Pupils were deeply affected by the situation of
the refugee children and put down their feelings in letters which have now been sent to the students at Hsa Thoo Lei. Students at Hsa Thoo Lei are delighted with the letters and paintings and are now busy replying.

One pupil, aged 13, writes: "I now know all about your situation in Burma and how you and many other children have suffered tremendously. It is good to hear that you and others have been able to escape from your struggles."

Another pupil, aged 13, expresses his feelings: "I think you should carry on fighting for your freedom and rights and you should try and set your future as best you can."

The school is run by a charismatic woman called Naw Paw Ray, who was herself a refugee. Most of the young Burmese refugees are in Thailand illegally and are at risk of arrest and deportation.   Many are orphans or have parents who are still inside Burma. Those who are caught are rounded up for repatriation and face forcible enlistment as soldiers or porters or are simply sold to brothels. 

The refugee children at the Hsa Thoo Lei School are in greater need than ever and local people are scrambling to find blankets, food and shelter. Fortunately UNHCR and the Thai government have stepped in and the children are being monitored.

Ruth Flanagan says: "The contribution Hsa Thoo Lei and the other small schools in the area make to the children's welfare and safety is immeasurable. There are lessons in English and Thai, crucial for young people seeking to leave Thailand for a new life abroad.  Some 35 informal schools in the nearby area draw on Hsa Thoo Lei's resources of teachers and materials. We are hoping that schools in the UK may help us by supporting our Hsa Thoo Lei School Appeal for refugees, use our lesson plans, sponsor a child, volunteer or join our mailing list."

For more information see: thaichildrenstrust.org.uk/projects/Refugee/hsa-thoo-lei-appeal.



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