Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Girl In The Picture: Thailand

What an interesting place to travel to.
When you cross the border they take away your passport and give you a temporary piece of identification that becomes your lifeline. It contains a picture of yourself taken that day by the border security, your passport number, name (excluding your last name), birthdate and a number. That number is your connection to your passport the government is now holding. Upon leaving Myanmar, you hand in this piece of paper and retrieve back your oh-so-valued Canadian passport.

This process leaves many volunteers feeling vulnerable and, to put it quite honestly, kind of sketched out. You have been told all your life how precious your passport is—keep an eye on it, never let it leave your side when you are travelling, lock it in a safe when you arrive at your destination, keep a photocopy in your luggage, take a picture. Your passport, especially one of Canadian citizenship, is beyond valuable to the bearer and allows you access to anywhere your heart desires in the entire world. And here you are, trying to access another country only to find out they are going to take it away and hand you a flimsy piece of card-stock with random information on it instead, while they will KEEP your passport?! That piece of card-stock becomes your everything. You guard it with your life as if it were your actual passport because handing that piece of paper back in is the only way you get your beloved passport back.

This piece of card-stock comes with some limitations—you are only allowed in the country for 14 days, no sharing or transfers, and you are only allowed in the tourist zones of the country. That’s right, folks, Burma has set tourist zones where us foreigners are allowed to visit. You go too far, step out of the limits, and police have their say. We are nothing but mere tourists in this country with a troubled past and questionable present situation. As the tourists we were, we visited a couple temples (the Chinese temple had a cat which made me a happy lady #CatLadyInBurma), hit up the massive border market (my size stretchy floral print pants are perfect for 36 hours of travel) and we were sure to stay inside the tourist zone limits.

The Garbage Dump.
While in these limits we had the opportunity to drive past a very interesting area. This area is home to the beginnings of a huge international school, massive shopping complex, high end real estate, and the over 300 people that currently call the garbage dump home. The issue is, the garbage dump is quite the eye-sore in what will soon be a wealthy neighbourhood. The garbage dump is so undesirable to the vision of the area it begs the question of why they even chose to build there in the first place. Instead of building somewhere else, they have decided to clear the garbage dump of it’s residents, displacing hundreds of individuals and families who are stateless, providing no help to them. If their already dire situation wasn’t bad enough, forcing them out with no assistance is the exact way to make the situation worse. It’s unimaginable to everyone on the trip why this happens-- how the rich can easily forget the poor are human beings; individuals with value, hearts capable of love and limitless dreams.

Kru Nam answering questions
and New translating.
The child residents of the garbage dump are some of the same individuals that visit the drop-in centre on the Thailand side of the Burma/Thailand border. The drop-in centre is a place where street kids can come to get a meal, medical attention, hangout, and learn about the children’s home. Kru Nam was there the day we visited and we experienced her in action—reaching out to children and offering her help, building their trust and hoping they will accept her invitation to a life of love and education at the children’s home.

The combination of Kru Nam and eager to learn volunteers always makes for an interesting, informative, and emotional conversation. The volunteers asked many questions, and while statistics rocked our world and shattered our perceptions of Burma and the way individuals are treated, it’s the stories that stay with you and really change your heart.

One of the volunteers had asked about disease and sickness in the garbage dump—her question, as a doctor, was of how their must be so much devastation there. Kru Nams response was that if you were to ask the families living there about being sick, they would respond with ‘what do you mean?’. Their entire lives they are unwell. Sickness is normal for them—it’s common, it is something they live with every day. It’s not like how when we get sick it’s a noticeable difference from how we feel when we are ‘healthy’. For them this is how they are every single day. To expand on this with a tangible example, Kru Nam started handing around a picture of a little girl who is smiling and laughing as she stands behind a little boy who is playing the violin. The girl in the photograph, WaWa, is described as an awesome little girl. At her young age, she fell victim to the preventable sickness and disease of the garbage dump and passed away as a child of not even 13 years old. As the picture was passed and we each had the opportunity to put a face to the facts, you could see how the information went from head to heart.

Burma has the most human rights violations in the world. When the cyclone hit in 2008, the Burmese government denied the UN access to provide aid, furthering the amount of death and devastation, which could have been preventable. A noteworthy quote from the discussion referencing the situation was ‘just forget about human rights’.

The Declaration of Human Rights,
Article 25. December, 1948 hanging up
in the Mexican restaurant
A poster at a Mexican restaurant we went to in Chiang Mai references the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25 from December 1948. It states:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood.

While it can be easy in our North American society to think the Universal Declaration of Human Rights rings true to individuals everywhere, it doesn't. For those in both our own communities, and our greater global community, there are too many WaWa’s proving this is not the case.

Thanks for the image, Pinterest!

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