Mae La Refugee Camp -Mae Sot Thailand

Mae La Refugee Camp -Mae Sot Thailand  -It worked out to volunteer at Mae La Refugee Camp near Mae Sot Thailand, which is the largest of 10 refugee camps along the Thailand Burma border.

Credit: Kyle Merrit Ludowitz

I lay on my back beneath a broad black sky, pierced with trillions of brilliant stars. Bunches of them clustered together fighting for space in the sky.

They are so close, so clear – I feel as though I am drifting among them… these stars I have not seen since my childhood in the jungle.

In fact this entire day has been filled with memories from my childhood…

Mae La Refugee Camp -Mae Sot Thailand

In Chiang Mai I had met up with Pastor Somchai and his family – friends of the Suwaratana’s. Pastor Somchai – a true jokester (: – is half Karen – the Myanmar people group, which has suffered the most under their tyrannical government.

Like many of the Karen people, Pastor Somchai’s father fled Myanmar to Thailand where he married a Thai-Chinese woman. Although he grew up in Thailand, Pastor Somchai has a huge heart for the Karen people and is actively involved in the refugee camps near the border outside of Mae Sot.

Now I lay looking up at the stars, illegally spending the night in the Mae La Burmese refugee camp, about an hour outside of Mae Sot.

From the jungle terrain and vegetation, to the stilted thatched houses, I feel as though I have stepped back to the early days of my childhood. Nostalgia overwhelmed me as I walked around the camp earlier that day, but the harsh truth about the camp begins to hit me.

Some of these people used to live in homes similar to these in Burma, however, many of them lived in more permanent, cement homes – palaces to these makeshift, drafty houses built from the jungle and crowded together.

Although many of them have been here for years, their homes lack the feeling of permanence – this is not their home, not their land; it is only a place of existence; no pride or ownership is invested – how can it be?

The People of Mae La Refugee Camp

Read more about the background of How + Why the Karen Refugees came from Burma to the Refugee camps…

Everyone is so sweet, so hospitable, despite all they have endured and continue to endure.

They meet for prayer at the church everyday at 5am and again at 6pm – the music of the 6pm service drifts out to me under the stars.

Such love and joy fill the air and I cannot think of a better place I would rather be in this moment!

Medical Volunteering in the Camp

 

While I am at Mae La, a doctor from Malaysia and his wife from Texas come to host a clinic for the school children. Ed and Lori are a dynamic couple – passionate about God and exuding His love to everyone around them! I was expecting to only assist Dr. Ed but he asked me,

“Do you have a stethoscope?”

“Yes”

“Good, I will see my patients here and you will see yours over there”

So I get to ‘play’ doctor for a few days! Freaked out at first, it ends up being such a beautiful experience. We listen to each patients needs, treat them the best we can, ask them what they want to do in their future and pray with them.

I experience the beauty of a doctor’s work…

When I first arrived to the camp, the children’s interactions with me were restrained, hesitant. Now, I enter the church and immediately have several mutual exchanges of uninhibited, open smiles – my patients! (:

As my patients they had trusted me with their problems and in only a few minutes a deep bond had been formed – what incredible opportunities a doctor has!

Visiting a Maternal/ Malaria Research Center

I was also able to visit a Maternal/ Malaria Research clinic on the border just across the river from Burma.
The Burmese are permitted to come across the river to utilize the clinic – this has caused a bit of a identity crisis as babies born at this clinic and others like it are considered “border babies” and are given neither Burmese nor Thai citizenship.
Occasionally children are abandoned at these clinics causing further problems.

‘Heavenly Home’ -Mae Sot

Pastor Somchai connected me with the “Heavenly Home” in Mae Sot, which is run by Thant Zin and Lily.

They are an incredibly brave couple from Myanmar who have taken in 40 “border babies” either orphaned or abandoned at the hospitals/clinics. Many of these children have medical problems and were not wanted by anyone else.

I sit with them for dinner, many tiny heads bowed in prayer; one little boy continues to shout out a prayer after the others have finished. I do not know how Zin and Lily do it – it blows my mind! Their love is full and I do not feel my usual urge to take the children home with me – they are loved by two beautiful people, and are lucky to have them as parents.

I visit them twice and entertain the kids with sweets and songs – teaching them actions to the words. Despite their business Zin and Lily take me to dinner and insist on taking me to the bus station. What a blessing they are to me – a true example of selfless love!

A look at where the Mae La Refugee Camp is located using Google maps done by a volunteer from NZ:

Read more about the background of the Karen Refugees + how they came from Burma

Photo Credits: Kyle Merrit Ludowitz Beyond Your Doorstep
Starry Sky -Livepine/Flickr

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Return to Home from Mae La Refugee Camp -Mae Sot Thailand

Travel tip for Mae La Refugee Camp -Mae Sot Thailand:  The situation is very complicated and keeping an open mind and learning what you can about all that is happening will help you in understanding and working with the people in Mae La Refugee Camp.  Start by reading more about the Karen Refugees.

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