Saturday, December 22, 2007

Big Thanks to Bracebridge UCW Church Groups and Gravenhurst Rotary Club for their $1000 Donations!

A Big Thanks to the Bracebridge UCW Church groups, who presented me with a cheque for $1000 towards the building of the 'Muskoka School'. Our goal of $3500 has been realized thanks to generous donations of $1000 from the Gravenhurst Rotary Club and the many generous citizens of Muskoka. The presentation took place Wednesday, December 5th, at The Soup Kettle Luncheon at the United Church in Bracebridge.

I will be leaving Canada on December 24th and arriving in Cambodia on January 1st. Upon arrival I will implement the building of this school. More information on this project can be reading the August entry at the bottom of this page. Throughout my 3 months stay in SE Asia, updates, with pictures, on this project will be posted regularly on this site.

During the last week of January I will be heading for the Thai/Burma border to do some volunteer work for newly integrated Burmese refugees in Mae Sot, Thailand. I'll be there February through March. Before I head back to Canada, I'll head back to Cambodia to check on the school building project.

The whole northwest border of Thailand is heavily mined, and with the recent crisis in Burma, there are now about 150,000 refugees in camps in this area. Many of them are orphaned children. The government of Thailand grants them refugee status, but they cannot attain Thai citizenship, and therefore are ineligible to any Thai social benefits. I have to say I am quite compelled to go help out. It is a horrid situation. Many landmine victims come across this heavily mined border area. I'm presently in touch with several NGO's and human rights organizations, in that area. In the border town of Mae Sot, I will be teaching an English evening course to adults through the organization ABITSU . I will probably be teaching refugee children in the daytime. I'll keep you updated.

I have one more little fundraiser, I am presently initiating:

Gravenhurst resident Norm Rippon's son, Norman Edward Rippon, co-author of an excellent English Grammar book 'Improve Your Child's Spelling', has donated 132 new copies of this book destined for Cambodian children and Burmese Refugees. I can't take them with me. So, I've taken a box to the Post Office to find out the cost to have them shipped to my destination in Cambodia. For $3, a person can sponsor one of these books to be shipped. People can call me at 687-8538 or email me at , if they would like to sponsor a book. If they would like their name placed in the book, I would be happy to do so. I will be distributing the books to Cambodian child landmine victims at the Cambodian Landmine Museum and Facility near Siem Reap, and to adult and child refugees learning English along the Thai/Burma border. Some will also be save for the 'Muskoka School'.

I conclude but inserting a little more info on the current crisis on the Thai/Burma border from reputable sources.

From Refugees International September 2007:

Humanitarian Situation

According to statistics gathered by the U.S. Committee for Refugees, Thailand hosted over 408,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2006, nearly all from neighboring Burma. In addition to the camp populations, it is estimated that another two million Burmese are living as so-called "illegal" or "economic" migrants. Given Burma's systematic human rights abuses against ethnic Burmese, it is likely that as many as half of these “migrants” have fled a well-founded fear of persecution. The ethnic Burmese Shan population has found itself particularly susceptible to such policies. While Thailand allows Karen and Karenni ethnic Burmese to reside in refugee camps, the country has labeled the Shan illegal immigrants and consistently pursues a policy of denied entrance and deportation for this population. Populations denied access to the camps suffer from a lack of assistance and protection. In addition to the Burmese, there are also 13,000 Lao Hmong living in refugee-like circumstances.

As a host country, Thailand's record is mixed. Thailand is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, and though the country generally allows refugees to enter, asylum seekers fleeing human rights abuses are often not granted the same protections afforded individuals fleeing fighting. In early 2004 the Thai Government reestablished the Provincial Administration Boards or PABs, defunct since 2001, to take over the role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in determining which individuals from Burma would be eligible for asylum in Thailand. Since then, however, the Thai Government has denied a large number of claims from Burmese asylum seekers, either because of a failure to meet the narrow qualifications for refugee status set forth by the PABs (recognizing only those who have fled to escape fighting), or simply because of the fact that they did not reside within refugee camps officially recognized by the state. In 2007 alone, the U.S. Committee for Refugees estimated that as many as 10,000 Burmese, including roughly 100 from recognized refugee camps, were deported from Thailand each month after their cases had been reviewed and they were found to not have legitimate claims for asylum.

From the International News Safety Institute:

Both the military junta and non-state armed groups have continued to use antipersonnel mines extensively.

Myanmar’s military forces and non-state armed groups have used landmines consistently throughout the long-running civil war. Mine use continued in 2005 and 2006 in Karen (Kayin), Karenni (Kayah) and Shan states.

Landmines in Burma are concentrated mainly on its borders with Thailand, Bangladesh and India, and in eastern parts of the country marked by decades-old struggles by ethnic minorities for autonomy. At least nine out of 14 states and divisions in Burma suffer from some mine contamination, primarily antipersonnel mines. Burma is also affected by explosive remnants of war (ERW).

The borders with Thailand and Bangladesh are extensively mined. The border with India has some mined locations adjacent to Mizoram and Manipur states. In Chin state on the border between India and Burma, parts of Thangzang township are reported to be extensively affected, particularly near Dawn village, and in Than Tlang township, mines laid along the Tio river have led local inhabitants to abandon farmland.

The tri-border area between India, Burma and Bangladesh is reported to be extensively mined. The former Chin National Front/Army headquarters, Camp Victoria, was based in the tri-border area, and both Indian forces and the CNF say that the area surrounding the camp remains heavily mined. The adjacent area of Palehwa, in Chin state is mined, and mine casualties have occurred in both military and insurgent forces.