Watch this short documentary by Rubber Knife Productions to get a sense of our project.
Children of the Forest is a registered Thai foundation providing protection, education and health care for abandoned, abused and orphaned Karen and Mon children living in the Thai /Burmese border zone, Sangkhlaburi Thailand.
Since the end of World War Two, the stateless Karen and Mon people of Burma have been engaged in a vicious guerilla war to gain freedom, land and dignity. Karen and Mon women, children and entire villages have become innocent victims of the Burmese army. Facing instability, brutality, fear and constant human rights abuses in Burma, many Karen and Mon people flee across the border to Thailand in hope of finding a better future for themselves and their children. Those from central and southern Burma make the difficult and dangerous journey through the jungle to the first Thai town across the border, a small place named Sangkhlaburi.
Sangkhlaburi is located six hours north west of Bangkok on the Thai- Burmese border. Many of the Karen and Mon people here have lived in Sangkhlaburi for over two hundred years. Other families have fled here more recently in hope of finding a better life, yet often what they find here is only marginally better than life in Burma. While they are free from the threat of the Burmese army, work is scarce and severely underpaid. Labour abuses and human trafficking activities are rife. Schools and medical care are financially inaccessible and exploitation awaits in the cities. Life remains uncertain for many as no land means a life drifting from plantation to factory land. For those with no identity card at all, the threat of deportation or being forced into illegal work, hangs over them every day. In this situation, children are extremely vulnerable.
Awareness of the situation in Sangkhlaburi first emerged from a visit to a small school for Karen and Burmese children on one of Sangkhlaburi’s plantations. The school consisted of one bamboo classroom with forty children, ranging in age three to fourteen years old, all studying together with one teacher. The school had two aims: firstly, to improve choices for the children and secondly, to help protect the children by providing them with enough Thai to understand situations that could be dangerous and/or exploitative.
Contact with this locally established and Karen run plantation school from 2003-2005 provided a deeper and wider understanding of the hardship and limitations facing the students of this school and Karen, Mon and Burmese children throughout Sangkhlaburi. We found children sick with TB and malaria not visiting the hospital because their ethnicity meant no free health care. With no land, no permanent home or community, students left the school suddenly as their family moved on to the next plantation. Girls from as young as twelve left the school and other students informed us the family had sent them to work in the city. The school had no funding to help these students continue their studies. Sadly, and despite the students’ determined efforts, their academic career started and finished at this simple bamboo classroom.
With limited funds and resources, we tried to work with the plantation school and respond where possible. We began to give a bag of rice a month to a family of six children whose mother had passed away. The payment of a hospital bill was made for a child with malaria. We contacted a Thai NGO to provide a home for two children in distress. Through a friend, we were able to provide a volunteer English teacher for six months. Using only personal funds, we were always limited in the amount of help we could offer. It seemed like there were so many problems, yet we were working with only thirty families on just one plantation. The scale of the hardship and the limited nature of our response were constantly felt.
Since this simple beginning, our knowledge and level of assistance have been able to grow gradually. Through establishment of a sponsorship program a level of funding was acquired to help older children from the plantation begin attending an official school. Generous financial support from family members then enabled us to purchase land. After visiting other settlements and learning of the many children with no school, we decided to build a basic bamboo school on our land.
The children came enthusiastically in great numbers. We had expected about fifty students to join our free school, yet one hundred and fifty arrived on the first day.
This was the start of Children of the Forest Free School for stateless children.
While visiting one village, we met a 13 year old girl who had been raped and was now being forced into marriage by her mother. The girl asked if we could give her a safe place to live.
This was the start of Children of the Forest Child Protection centre .