Thailand: Finding the strength to accompany

25 July 2011|Sr Evelyn de Alba

From left: Sr. Ana Mendoza, JRS-Adult literacy coordinator, Rebbeca, Burmese Adult literacy trainer in Camp 2, and Sr. Evelyn de Alba, FI, pastoral accompanier stand in Ban mae Surin refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border. (Photo by Yonal Yosep/ JRS Thailand)

Mae Hong Son, 26 July 2011 – Every day in the Ban Mai NaiSoi refugee camp is different. I am simply amazed by how the Lord leads me, as a JRS worker, to persons who needs some help and enables me to respond to them and allowing the JRS mission come to life among our refugee brothers and sisters in the camps. I want to write about my work, but instead I will recount just one day working in the camp.

I have been working in the two refugee camps near Mae Hong Son, Thailand since 2005. Most days I am in charge of Friendship Group meetings. In such a big camp (more than 15,000 people) the area is split into sections, and I have been working to start Friendship Groups in each section, so people can talk out their problems and help one another find solutions. When I am not attending the meetings, I go on individual home visits to speak with families with particular problems.

One day, after the Friendship Group meeting, a young mother Ree Meh asked me if I could help her. She was wondering if the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) had declared her mother a refugee and if she was eligible for resettlement to a Western country. I told her I would give the information to UNHCR. But that was just the beginning of her difficulties.

“I have a problem with my husband,” she said as she started to cry. She said that her husband recently got drunk, and threw her clothes out of the house, telling her not to come back after they had an argument. She left with her child and went to her mother’s house. After listening to her, I offered to speak with her husband to discuss the issue.

Before visiting him I prayed for guidance and understanding of the situation. I also prayed for Ree Meh and her husband. I told the Lord that by myself I can’t do anything good but with Him everything is possible. I still felt nervous because I did not know how he would respond to me.

My interpreter and I went to the husband’s house. We introduced ourselves and asked him if it’s okay to visit him. He welcomed us to their house where his mother and sister were staying. First, I asked permission to aski him personal questions. I want to show respect for everyone I serve. He, his mother and sister answered my questions willingly and when I asked for the wife they told me that she left with her child because he sent her away. He said that he wanted to see his child but Ree Meh was angry wouldn’t allow it.

I encouraged him to talk with Ree Meh later about their problem, to listen and understand each other since both of them would like to live as a family. I asked him if he wanted me to talk with his wife so she would know his side.

We went to see Ree meh at her mother’s house and shared with her about the visit we had to her husband. I encouraged her to talk with him, to listen and understand him so they could live as a family.

As we left her home, I noticed a young girl, Soe Meh, sitting outside, who should have been in school.

“I left school after I failed grade three. I babysit now instead,” she told me. I felt bad because she’s only 14 years old and I know the importance of education for a girl her age. I remember very well the concern of JRS and the Karenni Education Department (KnED) to have all children receiving an education. I knew I need to do something for this girl. I decided I needed to speak to her parents because they are responsible for her and I wanted to know the family and why they allow her not to be in school.

Finding a way

When I arrived at her home, I began to understand why she didn’t attend school. Her mother was asleep in the afternoon, drunk. Her brother’s pants were tattered. Once the mother woke I tried to speak with her about sending her daughter to school.

“I told her to attend school, but she does not obey me,” the mother said. Deciding to take matters into my own hands I arranged meetings with the head of one primary school to enroll this young woman in classes, telling her that she couldn’t go on babysitting rather than attending school. She seemed to understand because she was willing to re-enroll in classes.

After taking Soe Meh to school, I went back to speak with the mother who was drunk again. I realized that things would not change for this family if the head of the household had such an alcohol problem. After speaking with her, she agreed to let me refer her to a counselor.  When I was talking to her she listened and responded and admitted that she drinks every morning. Since then, I try to find time to visit her at least once a week, once I found her sober. The next time she was again sleeping which could mean that she was drunk again. It is a difficult process to accompany people, knowing that some people continue to stumble.

Spending a day like this, responding to the needs that I see makes me feel amazed at how the Lord works and responds to the needs of His children in the camp through us who are there to help them. I feel grateful to Him for the opportunity to accompany, to serve and advocate for our refugee brothers and sisters.

I feel sad when I see people not responding to the help we extend. At times I feel helpless at some difficult situations and faced with my own human limitation. This always leads me to call on God and put all my trust in Him. Seeing families we have assisted being happy and successful make me joyful and thankful to the Lord for it is He who make all good things possible.

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