Sr Francis Hayes completed Palms assignment preparation in May at our 8 day Orientation Course and flew to Mae Ramat on the Thai/Myanmar border on the 15th June 2022. Frances is a teacher from Western Australia, experienced in working with refugees. She will be working alongside three local teachers and will teach English to Thai students as well as provide additional English language learning opportunities for the many current dormitory students from Myanmar.
One week of teaching and already a weekend away! Siriporn met me at the school on Friday at 3.00pm on her way from Mae Sot where she had taken some children from her Centre to the bigger hospital. A few of them have sores on their legs which could be from malnutrition or scratching the midge bites.
Not far up the road we passed by Ma La Temporary Shelter – not sure how temporary it actually is as the 10,000 residents have been there for over ten years. We had to pass thru five police check points but we were waved thru – no doubt Siriporn’s veil and the fact that she does it weekly helped.
On the return journey on Sunday (public transport) – one passenger was taken off – probably didn’t have papers and at another check point every ones papers were checked – not mine surprisingly.
At Tha Yong Sang we called into the local hospital as Siriporn had been bitten by a cat and had her third and final injection. We arrived at Pa Nai Pu about five and talked until dinner time. There are fifty children residents, from villages up the mountains, and boy are they mountains! I thought the Centre was on a mountain. Vegetable garden on one level, up to Sisters house, up to children’s wash rooms, dining room and kitchens, up to children’s dormitories, and up to Fathers house and church. Felt a bit like a mountain goat myself. Dinner was basic – children have rice and one vegetable, our table – Srs, Fr and staff managed a second vegetable. Unfortunately for me stools for sitting on were about 15cm high and table about 40cm – getting down was one issue but getting up was worse – knees don’t spring up like they used to. Will need to practice squats before I return.
Government electricity supply cuts out a few villages back so there is a generator which goes on from 7 – 9 pm to allow the children to do their homework and anything else they needed to do. Many come to Srs house for homework help or do work on their sewing. Bed was early – tired from my week of teaching. Having no lights makes for a very dark night. Didn’t move too early in the morning either, but when I did Siriporn, Wippa and myself had very nice fried rice, cucumber, real coffee and then mango; most enjoyable.
I then helped with English homework – the children go to school and speak Karen until they come to the dormitory, have to speedily learn Thai for school as English is a compulsory subject – a bit hit and miss and not many succeed unless that can get a scholarship somewhere else. Even the Centre children families are too poor to contribute anything – not even able to help with food which is why there is an extensive vegetable garden to try and supplement the rice as that has to be bought. Up on their villages they grow corn which is sold for animal food – not eaten by humans but I’m not sure why as I Iike corn but it is considered animal food here.
Siriporn also has the girls (and some boys) doing weaving and sewing the traditional bags and clothes [see featured image]. She is hoping they will be able to sell them to assist with the finance of the Centre. The Diocese thru Father gives the equivalent of $AUD 50 per month for each child which doesn’t go very far. Siriporn has contacts everywhere and manages to get a bit more.
After lunch I needed a ‘nana nap’ and despite the activity going on in the house managed a three hour sleep. A bit more English to another group and back to the dining area for my sitting on the floor effort.
Sunday morning we had prayer in the church (the children are mostly Buddhist) but obviously prayer is universal. It was actually a few hymns, readings for Mass, prayers of the people, a homily/instruction, and a few more prayers. A few people from the village nearby also come and it was a wonderful community exercise. During Sat one little boy had come to Siriporn crying his heart out because his friend had hit him. After dinner the two of them were brought out, a long discussion on Buddhist/Christian teaching on working together and forgiveness – the boys shook hands, hugged each other, we all clapped and ready for the next day. It was so beautiful to see.
After the Sunday prayer Siriporn, myself and one group of students (they are divided into four groups for organisation) headed off to see a lady in another village who had just become a grandmother and wanted prayers said for him. They are obviously one of the few catholic families in the area and hold prayer in their house each week. We stopped by the side of the road and started talking to the young mother and baby and I started to get excited, but no – down a slope (with children in front and behind) along a 20cm divider between rice fields, up an embankment (children holding me as I kept slipping – Siriporn took her sandals off and went bare feet), then climbed the ladder to the lady’s house (vehicles and chickens below). Chatted for a while and adored the baby, then prayer service again, Siriporn and the lady both giving the homily/instruction this time. Presents of juice and strawberry milk for everyone, jack fruit to take back to the Centre and back on the journey again.
Had to stop for photos in the rice fields with the houses in the back of course. Because the children were so good we then headed for a detour to Mae U Su cave (not where the boys were stranded and rescued but a bit of sightseeing and photos.) Then drove me back to Tha Yong Song and caught a ‘song tao’ – like a ute with a roof but open sides – for my journey back home. Siriporn explained “she is a sister too.” So I managed the front seat with the driver. Not air conditioned but at least more comfortable.
An absolutely wonderful experience, great to see Siriporn again and now refreshed for another week. There are holidays in three weeks and I know how to catch the song tao so might go to Mae Sot – has a huge Lotus, Robinson (Thai Target/K Mart) and an English book store. What a busy life I lead!!!!!!!!
All is well as you can see and despite the minor discomforts I am so happy and blessed.