Nai Soi Community Learning Center

Nai Sol

Ibrahim Loeks from Link Hands with 2008 graduating class. Slideshow»

Fleeing from Burma

The border between Burma and Northern Thailand is a scene of extraordinary tension, danger and strife. Since 1948, succeeding waves of military regimes have waged violent campaigns against the people. They have been conscripted as slaves to the army—forced to carry rice, ammunition, to work as cooks and to be human mine sweepers. Those attempting escape are shot; those who became exhausted or ill are beaten and left to die in the jungles.

In the face of such oppression, families have been fleeing into Thailand for decades. Some reside in refugee camps, and some have been granted migrant status, which allows them to live in restricted areas with restricted rights along the border between Burma and Thailand.

Life on the border

Although migrants are permitted to work, opportunities for employment are scarce. Children are now educated through the ninth grade, but the costs of high school are prohibitive, and therefore, they are effectively barred from skilled employment. Consequently, migrant children end up with no opportunities. They marry early, work for small wages in dead end jobs, and many of the girls are exploited for sex.

In 2005, one of these migrants, a man named Kyaw Hla Sein, decided to take action. He explains, "After realizing that we had almost no hope to go back to our homeland without going back into a war...I decided to open a school for the children."

The Nai Soi Community Learning Center

Kyaw is an exceedingly hard worker, who on the basis of his work ethic and the university education he garnered in India, had managed to accrue some savings. He put all of it into the project: buying the land, collecting the building materials and organizing meetings with migrant parents. Knowing that his own funds were not enough, Kyaw secured donations from The Canada Fund; a French NGO named, AIME; The American Women Club of Thailand; and The Brackett Foundation.

In the first year, 18 students attended the school. Now in its third year of operation, enrollment has doubled. The mission is clear: to give a better future to the next generation of migrant families in Mae Hong Son province by giving children high quality high school education and access to college.

Collaborating with Link Hands

Starting and running a school is resource intensive. In the first two years, Kyaw was able to subsidize the costs of the program by donating the salary he drew as a translator for the United Nations. But at the end of 2006, misfortune struck. While riding his motorcycle, he was swept under a mudslide. Suffering a severe head injury, Kyaw fell into a coma. When he recovered, he was unable to work.

Without the support of his salary, the community learning center was jeopardized. In order to make ends meet, Kyaw's wife, Poemeh, who took over the management of the school, was forced to borrow money. With the growing interest and the pressures of running a school, and without the benefit of a strong salary, how would these leaders and the project they were nurturing continue?

Seeing the convergence of compelling mission; dedicated leadership; and outstanding track record, Link Hands made the decision to help. In order to insure stability into the future, Kyaw and Poemeh had determined that the Nai Soi Community Learning Center needed to be capable of generating its own funding. They had crafted a master self-sufficiency plan.

To seed this plan, Link Hands has supported five initiatives:

Fund-raising for one last need

The master plan to establish long term self-sufficiency and sustainability for the Nai Soi Community Learning Center includes one final initiative: the creation of a traditional weaving center, an opportunity that will simultaneously preserve a treasured cultural art form and provide marketable skills to students and members of the community. The cost of the weaving center, including all materials and teacher salary is $8,000.

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