Maesot, a town on the Thai/Burma border, is renowned for its use of Burmese workers in its clothing and farming industries. An estimated 200,000 Burmese are living in Maesot, half of whom are there illegally, fleeing either political persecution or economic hardship. They do not seek to legitimise their presence in Thailand through fear of being deported. They therefore slip through the welfare net and work for far les than the minimum wage. Their children are ineligible for Thai education and without the support of organisations like Epiphany they would not go to school. Their families typically earn less than £1 per day.
It is not only the students and their families who are illegally in Thailand, many of the teachers have also fled Burma after their villages have been destroyed or after being forced to work as porters for the army.
Our involvement in Maesot began with one school, which we supported for a few years after inheriting the project from a charity closing down. The school was successful but consistently did not meet our standards of accountability. After insisting that the school became administered and regulated by the Burmese Migrant Workers Education Committee (BMWEC), the school sought funding elsewhere. In 2011, with many major NGOs (including USAID) withdrawing support, a cavernous hole was left at all levels in the provision of satisfactory education for migrant worker’s children. We decided to continue our support by donating to the general funds of BMWEC.
At time of writing the education committee looks after 25 schools with 4,561 pupils and 213 teachers. In addition to class tuition, they provide health care, free school transport & lunches, teacher training, boarding houses and out-of-school clubs & programmes.
Migrant education faces many challenges, not least with the inherent problems of working with a group on the periphery of society, but also the lack of standardised curriculum; particularly the lack of shared goals with the Thai education system. There is an understandable conflict between the Thai & Burmese curriculums. Likewise between the wishes of migrants to work & thrive, and the desire to return home.
There is still an unquestionable need for support in the migrant education sector.