I recently led a group to Ban Unrak Children's Home located in the small border town of Sangklaburi.
This area has been historically a very strategic and important area for both Burma and Thailand. Three Pagodas Pass, which is very close to Sangklaburi, is a natural weakness in the giant limestone cliffs that make up the surroundings.
Ok, sorry guys but a short history lesson is need here. It may not be accurate, or in depth, but is a general idea of what the area has been going through.
It is thought that Buddhist teachings originally entered Thailand from India via this pass. Militarily this pass was also used by the Burmese to invade Thailand and vis a versa, which still has deep resounding effects on the Thai psyche.Thai people will not admit that they were once invaded and have an unhealthy depiction of Burmese people.
During the time of British colonialism in Burma World War II erupted. The Japanese saw an opportunity for expanding the borders of their small island and started invading mainland Asia. As such, the Japanese used forced laborers to build a railway line from Bangkok, over Three Pagodas Pass, and to Rangoon. Often referred to as the Death Railway, the track was built by POW's of many nations including Australian, Dutch, English, and Malay. This railway was most famously put to film in the "Bridge of the River Kwai," which depicts the building of the railway over the Mae Kwai River.
The British enlisted an ethnic group known as the Karen to help combat the Japanese invasion. They promised to give the Karen lands and political positions as a reward for their help, however when the British left the country abruptly in 1948 none of these promises were kept by the ethnic Burman majority. Ever since the Burman's took power there has been an influx of violence towards other ethnic groups, primarily the Karen and Wa. There have been a number of human rights violations attributed to the Burmese government. Below is a great short film about the region.
Phew. So, to make a long story short there are a number of displaced children on the Burmese / Thai border. They are sometimes refugees with family still in Burma, orphans, come from very poor families that can't take care of them but still love them, and a wide range of other places. Ban Unrak serves as a refuge for some of these children, however the approach is much different than say an orphanage. Didi, the founder, will only accept children if they are approved by both the local military outpost and village head. Furthermore, she always tries to take in the mothers as well as the children if possible. The mothers become mothers too all and are provided room and board for their labors.
|bridge over the river Kwai (cue the whistling)|
|3 Pagodas Pass|
Our goal on this trip was to help the home with their sustainable agricultural projects, general maintenance, and helping the kids with their English skills.
|picking long beans|
|dead snake the locals were about to eat|
Traditionally a river ran through Sangklaburi, however a years ago a development plan was put into effect to dam the river. The Mon people, another large ethnic minority in the region, had to be relocated to the hills above the proposed waterline. Effectively this created a natural rift between the Mon and Thai sides of Sangklaburi. With the support of a local monk a bridge was built to connect the two sides again, which in effect created the longest wooden bridge in Thailand. Have to say the construction does not instill confidence, but hey it support my weight for two crossings.
|epic wooden bridge|
|low level lake|
The last day of the trip we had a great conversation with Didi about how she founded Ban Unrak and the neo-humanist movement she is apart of. It was a very moving discussion for everyone. Though there were many subtleties to the philosophy, including vegetarianism , the main point was that to be a good person we must accept every thing in the world as part of universal family. By acting, saying, and thinking positive thoughts and emotions people can create happiness from everything around them.
Great trip and couldn't have asked for a better group of students to work with.
P.S. This video was also brought to my attention during my time at Ban Unrak, choice.