On Jul. 12th, which happened to be my birthday, I had an opportunity to visit an extraordinary group of children in Chiang Dao District--about 1 hour drive from Phrao. They live in a small village called Pang Dang, which is just 20-minute away from the town of Chiang Dao. They are a hill tribe called Da Ra Ang (or Palong).
Their ancestors come from southern part of China, but many of them now live in Myanmar. Due to some difficult socioeconomic and political situations, however, their parents and grandparents had to leave Myanmar and came to Thailand without legal paper. Even though all of these children were born in Thailand, most of them are stateless--meaning that they do not have any paper which legalize them to be in Thailand. No national ID card, no refugee card, no hill tribe card, NOTHING.
They are allowed to stay in the district, but are not able to go outside without permission.
Also, many of them get only primary education--up to age 12 or so, and either work in the field with their parents, or even get married at the age of 13 or 14.
Fortunately, they have been supported by many organizations and individuals, including our friend organization, the Makhampom Theatre Group.
They have been working with the children with the community for nearly 10 years now. Currently, they are about to open a children's circus!
OK, so what did I do there on Jul. 12th?
Makhampom friends took me to tell my life story and work at ARC to make a simple picture book.
I shared with them why I got to love reading so much, and showed them how I read--in Braille. They were so curious and daring children I have ever met in Thailand!
I also enjoyed listening to their stories--what they do in their free time, what they eat every day, etc.
They even taught me a handful of Dara Ang words, which of course I forgot too soon :p
Problem of stateless people and refugees in Thailand is very sophisticated, and one cannot draw conclusion easily. But one thing for sure is that I cannot pray harder for their bright future--future in which they can make their choices freely. And last but not least, I absolutely admire Makhampom for their ability to give positive influence to the children, regardless of the harsh circumstances.
To sum up, I could not have asked for a better birthday!