Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
My thought drifted momentarily to the past when I was a 12 year old boy in shock from witnessing mass demonstrations of anti-Japanese business practices in Indonesia during Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka’s visit to Indonesia in 1974. The waves of mobs, coming from seemingly all directions, quickly turned their unbridled anger toward the Indonesian Chinese minority establishment as the undeserved victim, due to its perceived unfair achievement of wealthier status compared to the indigenous. Most of the commercial buildings were pillaged and burned. With my young eyes I recalled seeing fires everywhere as far as the horizon, and I still remember the putrid smell of fumes from the smoke that resulted from the burned cars and broken shops littered throughout the city. Then I heard stories of people who were mass murdered on the streets by the police and military forces. The adults told me stories, whether true or half fabricated I have never known, those streets were covered with so much blood, but firefighters and their trucks quickly cleaned it up to eliminate any remaining evidence of violence.
Then I came back to the present among our Fellows group who was listening intently to the presentation of Bo Phyu from the Youth Connect Foundation. The presentation was the last from our group visit to many of the institutions and organizations dedicated to manage the complex issue of Burmese refugees at Mae Sot, a town lies at the northwest of Thailand on the border with Myanmar. Despite of tiredness due to long travel and seemingly endless events, I could not help but admire mental toughness of war refugees that must endure so much unimaginable series of violence and tragedy in their lives. My youth experience as a witness of destructive horrifying effect of violence is not comparable to what Bo must have overcome.
Bo, is the perfect example of feel good story from the seemingly hopeless cause of endless influx of Burmese refugees along the Thailand border across the years. Hundred thousand of multi ethnic Burmese have been running away from terrors of continuous civil wars and debilitating poverty in their native country. A young man, now in late twenties, in t-shirt and jeans complete with dyed blond hair that you would be hard to distinguish him from many other youths of his generation strolling at the bustling streets or many modern shopping malls in Bangkok. His mastery of spoken English is quite fluent with admirably well-organized train of thoughts despite of having to do impromptu public speaking to the group of Peace Fellows. At the small meeting hall at the surprisingly well-designed Picture Book hotel, no one of us expected something special about him other than listening carefully his explanation about the admirable youth led activity, including on managing the unique boutique hotel itself, and multiple educational programs to help young Burmese refugees from his organization.
Then the whole audience became fully captivated when he started to share his personal life story as a 9 years old kid running away with his parents from war and staying at several refugee camps along the border of Myanmar-Thailand. It was both touching and inspiring to listen about his genuine spirit of learning despite all of limitation of poverty and lack of educational available resources.
As a small boy, he decided to travel alone moving from one refugee camp to another refugee camp in order to get a better education. Now Bo becomes a trainer to help his fellow refugees and has a young family of his own. He got the coveted legal status and can earn work opportunity like other citizens. His story of real life experience at the end of our field trip to Mae Sot reflects universal testament on human spirit for survival.
It also affirms successful evidence from concentrated intensive efforts from multiple institutional, organizational and personal efforts dealing with the refugee camp issues on all kind of related aspects from immigration, legal, educational, economic, and social issues. We learned a lot from our visits to several organizations dealing with Burmese refugee issues based on Mae Sot that provide useful insights on each of organization’s nature of policy, regulation, strategy, and actions. Personally I am impressed with the universal human spirit of altruism, compassion, wisdom with such admirable total dedication from all of the activists. Despite the depressingly many serious problems on the refugee matters, I feel there is hope for better future based on the tangible evidence of humanitarian initiatives encountered during the field trip. The field trip to Mae Sot gives memorable experience and strengthened my intention to actively participate in Peace Building and Conflict resolution as integral part of my professional career and personal life together with my Peace Fellows and all of concerned civic society.
Ryadi Adityavarman, USA
Rotary Peace Fellow, Class 20.