How Can We Conserve the Dying Karen Culture?

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The year is 1997. Shwe Maung, a Burmese army general, walks on a Karen flag and publicly declares, “In 20 years, you will only be able to find Karen people in a museum.” Like a prophet of doom, his words seem to ring true with each passing year. Over twenty years after General Maung uttered those words, the population of the Karen people in Burma/Myanmar has been on a steady decline.

The reason for the population decline? The Burma/Myanmar civil war between the Burma military and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). The war which has raged on since 1948 is the longest civil war in the world. This civil war is responsible for the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Karen people driven from their homeland to live in other countries around the globe. Thailand alone hosts about 140,000 Karen refugees. 

The fading culture of the Karen people

 

The Myanmar civil war has been hard on the Karen people. They have had to run from their home and scatter all over the world to escape the atrocities committed against them by the Burmese Army. However, one of the genuinely adverse effects of the war is the risk of the Karen people losing their culture. 

A people’s culture represents their values and identity. Man and culture are necessarily two sides of a coin, and each is incomplete without the other. With over 70 years of conflict, the Karen ethnic group hasn’t had the chance to preserve their culture the way society at peace would. With the constant fighting, running, and displacements, there wasn’t much room for cultural preservation over the years. The Karen people left in Myanmar mostly live in fear, and that doesn’t make it any easier for them to preserve their culture and identity. 

Preserving the culture of the Karen people

 

Just like an endangered species, the Karen people realize the urgent need to protect their culture. For them, it’s either they start preserving their culture now or lose it in the next few generations. The Karen people are slowly awakening to the importance of cultural preservation. There have been a few cultural programs aimed at preserving their culture by celebrating their customs and beliefs. The idea is to conserve the culture and teach it to the younger generations so that they can pass it on to future generations. 

 

The Karen cultural programs comprise of music, dance, and general merry-making. In addition to conserving the Karen culture, cultural programs create an excellent opportunity for people to meet and get to know each other. During the last cultural program, we had students attending from as far as Bangkok. The Thai students came to the jungle village where they spent a few days learning Karen culture and interacting with the locals.

Growing the community through cultural programs

 

Besides promoting Karen culture and heritage, cultural programs play a critical role in building and developing the community. Although these cultural programs aren’t necessarily big events, they have been quite beneficial to the community. They have created opportunities for community teachers to earn an extra income. Performers of the Karen music and dance also get the chance to earn from the cultural programs.

As a big supporter of the Karen cultural preservation, we have started funding the next cultural program. We have already sent the funds to a Karen music and culture teacher, who, coincidentally, happens to be Kong Dee’s dad. You remember Kong Dee. We featured him in an earlier blog post as the first student to graduate through our Scholarship Program. Kong Dee’s dad has already purchased instruments for upcoming cultural programs with the first lot of funding. 

Join us in the preservation of the beautiful Karen culture

 

The Karen people need our help in preserving their culture and identity. We plan to fund subsequent cultural programs to grow them and invite more people to participate and experience the beauty of the Karen culture. We need your help in achieving this dream. Imagine how tragic it would be if the future generation of Karen people never experienced the beauty of communally eating a delicious Karen dish of rice and curry. 

All we ask from you is your assistance and support in protecting a culture at risk of vanishing. With your donations, however small, we can help grow Karen cultural programs to significant cultural events. We can help improve the community. By preserving their culture and giving them an opportunity to earn extra income, we would well be on track to achieve our ultimate goal – Building a self-sustaining Karen community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Win for Kong Dee and Echo International Aid

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2019 seems like Kong Dee’s year. You remember Kong Dee, right? In case you don’t know who Kong Dee is, he is the first beneficiary of our Scholarship Program. Kong Dee has come a long way to get to where he is now. When we met him six years ago, Kong was just a 19-year-old boy attending a local high school. At the time, he was a stateless refugee with big dreams and little means of achieving them. Although he couldn’t speak English, he had a desire to be a teacher even with the odds of achieving that dream heavily stacked against him.

Although Kong did well in his studies, the chance of him continuing his education after high school was next to nil. You see, Kong’s parents were farmers who barely lived hand-to-mouth. They simply couldn’t afford college fees for him. Six years later, and Kong Dee is as close to achieving his dream as he can ever be. After graduation, Kong’s journey Is just beginning.

The first job

 

Just a few days ago, we received a beautiful message from an excited Kong Dee. He had been offered a teaching job by the school where he was training in his last year of college. By reading his message, you can almost literally feel how ecstatic he is. He can now see his life starting to take shape and the future ahead of him becoming bright. To think that just six years ago, all that he has achieved now seemed like an unreachable goal. Just a young boy’s dream.

 In the message, Kong dee expressed his gratitude to the entire Echo International Aid family for helping him achieve his dreams. His parents were equally, if not more, grateful and invited the Echo family to visit anytime we wanted. Kong Dee expressed immense appreciation for the help he got courtesy of our generous donors whom we would also like to thank for being part of his incredible journey.

A vow to give

 

The most crucial part of Kong Dee’s message was the point where he said that he would be turning into a giver more than a receiver. In addition to getting a quality formal education, Kong Dee learned something important from his experience. That it’s always good to give.

Were it not for the generosity of our donors; Kong Dee would probably have never achieved his life-long dream of becoming a teacher. He wouldn’t have gotten his citizenship, he wouldn’t have gotten quality education, and he most probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance to travel outside the country. Without help from Echo International Aid and its donors, Kong Dee would have probably fallen through the cracks and fallen victims to exploitation through trafficking or slave labour.

Just like Kong Dee, Echo International Aid would love to express it’s gratitude to our donors. Were it not for them, we wouldn’t have achieved this much, and our work would be a lot more complicated than it is now. Though we still have more to do, we are appreciative of the far we’ve come.

There is still more left to do

 

As the first beneficiary of our Scholarship Program, Kong Dee has already started transforming his community, one student at a time. Imagine the good that ten beneficiaries would do to their community. How about a hundred? When we help educate the young stateless refugees, we set the foundation for the transformation of society as a whole.

At Echo International, our goal is to help the refugees in the Thai/Burma region become a self-reliant community. With the help of our donors and well-wishers, we believe that we can turn around the lives of these unfortunate people that fate dealt a lousy hand. We believe that we can have several other Kong Dees ready to help and share their knowledge with others in their community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kong Dee’s Success Story

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What are the chances for a stateless boy living as a refugee in a small village in the Thai/Burma region to realise his dream and travel overseas? The possibilities are very minimal, unfortunately. However, that isn’t the case for Kong Dee. Kong Dee is a young man of Karen ethnicity born in the village of Kong Mon Tha. His family fled from their village in Burma to the Thai/Burma border region, 8 hours West of Bangkok. The reason for fleeing? A sporadic civil war that has been raging on since 1948.

The Burma conflict is termed as the longest running civil war in the world, lasting for over 60 years. Kong Dee and his family are among the 140,000 people displaced by the Burma conflict. The family’s only source of income has been farming which is only enough to provide them with the bare minimum. Seeing that his family was impoverished, hopes for Kong Dee joining university or getting citizenship were next to none.

The turning point

 

We first met Kong Dee in Sangkhlaburi township in 2013. The town is about an hour from his home. Kong Dee was only 19 then and was attending a local high school. At the time, he was staying with a family friend closer to the school so that he didn’t have to cross the jungle daily when going to school from his village.

Madavee from Kidlaunch, Thailand had already established the unlikeliness of Kong Dee furthering his studies after high school, judging by his family’s meagre income. Dropping out would have opened up doors for exploitation. Working without rights, drug trafficking, and slave labour are some of the pitfalls that most refugees in the region fall into while trying to make some money to sustain their families. He wouldn’t have access to travelling rights, medical access, to name a few. Worst of all, he wouldn’t achieve his dream.

You see, Kong Dee’s dream was to become a teacher. Chances of achieving his goal, however, were minimal because of his extremely humble background. His family lived in a small wooden house where they shared a single sleeping space. Kong Dee was to become the first to enrol in our scholarship program.

Kong Dee’s journey to achieving his dream

 

Kong Dee enrolled in a university in Kanchanaburi city, 5 hours from his hometown, Kong Mon Tha. He would proceed to study at that university for the next five years. The most challenging part for Kong Dee and his family was the separation during his studies. They missed each other dearly, but the separation was outweighed by the benefit of University education to Kong Dee and his community at large. Kong Dee, however, always returned home to see his parents each time his study schedule allowed it.

Kong Dee has come a long way since we first met him in 2013. Back then, he couldn’t speak any English. In May 2017, he got his citizenship with assistance from our Citizenship Support Program. It took two years of hard work from Kong Dee and his family, Madavee from Kidlaunch Thailand, Echo International Aid, and most importantly, donor support.

Becoming a  citizen opened new doors for Kong Dee. In June 2017, he obtained his passport. It would have been impossible for him to get a passport without first getting citizenship. With a passport and citizenship, Kong Dee could access quality medical care and travel rights. He could now travel freely within and outside of Thailand.

Kong Dee takes his first trip overseas

 

Once Kong Dee got his citizenship and passport, his next step was travelling abroad for the first time, and travel he did. In January of 2018, Kong Dee had the opportunity to travel overseas to Singapore and Malaysia on a field trip with his university. His peers were left in awe as Kong Dee was the first person in his village to get a passport and board a plane. It would not have been possible without our Citizenship Program and your support.

Our Citizenship Program assists stateless refugees along the Thai/Burma border to obtain citizenship of their own. As long as you come from a refugee family, getting born in Thailand doesn’t guarantee you automatic citizenship. You still have to undergo a gruelling process before you can finally get recognition as a citizen of Thailand.

With citizenship comes greater opportunities and more rights. A formerly stateless person who acquires citizenship can acquire better healthcare, education, and unrestricted travel within Thailand and overseas. Becoming a citizen also shields them from exploitative working conditions and slavery.

Kong Dee touches the finishing line!

 

On March 2019, Kong Dee graduated from university with a degree and certification to become a teacher. With his citizenship, his five years of study could now be officially recognised. We are so proud of his achievements and couldn’t be happier for him.

Thanks to your support and donations to our Citizenship Support Program and Scholarship Program, we were able to help a young stateless boy achieve his dream of becoming a teacher. In addition to becoming a teacher, he is also a citizen and can now travel freely to spread his knowledge to other stateless children. From a stateless boy to a citizen and finally a university graduate, Kong Dee is now self-sufficient, and our job is done.

As the first beneficiary of our Scholarship Program, Kong Dee’s story is a ray of hope both for Echo International and for each of the thousands of stateless children with a dream similar to Kong Dee’s. With your support, we can help this community become self-sufficient, one child at a time. The beneficiaries of the programs can then go back to their community and educate the community members. Moreover, that is how we will end up with a wholly empowered and self-sufficient community. Only then shall we happily say that our services in the region are redundant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Echo International Aid 2019 Annual Appeal

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This week, we launch our annual appeal to help us raise funds to support refugees and displaced persons living in the Thai/Burma region. Since our first annual appeal in 2016, we have successfully funded life-changing projects including food drops, emergency medical aid, citizenships, university scholarships, and collaboration with GENESIS Network to build a school. All this has been achieved with limited funding, meaning that we can do even more to transform lives in this region. This year, we seek to touch even more lives and get closer to realising the dream of making this community 100% self-reliant.

We are targeting to raise $30,000 over the next three months. We need a consistent flow of donations which is why we came up with the monthly pledge mode of contribution. With a small monthly donation of $10, we can get enough funds for food and medical expenses among other life-changing projects. For most people in the developed world, $10 is probably the cost of a burger or a giant burger, or two coffees. For people in this region, however, $10 may mean life or death, literary. It wouldn’t hurt giving up one burger or two coffees a month to save a life, would it?

We are looking for 70 people to commit to $10 a month ongoing donations. Getting more people wouldn’t hurt but 70 is the minimum number of donors required to cover our operating costs. With $700 a month, we’ll be able to meet our operating expenses, pay school fees for scholarship beneficiaries, and take on new projects. We ask you to donate and assist us in this critical work which gives hope to people who seem to have been forgotten. Let us all come together and provide hope for this community that has already lost too much.

 

 

Life-Saving Emergency Medical Aid – We Need Your Help

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Have you ever wondered about the process that displaced people follow to access medical care? Well, in a stable country, medical care is a basic need available to everyone. It’s every citizen’s right to access quality medical care. Things are, however, a little complicated when it comes to nationless refugees and displaced people. Burma has been in a sporadic civil war for over 60 years now. It’s been termed as the longest-running civil war in the world. This conflict has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from Burma into Thailand. About 150,000 of these refugees live in camps along the Thai/Burma border region.

The emergency medical aid challenge

 

One of the biggest problems that we face while assisting refugees is getting them basic health care. Displaced people have neither nationality nor citizenship, making it close to impossible for them to get adequate access to health care services. They can’t get the same medical care as the nationals meaning that they have to pay cash for every visit to the ER. Seeing as they’re refugees, most of them have no money. They have to either borrow money for treatment or sell off any valuable items they own just to get treatment. In short, for them, it’s no money, no treatment.

We seek to change the narrative here with our emergency medical aid. With your help, the sickly displaced people of the Thai/Burma border region won’t have to forgo treatment due to lack of funds. Instead, we’ll clear their hospital bills using your donations to our emergency medical aid so that they can enjoy a healthy life without impoverishing themselves any further.

Previous emergency medical aid successes

 

We have previously been successful in raising emergency medical aid for individual cases. Among the beneficiaries of our previous medical aids are Far Sai and Chun Jai and their parents. Far Sai and Chun Jai are adorable twins born in 2017.  The twins’ parents lived in the Burma side of the Thai/Burma border where they couldn’t access health care due to lack of funds.

Typically, the mother would have delivered at home, but with twins, she needed surgery to deliver them safely. Thanks to all your donations, we were able to take the mother to the operating theatre where she delivered the healthy twins safely. Your contributions saved the babies’ lives, and with an emergency medical aid, we can do even more. We can save more lives and bring more smiles to a community that has already lost too much.

Could you help us save lives?

 

Over the months, cases of people in need of Emergency medical aid have been rising steadily. With most people in the border region living below the poverty line, we are the only ones who can help them, in case of an illness. Your donation could be the one thing that saves a life in this region. You could be the one that enables an impoverished family to see their newborn baby alive and well. You could be the one that enables an old lady to live a little longer. With a donation of as little as $10 a month, you could help us save these people’s lives and preserve their community.

 

 

 

 

 

Education is the Key to Freedom

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As the great inventor, George Washington Carver once said, “Education is the key to  unlock the golden door of freedom.” This quote paints a vivid picture of the situation in the Thai/Burma border. For many people in developed areas, education is a basic need. It is safe to say that it is considered a right in most places. This is, however, not the case in the Thai/Burma border region.

For decades, the Thai/Burma border region has been plagued by ethnic conflicts. As with any conflict-afflicted areas, development stagnated for the entire period of the conflicts. This resulted in the continuous deterioration of social and economic infrastructure in the area leaving a vacuum that was filled by criminal organisations. These criminal organisations have been engaging in human trafficking, narcotics trade, slave labour, and child prostitution. The victims in all of this? Thousands of children in the region with no access to education and necessary infrastructure.

Taking action

 

A few years ago, residents in one of the small villages in the Thai/Burma border region got fed up with the lack of schools in the area. They couldn’t stand by while their children lacked basic education and crime thrived in the area. Faced by the glaring threat of losing their children to all the criminal activities in the region, the only solution was constructing a school themselves. They aimed to pull together their resources since they couldn’t get any outside support and use that to build the school. Unfortunately, their resources weren’t enough to complete the school, and they got stuck halfway. Their efforts, however, didn’t go unnoticed. Recently, we partnered up with the GENESIS Network to help the community complete constructing the school.

We need your help

 

You see, education in this part of the world is a matter of life and death. Six years of school in this region reduces a child’s risk of falling into child prostitution by 95%. It also reduces the chances of child trafficking by 70%. Education is the only sustainable and long-term solution to the darkness that threatens this region. The school we’re building will provide education to over 300 children every year. By getting a basic education, kids in this region will acquire the essential skills necessary to earn a living and strengthen the local economy. In turn, the children can implement what they learn to improve the region both socially and economically.

Currently, we are working with local volunteers and donors, but we need more support to finish building the classrooms, outfit the school with books and teaching materials, and make the school capable of educating 300 kids. Your support is crucial in our effort to uplift this community that has been downtrodden for years. We need your assistance to save these children from the darkness in this region. We need your help in giving these children a future.

How can you help?

 

We need donations from you to keep the community’s dream of getting children quality education alive. A contribution of $50 can buy a hundred books. $2,000 can build an entire classroom. Every dollar counts. You can donate any amount you’re comfortable with. Whether $10 or $1,000, your donation will go a long way in fulfilling this community’s lifelong dream. Head over to our GoFundMe page and donate whatever amount you can. You can also follow our Facebook page to stay updated on the project’s progress.

Our promise

 

Our promise to our donors and the community is to build a fully equipped six-classroom school with the capacity to accommodate over 300 students every year. In turn, the school will provide both the children and the community with exponential opportunities for growth. Ultimately, by empowering the children with education, we will have enabled the community as a whole to stand on its own economically. Education will also give them the tools they need to fight the inhumane criminal activities by reducing their vulnerability and the likelihood of exploitation.

See, education is indeed the key to freedom for this community, and you can join us in their fight for freedom. Just donate whatever you can, no matter how small or large the amount might be. In case of any questions or clarifications about the project, make sure to contact us either through the blog or via our Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Echo International Aid: How it All Began

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It has been a while since we updated our blog, and for that, we apologise. A lot has been going on but we remain on track, and our mission to help remains the same. In an ABC radio interview earlier this year, Echo International founder, Jeremi Wallace spoke to Michelle White about the things that led him to start Echo International Aid.

Destiny

It all began in 2014 when Echo International founder, then a mechanic, Jeremi Wallace was on the Burma/Thailand border. There he met Madavee whose descent was of the Karen people of the Eastern mountain region in Burma. Unknown to Jeremi at the time, the Karen people were undergoing a humanitarian crisis at the time. The crisis stemmed from a civil war that has lasted for close to seventy years.

Jeremi believed that the universe had a plan for him to be there. He decided to spend time with the Karen people in the jungle villages where he interacted and connected with them. Jeremi went on to spend six months with the Karen people. It was at that time that he witnessed the suffering that they were subjected to.

The conflict had displaced thousands of the Karen people with some of them fleeing into the jungles and others into the neighboring country. Witnessing all this suffering affected Jeremi so much that he decided to come back to Australia with the goal of starting a charity that could help the Burmese/Thai border communities.

Bold step

Yes, starting a charity might seem like a bold and somewhat extreme step to take. However, drastic times call for drastic measures. When Jeremi came back to Australia, he contacted a few of his close friends and organised a fundraiser. The success of the fundraiser paved way came the birth of Echo International Aid. Over the last five years since its founding, Echo International Aid has helped support the remote communities of the Thai/Burma border region by providing scholarships, emergency medical support, community support, and assisting displaced persons to obtain citizenships.

The community

It has not been easy for the people who get displaced every day by the civil conflict. Aiding these people within their communities while preserving their culture and keeping families together has helped make their situation a bit bearable. We intend to continue contributing to making sure that the ethnic minorities have a life where they have access to basic needs and where their rights are respected.

You can listen to the whole interview between Michelle White and Jeremi Wallace here.

Baby Star makes a full recovery!

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We have some wonderful news! Baby Star has made a full recovery! Her family are absolutely over the moon and immensely grateful.

Last year when we met baby Star and her family it was clear she needed urgent medical attention so we rushed her and her family straight to the closest hospital. She stayed in there for one month but has since returned home happy and healthy and the family are all back together. Read More

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