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.