Its early morning and grey mist and smoke from cooking fires covers the makeshift crowded bamboo huts that is Tham Thin refugee camp.
Small girls and boys dressed in a combination of white collared shirts and blue short or skirts tag along side their as they turn up for the first day of the new school year. Tham Hin is a Karen refugee camp in Ratchaburi province, 270kms west of Bangkok. The camp schools are facing a difficult time as international non-government organisations have withdraw their financial support in recent times.
Along with the tough conditions in the camp and the low pay there was a shortage of teachers last year. The camp community has fought back hard and has worked to be self-reliant.
Saw John Smith, the coordinator of Refugee Committee Education Entity (KRCEE) in Tham Hin refugee camp spoke to Karen News.
“The biggest difficulty has been to find school teachers for our camp schools. People don’t want to be teachers. In May teachers and parents got together to campaign in the to motivate parents that education is a crucial need. The parents started to support us and people who had some educational experience joined the teacher’s service. We now have more teachers and this with the students who graduated from Tenawthari Junior College, we now have enough – 60 teachers.”
Saw John Smith says the response from the parents has been positive.
“We can now start the school and so far we have 1,539 students enrolled with more still to be registered.”
The Thai Burma Border Consortium estimates that the Tham Hin refugee camp is home to 7,758 refugees, and 98% are Karen.
The TBBC supports seven refugee camps along the Thai Burma border. Many of the camps now face a serious lack of support for teachers as many INGOs are reducing their funds as they prepare to work inside Burma.
According to KRCEE teachers salaries in refugee camps are amongst the lowest about 600 to 800 baht (18.75 US$ to 25 US$) a month – last year it was reduced by as much as 50%. This forced many teachers to leave the camps and was critically in lowering the recruitment number in new teachers.
Saw John Smith explained that with ZOA’s support and parents helping this year should be an improvement on last year.
“This year ZOA promised to support us by paying teacher’s salaries at 600 baht to 700 baht a month.”
ZOA – Refugee Care Thailand, a Netherlands-based NGO is the main donor of teachers’ salaries in the camps.
Saw John Smith added.
“Parents in the camp strongly support us and have tried to raise funds. This year they promised to support teachers salary by having each family contributing 200baht for the year.”
According to the camp committee, Tham Hin has as many as 1,514 families.
But Saw John Smith acknowledges that the school situation in the camps is not ideal.
“There is some improvements, but because of the low teacher salaries and the increases in the cost of living theirs is a lack of qualified people becoming teachers – the quality of education is on the decrease.”