Journey to Thailand, January 2004
by Beverly Duval
Sally, Jean, Josh, and I arrived in Bangkok, after a 24-hour flight. Ken and Visakha were waiting for us at the hotel.

The next day we attended a meeting of the Coordinating Committee for Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand (CCSDPT) at the British Club. Representatives from many organizations and committees meet each month to update each other and gather needed information to help the Burmese refugees living on the Thailand border due to militant government rule in their own country. The military has ruled Burma for the last 40 years.
Beverly and Sally at Buddha Monthon
Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the democratic opposition leader, won an election in l990, but the junta, that seized power in l988, refused to recognize the results. She is now under house arrest. To this day, the majority of the opposition leaders remain in prison. Many people have been forced to flee their homes and villages, and over 140,000 live on the Thai/Burma border. Thailand is under much pressure from Burma to close the refugee camps, making the situation for these people even more difficult and dangerous. Prostitution and drug trafficking are a way of life for many Burmese illegal aliens outside the camps.Thong arrived at six o'clock the next morning in his 12-passenger van. We stopped at a small temple to pick up two monks, whom we called Ajahn and Bhante, from Burma's Shan State. We began our journey north along the Thai/Burma border and our first stop was Sangkhlaburi, where we purchased many items from Daisy's shop which supports Weaving For Women (WFW), a project to help women learn a trade for earning a living.
Thong arrived at six o'clock the next morning in his 12-passenger van. We stopped at a small temple to pick up two monks, whom we called Ajahn and Bhante, from Burma's Shan State. We began our journey north along the Thai/Burma border and our first stop was Sangkhlaburi, where we purchased many items from Daisy's shop which supports Weaving For Women (WFW), a project to help women learn a trade for earning a living.
Ven. Visanu (Ajahn) and Ven. Eindaka (Bhante)
at Sai Yok Waterfall near Kanchanaburi
In Mae Sot we met Bo Gyi, one of the founders of Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP). We donated money to help those who have been released from prison with post traumatic stress.
In the office of Mon Women's Organization in Sangkhlaburi Member of AAPP holding shackles worn by prisoners in Burma The two monks with Thein San, of All Burma Student's Democratic Front, in Mae Sot
We donated blood and used eye glasses at Dr. Cynthia's Mae Tao medical clinic in Mae Sot. We visited with Dr Cynthia herself who has maintained the clinic for fifteen years. Last year she won the prestigious Magsaysay Award for her devotion and service to Burmese refugees. Her clinic with three doctors serves 150,000 displaced Burmese people. (In comparison, Flint has approximately 125,000 people and 3 major hospitals.) The major health issues are malaria, acute respiratory infection, vitamin deficiency, and post traumatic stress disorder
Dr. Cynthia Maung
Since Thai government policy toward the refugees had gotten much harsher, we were unable to get permission to visit Umpien Mai and Mae La refugee camps. Nevertheless, the Abbot of the monastery in Umpien Mai came to Mae Sot to meet us, and we gave him several bags of supplies for the refugees, as well as money for education, cultural activities, a meditation center, and much-needed tires for the monastery truck.

Umpien Sayadaw at Mae Tao Clinic

Peering into Mae La Karen Refugee Camp
One week into our trip, we arrived in Chaing Mai, the second largest city in Thailand. The ancient city has a lot of charm with a moat around it and remnants of a thick brick wall. In some of the places we stayed, the accommodations were rather basic, but the hotel in Chiang Mai had hot water, flush toilets, soft pillows, and a swimming pool. We were in heaven and felt tempted to stay forever. We ladies took advantage of the Thai body and foot massages. A one-hour body massage was only 200 baht ($5). Believe it or not, we spent on average of only $25 per day for accommodations and food. Yes, the American dollar goes four times further in Thailand.

Traffic in the big cities, like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, is horrendous. In addition to too many cars, there are many, many motorbikes and noisy tuk-tuks (three-wheel taxis). We saw lots of beautiful monuments, temples, and monasteries as we traveled. Whenever possible, we paused to meditate and to take the five precepts: to refrain from killing, to refrain from stealing, to refrain from sexual misconduct, to refrain from telling lies, and to refrain from alcohol and drugs which cloud the mind.

Buddha image in Suphanburi, with the monkey offering honey and the elephant offering water

Along the route we stopped to enjoy waterfalls, roadside parks, and even a field full of elephants. In the town of Kanchanaburi we walked across the bridge over the River Kwai. In the mountains outside Mae Sot we stopped at "Magic Hill" and let anti-gravity forces roll the van uphill. Everywhere we went, we were able to find exciting outdoor markets where we bought all kinds of exotic things. The countryside is beautiful with coconut palms and other tropical trees. Many hills are covered with bamboo. In the north we drove past hundreds of fields of garlic that is planted that time of year. In most places rice is planted only during the rainy season from May through October. Flowers were blooming everywhere. We saw huge bushes of poinsettias, hydrangeas, bougainvillea, and other flowers I couldn't recognize. Thai food is delicious, especially the fresh fruit, including pomelo, durian, jackfruit, papaya, and mango. Mango is a very special treat when served with sticky rice.

A working elephant north of Chiang Mai A durian in Chiang Mai
Matriarch and granddaughter of a family in Fang who invited us to lunch
The further north we went, the more mountains we saw. In some cases we went right over the summit and down the other side. It's a beautiful country full of kind, respectful, and patient people.

Further north, in the town of Piang Luang, in the mountains and close to the Burma border, we visited Sweet Home Orphanage of 20 children. The children go to school by day and weave and do clean-up chores after evening meals. We purchased all the woven goods, the matron, Mary, had and gave each child a sack of goodies. We attended a town meeting to contribute money toward the completion of the community hall, and, to our surprise, there was an awesome ceremony attended by the town's dignitaries.

Also in Piang Luang we visited Ban Chong, a make-shift camp which houses 427 refugees from Shan State. As soon as we heard that they needed money for extending the water pipes from the nearby monastery, we decided to donate the entire amount.
Donating money for needed water pipes Dignitaries in Piang Luang receiving our donation
Josh presented each child with the school supplies and toiletries we had bought.

In the far North, we visited a medical clinic. The director oversees several other clinics along the border. We donated two microscopes, a stethoscope, two blood pressure cuffs, medical reference books, and several bags of sup-plies. We also donated money to buy a much needed computer.

At every place we visited refugee projects along the border, we made donations. Thanks to The Life Enrichment Center (my church), Woodside Church, and family and friends, we were able to donate bags and bags of blankets, clothing, toothbrushes, toothpaste, stuffed animals, toys, shampoo, stationery, and medical supplies, as well as quite of bit of money.

Thong and the van loaded with colorful bags of goods to donate to the refugees
Donating microscopes
Back in Chiang Mai, we met Aung Myo Min, founder and director of Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB). He and his staff educate the Burmese on human rights and work to increase understanding and cooperation among the various ethnic groups of Burma. While at the HREIB office, we purchased many unique woven products from the mainly inaccessible western area of Burma.

Admiring Chin and Naga craft at the HREIB office

For a fun evening and a little levity, Thong, Sally, Jean, Josh, and I did a tourist thing and attended a Thai Cultural Center event to see local and ethnic dancing. It was an enjoyable time, and we had many laughs, mainly about us getting up and down from the floor.

After 2,500 miles, we returned to Bangkok and packed for our return flight home. I had a life-changing experience on this never-to-be forgotten trip. I am very thankful and grateful.

Back in Michigan, BRC–USA sells the products they purchased on this trip to raise funds for their work. Next year, they will return to Thailand to donate the proceeds from the sales to support additional educa-tional, medical, and women's projects for Burmese refugees. I will again collect donations for another successful trip in 2005.

Wearing Shan hats Thong and Beverly at the Cultural Center In Lampang with Ven. U Dhammananda
Buddhist Relief Mission Website
Burmese Relief Center--USA Website