January 29, 2004
by Sally Olsen

Map of Thailand,
with our route in black
Beverly, Jean, Sally, and Josh
in a temple in Fang
I have arrived home after a 20,000 mile plane trip to Bangkok, Thailand, and a 2,400 mile motor trip to the northern border of Thailand and Burma. I enter my comfortable two-bedroom condominium, turn up the thermostat, get some clean fresh water from the faucet, use the modern facilities, and contemplate talking to my children, grandchildren, and friends. Then I stop and remember where I have been and what I have experienced and seen.

What will I tell the peo-ple in my life, about the trip I have just taken? Will I tell them about the 140,000 Burmese refugees who are living on the Thai border trying to stay warm in the cold mountain air with nothing more than the clothes on their backs that they escaped in? Will I tell them about the children in an orphanage, whose parents have been killed or imprisoned because of their political beliefs?

Refugees building a bamboo house in a camp in Piang Luang
Children in an orphanage in Piang Luang

Will I tell them about the students who were imprisoned, tortured, and beaten because of their opposition to a military dictatorship? Will I tell them about the people who flee the same military dictatorship and, in the process of crossing the border, lose limbs and lives in the minefields? How can I ever explain to my loved ones the sight of doctors trying to help these refugees in primitive and crude surroundings, with the barest of medical equipment?
In-patient ward of Mae Tao Clinic, Mae Sot
Workshop in Mae Tao Clinic, Mae Sot, making artificial legs for landmine victims

I want to tell everyone about the kind, sweet, smiling people who continue to survive with great dignity even in the face of fear, upheaval, and oppression. The plight of the Burmese people and the Burmese refugees is something that up until one month ago, I knew very little about.

My life, my heart, and my view of the world have been changed forever because of my trip to Thailand. My hope and goal is that I can convey my feelings and experiences to interested people and thereby make a small difference in the lives of these courageous Burmese people.
Sally and Jean offering baby blankets that Beverly and they made for the refugees