A moment of peace: We're okay, we just need some rice

06 October 2021

Topics: community-led localisation Myanmar refugees Thailand

“We’re okay, we just need some rice.” 


Thirty-seven years ago, as conflict escalated in Myanmar, thousands of Karen families started fleeing their homes and crossing the border into Thailand to find safety.

As they arrived on the border, a group of people from different organisations in Thailand approached them and asked, “What do you need? How can we support you?”

Rice was what the needed, and so some rice was handed to them.

This was really the beginnings of our local partner, The Border Consortium (TBC); a group of likeminded organisations who’ve come together to serve this refugee population, driven entirely by the community and its evolving needs.

Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to speak with Khun Saywah, a Karenni woman who has worked in the field with TBC for 16 years, collaborating with the refugee-run committees who manage the day-to-day workings of the camps. 

Khun Saywah works closely with the committees to help meet the communities’ needs; whether that be through food assistance, leadership training to improve camp governance or livelihoods training to help refugees earn an income. 

 

Video:
(Left) Khun Saywah on a zoom call from Thailand last week. (Right) For more than three decades, our local partner has been the main provider of food, shelter and other forms of support to refugee families in camps in western Thailand. Karen McGrath / Act for Peace
It’s difficult to articulate how challenging these past 18 months have been for our partner and these refugee communities. The closing of borders last year due to COVID-19 triggered great uncertainty about when families might be able to return home. Then the fallout of the military coup in February pushed hopes of returning to a safe Myanmar even further out of reach. 

Khun Saywah, however, expressed that these recent challenges have showcased and in many ways strengthened the ability of these communities to meet their own needs and create sustainable solutions. 

Despite missing face-to-face interaction with our partner, the food security and day-to-day management of these camps has remained strong and steady. And by adapting to virtual learning, Khun Saywah says her team are continuing to deliver vital leadership training so the committees can further develop their skills.

Even if the ultimate goal of returning home is not within immediate reach right now, the agency, commitment, and resilience of these refugee communities continues to shine through. 

As they try to reimagine what the future holds, I'd like to pause and reflect on their ongoing resilience, creativity, and leadership in building solutions in the face of uncertainty. Thanks to your gifts, with the support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), this work is possible.

Knowing that our community is thinking of them, and continuing to back them, makes their journey that bit easier.

It’s a journey we’ll continue to take together.

Words by Emma - Act for Peace team