Same Same but Different

19th February 2017

A phrase which you will hear all over the country and one which rang true along the next step of our journey into the far corners of Northern Thailand. 

Far from the bustle of Thailand’s capital city and worlds away from York we landed in Mae Sot. A dusty border town where the collision of cultures is interwoven into its very fabric. 

Mae Sot lies just six kilometres from the Myanmar border and is made up of a vibrant mix of Thai, Burmese, Karen, Hmong and NGO workers. It is alive with Burmese trade and restaurants. Something our team delighted in as we sampled Burmese delicacies and marvelled at the lively markets (perhaps not so much at the live rats and toads!).

IMG_1519.JPGFullSizeRender%202.jpgThe colours of Mae Sot

This collision of cultures is one that sadly harbours a more difficult side of life for over 100,000 people. As we travelled north along the border, emerging out of the mountainous forests we saw glimpses of the nine refugee camps which are home to people forced to flee violence in Myanmar. 

For the Burmese Karen communities, who make up the majority of those living in these camps, life is one of few opportunities as violence continues and Thai citizenship is far beyond reach. The divide between the refugees and local communities however is one which offers hope as unlike the struggle for acceptance we see closer to home in the UK for refugees, here there is little animosity. Communities may be different, but they share the same roots. 

As we bounced along the road taking us further north out of Mae Sot, we were able to see across the river capturing a glimpse of Myanmar and a snapshot of these refugee communities. This is not only opening our eyes to the diversity of Thailand but also the diversity of the Karen whose roots stretch far beyond where we work in Mae Hong Son.

IMG_1527.JPGLooking across into Myanmar

People have a variety of perceptions of the Karen. Many see them as simply refugees or belonging to Myanmar but what we have learnt through our work and our journey so far is that the Karen are made of a diverse range of communities each with their own unique lives and stories.