Thai Freedom House
Originally Published: December 11, 2014
Closely linked to the issue of trafficking is the issue of refugees. In Thailand there are many Burmese refugees struggling and dealing with great hardships. In Chiang Mai, I visited an incredible project called ’Thai Freedom House’- a community centre that runs language and art programs for Burmese refugees and other minority groups in the city.
The organization was founded by Lisa Nesser, who is originally from the US. She moved to Thailand 9 years ago when she was volunteering with refugees in Southeast Asia. She told us about the struggles that the refugees and minority groups in Thailand face in their daily life, a lot of refugees in Thailand are “stateless” and have no form of identification. Because of this, they cannot get a formal education. A majority of them live in very poor conditions on construction sites where they work. The centre is open for people of any age and have students up to the age of 50. They mainly teach languages and arts, but they also teach other subjects based on what the students want and need to learn.
To be more self reliant the Thai Freedom House operates the Free Bird Café, a vegetarian restaurant. It supports the programs they run. The café is ranked #36 of over 1,300 restaurants in Chiang Mai and it makes complete sense- they have AMAZING food and a great cause. The Thai Freedom House also have a donation program where people can give anything from clothes to housewares and they will be donated to a refugee camp. Any of the clothing that is not appropriate to give to the refugees in the camps are sold in their café and the money goes back into the project.
One of the project’s success stories is of a girl named Nap Dow who goes to Thai Freedom House’s school. She walked with her mom at the young age of 10 from Burma to Thailand with only one flip flop. On her journey, she was almost trafficked by a man who promised to bring her to a school in China with the chance at a better life. Her mom declined and they continued their trek to Thailand. She arrived to Thailand but was not allowed to go to school because of her status. Even though she wasn’t accepted to the school, the Thai school employed her and her mom to sell fruit to the children who could attend the school. To hear this was really disturbing. She started attending classes at Thai Freedom House when she was around 12 years old. Through Thai Freedom House she is now being accepted to universities despite the fact that she has never had a formal education. Not only is she being accepted to universities, but she is Lisa’s right hand person, who works there and can run every facet of the organization.
When visiting the evening session it was really uplifting to see the students helping each other with their homework, or playing with musical instruments. The programs are designed with the refugees needs in mind and Lisa’s dedication to this issue and tireless work really shine through.
For more information on how you can help visit the Thai Freedom House Website