Students without a university
THE EUPHORIA AND OPTIMISM surrounding last weekend's sweeping election victory by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party masks a sober reality in Burma.
Caught in the crossfire of Burma's armed conflicts, thousands of displaced children live in temporary shelters, refugee camps, and even the jungle, with no formal education or hope of attending university.
A young ethnic Karen refugee, Chi Doh, 21, whose life the violence upended, is now a teacher at a community-based school in a refugee camp, earning just 700 Baht (US $23) a month.
He said he has no chance to going to a university after graduating from high school in Mae La Oon refugee camp.
Like Chi Doh (pictured), thousands of youth and children are spread across nine refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border. Some of the displaced youth in eastern Burma still face attacks by the Burmese government army and have no chance to going to school.
“Since education is very important, it is risky for these children to miss out on formal education,” said Chi Doh.
Some of the youngsters defy travel restrictions and leave refugee camps after graduation, seeking work in cities in Thailand. Due to their illegal status, they are often arrested by Thai police and must offer bribes for their release.
Many refugees apply for resettlement in a third country with the assistance program of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Thai authorities. Since 2006, more than 70,000 refugees have been resettled in third countries including the United States, Australia, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Japan and other EU countries, according to the Bangkok-based Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a humanitarian agency providing aid to the refugees.
Bway Gay Thein Maung, the head of education department in Mae La Oon refugee camp, said even those young people that do manage to acquire some sort of education are unable to enter university since their high-school certificates are not recognized by international universities or colleges.
The young people who complete their studies in the refugee camps typically end up as community staffers, working in nongovernmental, community-based organizations with extremely low wages -- 700 to 2,000 Baht (US $20 to 70) per month.
Some work as schoolteachers, and some are health workers. Some serve as leaders of community-based organizations. Others, however, are given in under-age marriages, while still others abandon the camps and work as laborers in third countries.
However, a minority of students continue their education in Thai universities, with the assistance of NGOs. Some continue their education after resettling in third countries, after passing local university-entrance exams and successfully completing a course at community colleges, said Bway Gay.
Even resettled refugees sometimes give up on their education in order to earn a basic living.