Bonnie Emerson Peace

Follow along with me on my journey!

Field Studies, Weekly Updates

Week 5 – Field Studies Trip: Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they do not have any.”

Alice Walker

It is difficult to capture in words, the situation in Myanmar!   Tragic, appalling, and genocidal would fit, for a start .  So would corruption, power of politics and multinational companies, profits over people!   

Most of you have should have heard about the conflict in Myanmar.  The genocide of the Rohingya perpetuated by the Myanmar government itself ?  Millions displaced, thousands upon thousands murdered?

Canada’s parliament even formally stripped Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship for complicity in the atrocities committed against Myanmar’s Rohingya (way to go Canada!).   See the link below for details.  FYI I have purposely included a link from Aljazeera news highlight coverage OUTSIDE of North America. News and media sure can form a large part of our world view I encourage you all to diversify your sources to ensure broad perspective.

My Class of Peace Fellows had our first “domestic” field studies trip to Northern Thailand along the Thailand and Myanmar/Burmese border. We were not going to study the Rohingya crisis.  The worlds eyes are on that.  Rather we were going to learn about yet another tragic affected peoples fleeing from Myanmar; The Shan ethnic people.

NOTE:  Even the name Myanmar is contentious here and often the  term Burma/ Burmese is used throughout the week.  Depending who we speak with of course.  Suffice to say Myanmar used to be “Burma” and the ruling Government now calls the country Myanmar. I will use Myanmar for this papers purpose….. with that noted.

For many years there has been conflict between the Myanmar government and the country’s minority ethnic communities such as the Shan people. Policies have been employed by the military to divide its peoples and created conflict within the country.  Civilians were targeted by the government/military (as the government believed civilians were helping what they called the “rebel groups”)Shan state of Myanmar(Burma) was no longer a safe place to live.  People fled to Thailand.  This began almost 30 (yes thirty) years ago.

I should also share that the Shan peoples have lived here for hundreds of years and for centuries have travelled across International borders freely.  There were no borders back then (sound familiar?).

The Shan have their own language and community.  They had their own State in Myanmar but they also have ties to Northern Thailand and the Thai Shan people.  Both speak the same language and families lived on both sides of the borders.  When the danger became too great they fled to their friends in Thailand and set up camps.   We were to visit one of those camps, the Koung Jor Camp later in the week.

The Koung Jor Refugee camp is 500 meters from the Myanmar/border in Northern Thailand, in the Piang-luang sub-district and the Viang- hang district, North East of the Chiang Mai Province. The camp is home to 506 people and 135 families.  All from Shan (ethnic) state of Myanmar (Burma). 

Northern Thailand View from
View of Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep (pollution/smog is quite bad)

I have taken few pictures of the camp, as I as I am here for education and not poverty tourism. I also have few pictures of our presenters and have not posted most names as it may be unsafe to be sharing truths that are critical of current Governments.

I had written a reflection for myself that I will also add in a separate blog posting (also with few pictures for the same conscious reasons).  In my reflections I have outlined some learning received from each day and a few taken aways!  Spoiler Alert – this week has been very sad, depressing and soul draining to realize that such atrocities not only occur but are condoned by large blocks of people, organizations and governments! 

My biggest take away was – we cannot give up.  We must be strategic about how we help and how we fight back!  I also met some amazing caring people this week and I have to admit it made me feel like I am not doing enough.  Our world is in poor shape and I refuse to accept that it is ok to continue.  I have included some links from some pretty amazing organizations below for those of you interested.

See what UN Refugee agency is doing and learn more

We also met with The Border Consortium and Mr Duncan McArthur who have been assisting Koung Jor and 9 other – recognized camps (Koung Jor is not recognized).

MAP Foundation is a grassroots Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that seeks to empower migrant communities from Burma living and working in Thailand.

Finally, Ms Charm Tong from the Shan Human Rights Foundation met with us to discuss the political and human rights situation affecting the Shan people.

Ms Charm Tong, is a Shan teacher and human rights activist. She is one of the founders of the Shan Women’s Action Network who authored the renowned report, “License to Rape”.      I suggest you take some time to read this one and then please remember to self care. It is easy to get overwhelmed and ultimately feel it is hopeless.  It is not. 

Ms Charm Tong, Shan teacher and human rights activist.

I know I am repeating myself but I have to state yet again how much I appreciate my fellow peace fellows (made myself smile as I typed that).  We are all in one way or another supporters of peace and most in helping professions. 

We understand compassion fatigue, and we made sure that we debriefed each night and organized events so that we also saw many many good sides of this field studies trip.

Working together.  We can make positive change. Even contribute to positive peace.  Together we have the shared power.  Let’s use it for POSITVE PEACE!


  1. Gord

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this on-going tragedy with respect and sensitivity and stressing the importance of supporting peace.

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