(If nothing else, read the last paragraph.)
In Mae Sot, dinner with friends usually turns into dinner with more friends and new friends. I met several students from University of Cincinnati on Saturday night. They are here to check on a project they have been working with for several years. It's deeper than just checking up on people though. This is making and maintaining a face-to-face relationship and mutual respect. Their University's ongoing project is involved with SAW, Social Action for Women. It was started by a Burmese doctor who worked very hard to receive his education and now educates community leaders to educate their communities. Most of the communities SAW works with are Burmese farm workers in Thailand. It was founded originally for women but has now become a more family and relationship based workshop where communities come together to talk about abuse, rights, and empowerment. These workshops engage those topics in the home and in the field. The workshops include a meal, a couple hygiene products, and 100 baht in place of a day's pay (less than $3).
Sunday morning, I tagged along with their group to one of the workshops. Along with the students there were several of the local leaders of SAW whom the students have been communicating with on a weekly basis from the States. We got into a truck taxi and traveled about an hour South of Mae Sot. The road opened up and fields of corn and hemp were rolling by. It rained off and on and the air was fresh. We stopped at someone's home on the way to pick up the food prepared for the attendees' lunch. We then drove into a small village surrounded by tall corn stalks. We unloaded the truck, helped set up the posters and then passed out a few supplies as people began to arrive. One of the main topics throughout was abuse in the home and on the farm. The attendees got into small groups and drew out pictures of what that looked like, then presented their story to everyone. They also did a few ice breakers and games.
While the groups were busy discussing their topics, the lead corespondent to the students took us to visit another village close. The head of the village told us that the water supply was poisoned by the chemicals used on the corn crops. This means that they have to purchased their own bottled water which comes out of their personal paychecks. The owner of the farm will not pay for a well to be drilled to solve this problem. The head of the village said that at this time they did not want to push the issue either because their relationship with the farmer was in pretty good standing. The bathroom, seen in the center right with green doors of the picture below, are in bad shape. They were put in by sponsorship from the University of Cincinnati but are now almost nearly full and unusable. Their homes are built out of bamboo because they are not supposed to be permanent. The land on which they live does not belong to them and they actually have to rent the land from the farmer/owner. So just to recap, they buy their own water, don't have anywhere to poop, don't have permanent home, pay rent on land, work hard on the farm, and get $2.80 a day.