Burma Border Aid is a grass-roots charity organization started by American documentary filmmaker Tara Milutis. After working on a film highlighting women’s issues in Vietnam, Ms. Milutis moved to Thailand where she met a Thai-Karen Jesuit priest named Vinai Boonlue. She was inspired by Vinai’s life mission to make a difference in the lives of the impoverished and marginalized communities that so heavily populate the north of Thailand and the Burma border region. There was one project in particular that Vinai felt needed the most attention – the Mae Tawaw medical clinic in the war-torn Karen state just across the border from Thailand. Ms. Milutis visited the clinic and realized that it would take so little to make a dramatic difference in the lives of the patients and the community. So she made a short film about Father Vinai and the Mae Tawaw clinic, started a viral campaign to raise money, and Burma Border Aid was born. Recently Ms. Milutis and Burma Border Aid were able to raise funds from friends from all over the world to cover a year of the Mae Tawaw clinic’s expenses. In addition to the Mae Tawaw clinic, they are currently working to supply an orphanage in the Mae La refugee camp with food, clothing and educational materials.
The Mae Tawaw medical clinic is located directly on the border with Thailand in Tha Song Yang, in the Union of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). Not to be confused with Dr. Cynthia Maung’s Mae Taw medical clinic in Thailand, the Maw Tawaw clinic is a small bare-boned concrete building in the Karen State of Burma where fighting between the Burmese military and Karen groups has been occurring regularly for decades.
The patients who come to the clinic, who sometimes travel on foot for up to 5 days to get there, suffer from maladies ranging from dysentery and malaria to the loss of limbs from U.X.O. explosions. The clinic is run by one sole medical professional and his wife – two ethnic Karens who have devoted the last twenty years of their lives to helping their sick and injured neighbors from both sides of the border who don’t have the money or means to go to the hospital.
The clinic runs solely on donations from small charity organizations and the tight-knit Karen community in Burma. Donations of rice, medication, medical equipment, mosquito nets, bedding and clothing are always needed. But we are looking for more sustainable ways to help the clinic. Recently a Danish Mine-Action NGO traveled to the clinic to give valuable MRE (Mine Risk Education) training. Our next donation project is to create a new water system and tank so that they can always depend on having clean water. A little goes along way in Burma, so even the smallest donation can make a huge difference in improving and saving the lives of the patients at the Mae Tawaw clinic.
The Mae La refugee camp on the western border of Thailand and Myanmar is the biggest refugee camp in Southeast Asia, housing over 140,000 displaced Burmese and ethnic minorities. Most of the camp’s residents arrived after being forced to flee their homes due to the on-going violence in Myanmar. The conflict between the Myanmar government and the Karen and other ethnic groups such as the Karenni, Mon and Shan is considered by many analysts to be the longest-running civil war in the world. Yet to most of the world it has become a forgotten story.
Ruby and Mingechit Mahn are two Karen refugees living in the camp, who take care of 65 children who have either been orphaned due to the violence in Myanmar, or abandoned along the way by their parents. Their goal is to create a dependable family environment for the children, while empowering them as much as they can with the education and skills needed to bring them into adulthood.
The camps are overseen and run by the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a union of 11 international non-governmental organizations that provide food, shelter and non-food items to the refugees. But it is still difficult for Ruby and Mingechit to make ends meet with the small allowance they get from the camp. TBBC does not give them anything extra for the children, since most of them are un-documented and technically asylum seekers. Ruby and Mingechit make due with only their personal allowances to feed, clothe and educate 65 children.
We are currently helping Ruby and Mingchit with clothing, household items, school supplies and books. Donations of any of the above listed are always welcome, in particular any books in English and ESL course books. The kids are incredibly intelligent and have a great desire to learn. As refugees and asylum seekers their futures are limited. We want to do as much for them as we can to brighten their lives now, as well as prepare them for what their future holds for them.
For more pictures and up-to-date project information please see our Facebook page.