International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Sarah Wayne Callies in Thailand, day 3

Actress and IRC Voice Sarah Wayne Callies recently visited Thai camps on the border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, where the International Rescue Committee assists Burmese refugees who have fled conflict and economic hardship at home. Here are some of her impressions from the third day of her visit. (Posted March 28,2012)

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Video Transcript

Hello, I’m Sarah Wayne Callies and I am an IRC Voice.

So a little a bit about Ban Mai Nai Soi. It’s one of 9 camps on the border between Thailand and Myanmar. Of the 14,000 people there, about 95% are ethnically  Karenni.
And these people have been fleeing various types of conflicts, economic and social upheaval that have made their situation at home untenable.  And what I see is a community of people that is making the best out of a deeply, deeply heartbreaking situation: to be torn from your homeland. The programming that is going on here is extensive and the resources that are being put into this community are providing everything from clean drinking water and food to psychosocial care.
Part of what we saw today involves some of the most basic services that exist in any refugee camp. The most important of course is water. You really can’t do anything until you have a clean source of drinking water. And it is a huge job providing drinking water for 14,000 people.

One of the coolest things that I saw is that it is also used to irrigate some of the nurseries and the gardens. And you, you peek over a garden and they are growing kabocha squash, and they are growing tomatoes, and they are growing beans…and I think this is one of the great strengths of what is going on here. There are, of course, rations that are coming in. But the rations are primarily eggs and rice and lentils. They are not fresh fruits and vegetables because that is incredibly challenging to administer. And they are really encouraging people to provide for themselves which again, in an environment where folks don’t usually legally have an opportunity to work, I think, is a source of pride.

Tying this in with the larger picture of sort of what is going on with the camp, I think it’s impossible to underestimate the value of that type of pride. Because one of the big challenges facing the camp right now, is a sort of epidemic of despair -- of being in a refugee camp, some of these people, for going on two decades with deep, deep, deep uncertainty about the situation at home, about whether or not they’ll l find a new place to live. And that I think might be one of the greatest challenges: how do we feed, not just people’s bodies, but what is right here. 

There is so much in the world that seems to be … breaking down and on fire and falling apart. And I think, for those of us at home sometimes we can feel [it’s] overwhelming , that you can’t make a difference because everything is burning and you’ve only got a little squirt gun to kinda try and spray the flames. And the big takeaway that I have from this time here is that it is working. I want everybody to see this. I want everybody to see that those little drops in the bucket can really make an enormous difference in the people’s lives here.

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