R2G: A year in review
In 2008, Room to Grow provided sustained core funding to feed and shelter 234 children in two refugee camps. In addition, we started projects with 46 migrant children in Mae Sot.
Room to Grow started out as nothing but an idle idea in early 2007. By the middle of the year the three of us, humanitarian workers with full time, low-paid jobs, were still struggling with things like a name and questions of how we would operate. By the end of the year, however, we had pooled together enough some resources to start emergency funding some dormitories with desperate need for help in feeding the children under their care. We also had enough money to hire Zaw Zaw Aung, our first in-camp coordinator and knew enough about what we were doing to submit our application to the Canadian government for incorporation and tax-exemption.
It wasn’t until January 2008 that things really got off the ground, however. In January we were able to connect two serious, long-term donors with projects in Umphium and Mae Ra Ma Luang in order to provide at least a year’s security to the children.
The change in the Section 13 dormitory was perhaps the most noticeable. Jennifer Allore first heard of them long before Room to Grow came into being when the dormitory building itself burnt down. The children not only lost their shelter, but also their blankets and warm clothes.
Kyaw Kyaw’s dormitory initially had funding from a handful of private donors which varied from one month to the next. Unfortunately, in Janaury, the dormitory lost all funding. We had initially planned to support the dorm with blankets and building renovations and suddenly we found ourselves in the position of feeding over 50 children with no other support.
Day Chae’s dormitory is the largest of all our projects and the prospect of helping so many children was both exciting and challenging. One look at the children there and the state of their clothes let us know that there was a lof of opportunties there to improve the quality of these children’s lives.
Finally, in Mae Ra Ma Luang camp, the Dormitory G boarding house found itself with significantly more children than expected when school started and with buildings that had not weathered the summer very well.
In February, things really got rolling. We purchased blankets for every child, much to their delight and appreciation. Even the prospect of carring heavy grey blankets up the steep muddy hills of Umphium couldn’t wipe the smiles off the faces of the children we enlisted to help us bring the blankets to each dorm. We were also able to put together a hygeine pack for those students in need who couldn’t afford things like soap, shampoo, toothpaste and laundry soap.
Zaw Zaw Aung, who was excellent at what he did, resettled to Canada where he is currently completing his grade 12 diploma. He was replaced with Saw Eh Say.
The English Immersion Program is a program for students who have finished high school and who wish to learn English and make a difference in their community. The program teaches community development skills and trains young adults to become community leaders.
This year, we connected students at EIP with children in Day Chae’s dormitory for their Big Brother/Big Sister program. Every weekend, the EIP students spent time reading, playing games and helping the children in the dorm with their homework. As a result of their time at Day Chae’s dorm, the EIP students decided to help the dorm through their yearly community development project. The students raised funds and helped the children build new toilets.
The EIP students also taught the children in Day Chae’s dorm what they had learned about digital cameras. Every week the children took turns taking digital photos of things that were important to them in their life, then discussed these photos with their Big Brother or Big Sister. The result was the PhotoFriend project, which can be seen on our website.
In March 2008, when students had finished their exams for the year, and celebrated the fact, we began contruction of new toilet facilities at Kyaw Kyaw’s dormitory. Half of the old toilet had collapsed when the hillside had eroded, leaving a large open pit behind the old toilet facility. The old girl’s toilets were nearly full and the doors had fallen off long ago.
With some hired laborers and with the help of both the male and female students, a new boys and a new girl’s toilet were built. Both had larger cement water tanks to ensure enough water was available for all students to wash, and all had doors.
At the end of school, we held a celebration for all students and especially congratulated those who had finished grade ten and completed their high school education. For most, the highlight of the celebration was definitely the food.
In April, our coordinator’s wife gave birth to a beautiful baby and also in preparation for resettlement to Australia, Saw Eh Say left our organization. Naw Corthanaw became our present representative in camp.
Resettlement also resulted in a change in leadership for most of the dormitories with all of our projects losing those in charge. It made for several busy months of training and ensuring that the children all had someone responsable in charge of their dormitories.
In investigating new projects for possible funding next year, we came into contact with several amazing groups of people including those who operate the Agape school and boarding house on the border between Thailand and Burma. Taking in beggars and other children who find shelter on the riverbed between the two countries, the school provides both a safe space for marginalized children and a chance for them to get an education.
There were 20 children sleeping in one building at the school when we first visited, with some of the boys sleeping each night in the classroom. We were able to build a new dormitory for the boys and as a result, there are now 46 children staying in the dormitory. For three months, we made weekly visits to the children to sing songs, play games, and draw pictures.
In September, we started a pilot project at Agape to see about the possibility of using sustainable agriculture in order to improve the quality of the children’s diet. Our first project was the construction of a mushroom shed and a chicken hut. We stocked the shed with bags of mushroom seed which require only shade and moisture and provide nutritious meals.
In September this year, we provided blankets to all new students at the dormitories in camp, as many of those who had arrived and began school in March were unprepared for Umphium’s cold weather. In addition, the Kyaw Kyaw’s dormitory was direly in need of new supplies for their kitchen as well as mosquito nets for the children.
The English Immersion Program has a sister-school in the migrant community in Mae Sot called Wide Horizons. We were able to connect students at this school with Agape for their final community development project. The students at Wide Horizons connected with another organization in order to plan and implement the construction of a new playground at the school.
In December, we asked children about the changes in their dorm this year. All of the children noticed that the quality of their food had improved this year. At Kyaw Kyaw’s dormitory, they said they usually eat bean curry in the morning a good curry in the evening. At Day Chae’s dormitory, the children said that they always eat meat at least once a week now. All the children look forward to meals which include favorites like pumpkin, fish balls, chicken bones and eggs.
The head of Section 13 noticed the difference this year at the Section 13 Dormitory. “Thank you for coming and taking care of the students,” he said. “I can’t go visit them often and we don’t have money to support them so thank you very much.”
A monk at the monastary near Kyaw Kyaw’s dormitory also noticed a difference. “Thank you very much for supporting the dormitory. Starting from when your organization came, the students get more support. We appreciate it very much.”
Looking back on 2008, we can see some solid achievements, such as getting the website off the ground, and some projects which are still underway, such as pushing our paperwork through the Canadian bureaucracy. All in all, however, we can definitely say that we succeeded where it is most important: in filling children’s bellies and making them smile. Happy New Year and thanks to everyone who supported us in 2008!