Friday, 23 July 2010

Farewell Assembly at CDC

It was our last morning at CDC and we had come to take assembly to make sure every child in CDC Primary knew what we'd been up to and what the partnership was all about. We got up at 6am to make sure we were there for the 8.30am start... in true Burmese style, it started at 9am!

The primary school children lined up on their balconies to come over to the big assembly hall. Here you can see the primary school. The secondary school has an identical building facing this one and they also have a third building behind the assembly hall. CDC building was built to Thai standards by Child's Dream. One of the conditions of the building is that it is not used for a boarding house so CDC have boarding houses scattered around Mae Sot.

The primary children walk to the assembly hall, arms folded in single file. CDC children wear a special green uniform on a Friday. The rest of the week it's lilac and navy.

It takes quite a long time to get the 560 primary pupils out of their building into the assembly hall. As each child passes us teachers, they bow their heads out of respect to us. Imagine that in Scotland! Take note of the flagpole behind the children.

The primary goes from Kindergarten to Grade 6 but Alicia and Hannah worked with Grade 6 and Grade 7 so Grade 7 got to come too today. The guy in red was the only person who could get the CD player and mike to work. I guess he's a kind of Burmese Linda Borthwick (Campie wonderwoman) and just like her, he keeps vanishing just when it all goes wrong and everybody runs round shouting for him. Just like Linda!

Every day the Burmese and Karen schools have to sing the Thai National Anthem and raise the Thai flag. So daily all 1300 people on the campus gather on the balconies, stand facing the flag and sing the national song as pupils raise the flag, followed by a 2 minute silence. This is because the Thai government want the Burmese schools, or learning centres as the Thais say they must be called, to assimilate into Thai culture and become Thai. Of course the Burmese and Karen people are mostly desperate to return to Burma so this is a huge conflict, not just as the flag is raised but in every aspect of their daily lives.

The Burmese and Karen people accept this as part of the cost of living in another land. As an outsider, I find the song and the flag raising deeply disturbing as it encapsulates the unbearableness of being a refugee with no rights to exercise your own culture. It unleashes a real clash of emotions - I feel stirred by the sound of 1300 people singing a stirring anthem, I feel angry that the Burmese people cannot be in their own place and are made to bow to another culture. This is heightened at CDC because look at the mountains... that's Burma. So very close but so very far away.... However, I recognise that my feelings of dissonance are a luxury that these refugee and migrant people cannot afford to have. They need to survive and to survive, this is something they need to accept.

Above you can see Say Hei, the Head of the Primary School introducing us to the assembly. The children call her Pi Say Hei, which means grandmother. She is the most nurturing, wise and gentle woman you could find and her experience and bearing bring her great respect in the CDC community. She runs a boarding house for 80 girls as well as having 4 daughters and an adopted son. We are SO HONOURED to be welcoming her to Campie.
Below we all greet each other with Minglaba!

And we sing, I FEEL GOOD by Fischy Music, which transcends all cultural barriers. Thanks Stephen Fischbacher once again for the music that we use so much here on the Thai Burma border. It's a novelty for the children to sing a fun song in assembly and people stream out of secondary classes to watch from the other buildings. We're even observed by a dog on the roof of the other building! Below you can see Myo Nyu, who was the interpreter for Hannah and Alicia. He is an outstanding teacher and learner and they have so many funny and amazing stories to tell about working with him. He's a very stylish guy and is wearing his take on traditional Karen clothing in the photo. We spent most of the week calling him various versions of his name. Num num, myoo myoo, no no, nweh nweh.... He took it all in good style and told my daughter Louise that he enjoyed working with Alicia and Alcock!

At the end of Assembly, a procession of pupils came forward to give each of us a Karen tunic that they had made by hand for us, then another procession gave us a brooch and finally they gave us a beautiful mosaic picture of their traditional culture for Campie's entrance hall. Alicia took it back to Scotland so come to Campie for a look, folks. We were all moved and very emotional. Alicia is a bit of a basket case when it comes to being moved it has to be said but we were all as bad as her this time! Interesting what you learn about your staff far from home!

And then it was time to say goodbye to the children as they left the hall to go back to class with hugs and smiles and 'Thank you teeecher'.
These people just fill our hearts with love and we have all been so totally privileged to spend this week with them. They deserve so so much more than life and the Burmese junta allow them to have just now. When will it change?
Thank you CDC, Mahn Shwe Hnin - headteacher, Pi Sei Hei and all her teachers and staff, Lisa Houston and Dr Cynthia Maung for your gracious hospitality and kindness to us and for embracing our partnership.


  1. Just back from our holidays so catching up on all the CDC/Campie blogs and have had to wipe many a tear from my eyes. Sounds amazing and the pictures are fantastic. Hope you all had a brilliant experience that will last forever. Enjoy the rest of the holidays.
    Karen, Mac and Esme (Andre)

  2. Thank you Karen. It is in our souls... and it's our last day today, so it feels very sad. Leaving Louise is going to be difficult too. She doesn't want me to go! Sheila

  3. I have really enjoyed reading your blog. What a fascinating and worthwhile trip. I am sure everyone involved has benefitted greatly - and had a wonderful, enjoyable experience.

    Freda Ross

  4. Looks like you have all had a great time. The trip sounds and looks amazing. Sitting here wiping tears away. What a fantastic experience.

  5. Oh my word Sheila, there's not a dry eyed reader left. What a humbling experience you have all had (and that includes the rest of us who have read your blog). We are indeed very fortunate to be getting Say Hei and I can't wait to meet her. Take care and I'll see you soon x

  6. I wondered where you'd got to Gaynor! Sitting in internet cafe using geoff's awful notebok to catch up on emails before leaving at 6am to make the long journey home...... see you soon... glad we've managed to share how it feels with you all.... Sheila

  7. It's so difficult to get across how exrtaordinary these people are. When they talk about all they've been through to get their passports and the danger they put themselves in, they say it's worth it because the Scottish people now know about their Country and can spread the word.

    I'm so excited for everybody to meet Poh Cho and Ni Shar. I spent some time with them this week and they are truly amazing people. So determined, I want to come home just to see what they do in Scotland.

    I'm Glad I'll be on the other end when they get back to Mae Sot though. Poh Cho will have learnt many things from Scottish schools and will no doubt be influenced in his teaching, will be interesting to see!

    Louise x

  8. Safely arrived in London on Thursday evening at 7pm having left Chiang Mai at 5am. So tired but up at 4am,ready to go for the day. Flying at 7am to Edinburgh. Apparently my house is OK but the kitchen's in a terrible mess and the bucket hasn't been put out since we left at the start of July. Ugh... young men can be so minging! I do love cleaning the house when I get home from a 2 day journey! Sheila