Thursday, 22 July 2010

To Bangkok for visas

We left Mae Sot on Tuesday 20th July at midnight in a minibus we had hired to ensure safe passage to Bangkok. It's very hard for Burmese/Karen people to travel around Thailand, even with a valid passport, which everyone had. The white foreigner (Ms Laing!) being with them apparently gave them extra protection. It didn't feel like it at the 5 checkpoints we passed on the way out of Mae Sot. At one checkpoint, the soldier opened up the back of the van, shone his torch in our faces, inspected our passports then proceeded to shine his torch under each seat in the back of the minibus to make sure we weren't hoarding any Burmese people. I am a white foreigner with a valid UK passport and despite all that, I found these soldiers very intimidating. However our valid passports got us through and we arrived in Bangkok at 6am, having stopped at some mosquito filled toilets on the way. It's amazing how quickly you can use a toilet that's full of mosquitoes!

At our 6 am stop in Bangkok, our Thai driver made it clear he had no idea where we were going in Bangkok. Nightmare! We had to phone a helpful friend at 6am to ask her to tell the driver in Thai where we were going. He then drove into Bangkok, got stopped and pulled over by police... we don't know why... and eventually at 7.45am, he astounded me totally by pulling up in front of the UK Visa handling centre. I was convinced we'd come all that way for nothing. We went in and sat in the queue. The centre opens at 8.30am but agents are already there very early and there were about 20 folk in front of us. Our 3 Burmese teachers were very tense and worried about applying for their visas. Everything is done in Thai, which didn't help at all. I'd naively hoped British people might be managing this process. Eventually at 8.30am, the Visa place opened and our teachers were each given a ticket and had to go in to the centre on their own. I had to wait outside. I was very worried about them, particularly as the place was full of wealthy Thai people, flashing money at agents. So many Gucci bags on display! And our poor wee teachers sitting in bewilderment amongst them. I felt quite angry because it seemed to me that once again, the wealthy could buy their way to visas and the poor Burmese, who deserved the visas might be made to wait at the back of the queue. Maybe I was wrong ... who can tell....

After 2 hours, all 3 teachers came out smiling and relieved. 'We did it. We had all the right documents, we had the right bank cheques. They liked our letters of recommendation from UK MPs and DfID Global Partnerships. They took our passports and gave us receipts.' THEY WERE SO SO HAPPY. A stapler was pulled from their bag to staple and organise their receipts. Well done teachers.

They are also so very, very grateful to everyone in Scotland who helped raise the extra money we needed to pay for passports, visas, the minibus etc. They bow and thank me all the time so please know that all that marathon running/working, sponsored walks, all the cakes you baked and ate at Campie, have done so much good and are so immensely appreciated. Thank you all, say our 3 teachers, bowing their heads humbly. Yes, it makes you want to greet..... we do nothing compared to how they selflessly live their lives. We eventually arrived home on Wednesday night at 7pm in Mae Sot. Neeshar had to get up at 5am to cook the food for the 120 pupils at her school the next day. This is how they live......

On the way back, the driver stopped at the market to let us shop. I passed on that one! It wasn't hard to resist the pork, pictured above or the bags of fierce looking chillies at 20 bhat a bag. Say Hei bought them as a gift for her daughter.

We had left Pho Cho in Bangkok... not by mistake.... he is attending an International Labour Organisation about Child Labour for 2 days. I can't wait for Scottish friends to meet this man. He is so dedicated to striving to protect his children and his people. What a day and a half that was.


  1. What an ordeal. I am so so delighted for our 3 Burmese teachers. They are such amazing and inspirational people and they are incredibly keen to come to Scotland and to learn as much as they can. Fantastic news. Love the photos to. Everyone looks tired, shocked and thrilled!

  2. Pho Cho, Neeshar and Sey Hei have worked so hard to get to this point, and been so grateful for everything- unbelieveable people. Sheila, please tell them how happy we are to hear the good news.

  3. Well they haven't got the visas yet.... just submitted everything but here's hoping!!

  4. Sheila
    Sounds like an epic adventure, fingers crossed that the visas follow...Really looking forward to the Campie kids enjoying the experiences of a CDC teacher at our school as much as the CDC kids have enjoyed the Campie teachers.
    Karen. Mac and Esme.

  5. I feel so emotional reading this Sheila. Well done to you and Geoff and the three teachers. I am sure everyone at Campie feels so proud of you all. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have played a small part in the fundraising to help to make all of this possible. Thank you all for your courage and determination and fingers crossed for the visas.