P.A. residents continue humanitarian work in Thailand
By Eric Bell
Prince Albert resident Pat Weir is one of 20 Saskatchewan residents who are heading to Thailand next week to work with Burmese refugees in Mae Sot, a city near the Thailand/Burma border.
The group will be aiding Global Neighbours, an organization started by Prince Albertans David and Heather Heppner.
“We’ve been going since about 2005,” Weir said, noting that this will be her sixth trip. “There’s 1.5 million Burmese refugees and migrants that live on the border or in Thailand, because of the civil war in Burma that’s been going on since the Second World War. It’s still not a great place to live, and particularly if you are not part of the Burmese ethnic group."
Weir says that the ongoing civil war in Burma has displaced generations of Burmese people.
“We visited a refugee camp where there are 50,000 people there, and it’s been there since the Second World War,” Weir said. “So there’s three, four generations of people there who know of nothing more than living in a refugee camp.”
Having so many displaced people in one area causes a multitude of problems.
“There’s also thousands of people living illegally in the area around Mae Sot, since it’s so close to the Burma border,” Weir said. “So there’s a lot of bad things happening, tons of human trafficking and drugs going through that area because there’s so many vulnerable people.”
Global Neighbours has several ongoing projects in Mae Sot to help aid both Burmese and Thai people. They have built an orphanage, schools, and daycares and have several other projects on the go.
“We also have a school that we have built that trains teachers to go back to Burma and help the teachers there,” said Weir, noting that the school includes lodging facilities for the teachers as well. “Last year we built a safe house for girls who were at risk of being trafficked. So, we’ve got 22 young girls living there.”
All of Global Neighbours’ projects are financed through donations, with every penny going towards aiding people in Mae Sot. Global Neighbours is run out of Prince Albert by a small group of people, led by the Heppners.
“There’s no religious connotations to the group, were strictly humanitarian, we build schools for Christians, Muslims, everyone,” Weir said. “We also built a school in Thailand, so were not just helping the Burmese, we’re helping everyone.”
Weir says that she loves working with the Burmese people, and that it makes her truly appreciate all of the things granted to her as a Canadian citizen.
“Once a guy there said to me, ‘have a look at your passport,’” Weir said. “He pointed to it and said ‘that’s your lottery ticket. You won the lottery when you were born a Canadian.’”