THE KARENNI STUDENT DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME (KSDP)Providing aid for Karenni refugees on the Thai/Burma border
Though many people are aware that Burma is ruled by an unelected brutal military junta, the focus is usually on the hardships faced by the Burman people living in central Burma. Few are aware of the slow genocide being perpetuated against the ethnic people who live in the seven frontier states. Decades of conflict and oppression have driven hundreds of thousands of people from these states across the border into Thailand, where over 150,000 refugees now live in camps.
KSDP works with the Karenni people. Karenni is the smallest and poorest of the ethnic minority states. Around 23,000 Karenni people reside in camps in Mae Hong Son province. Some of these people have lived in camps for over 15 years; there are children who have never seen the outside world. The refugees are confined to the camp and they are not allowed to work, so they rely on support from humanitarian organizations.
Several large international organizations provide for the basic needs of the refugees, but KSDP, as a small community based family charity is able to quickly respond to the gaps in provision that the Karenni themselves perceive to be necessities. Our projects have all come about as a result of requests from the Karenni refugees themselves.
Our main focus is on older students, many of whom have become separated from their family and now live in camp alone. We provide boarding houses, basic needs (clothing & toiletries), schools, post High School skill development courses, sports & educational equipment and items such as prizes for camp activities.
In addition we also help support internally displaced people in Karenni State. Thousands of people who have been driven out of their homes by the Burmese army live in hiding in the jungle and our regular donations help provide essential food and medical assistance to these families who live beyond the reach of the major NGOs.
The Karenni people are largely a displaced population. Until the end of WW2, they lived in peace in Karenni State in Burma. However, the Burmese military junta, which runs Burma and is named the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC), have a policy of ethnic cleansing against the ethnic minorities and the Karenni are constantly being forced to live in relocation camps inside Burma.
To avoid this, many have fled to the jungle, or sought asylum in refugee camps along the Thai/Burma border, where 23,000 Karenni now live. The brutal SPDC carries out killing, rape, forced labour, and torture without discrimination. The elderly, the young, men and women are treated with equal brutality. Even when living in the refugee camps in Thailand, they receive limited support from NGO's (non-government organisations) and only basic food and subsistence is provided. They have no right of movement outside the refugee camp or within Thailand and are not allowed to work, or earn a living. Education for their young people is severely limited.
During the Summer of 1999, Stephanie Lee spent part of her gap year living and teaching in a Karenni Refugee Camp on the Thai/Burma border just outside Mae Hong Son in N.W.Thailand. She witnessed first hand the urgent need for educational support and subsequently founded KSDP on her return to the UK.
Stephanie also built and funded boarding units in the Karenni Camps called “The Future Stars Boarders” to provide housing and support for a total of 120 orphans and needy students who had no family to provide for them. They would probably have been unable to attend school in the camps without this help.
Stephanie returned to the UK in September 1999 to start her degree but continued to support the Karenni financially and practically by returning to teach in the refugee camps each University vacation.
She raised funds in the UK by giving talks on her work with the Karenni and seeking donations to support them. She also sold woven items made by the Karenni women in the camps, with 100% of the proceeds going to the refugees.
Within two years Stephanie had raised a total of £30,000 for the Karenni with every single penny going to them; she covered travel and other administrative costs by working during term time.
Tragically in November 2001, during an extended stay in the refugee camps, she was killed in a motor bike accident near the camp. She was just 21 years old. Her funeral was held by the Karenni and attended by over 4,000 people.
address: KSDP, Laceby Manor, Laceby N.E.Lincs, DN37 7EA, England