19 Years On, Safe House for Orphans Still Going Strong

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The SAW safe house in Mae Sot offers vulnerable migrant children a place to grow.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Nearly two decades ago, the Social Action for Children and Women (SAW) Foundation established a safe house in the Thai border town of Mae Sotfor orphans, abandoned children, and women and children who were victims of human trafficking. Now, 19 years later, the foundation continues to provide the same vital service.

Many of the children who have found their way to the SAW safe house are not just deprived of parents; in most cases, they don’t even have a country to call their own. Born in Thailand to parents from Burma, they risk remaining stateless for life if they don’t get the assistance they need to claim citizenship in at least one country.

On February 4 of this year, 46 children living in the safe house received Thai citizenship cards. The cards—issued only to orphans who were born in a Thai hospital and who are currently enrolled in a Thai school—have 13-digit ID numbers that they can use to access the same government services that are available to all Thai nationals.

Without the SAW Foundation, however, these children would have been stuck in the same legal limbo as the vast majority of Burmese born in Thailand. “We helped these children to apply for Thai citizenship,”said KoMin Min, SAW’s advocacy and fundraising coordinator.

Unfortunately, however, most of SAW’s charges don’t qualify for Thai citizenship (and fewer still ever get recognition from the Burmese authorities). This makes SAW’s services all the more essential.

“We can send young children to a Thai school, but for those who are older, we have to educate them in our own school,” KoMin Min toldKantarawaddy Times.

For many, it’s a rare opportunity to gain confidence speaking their own language.

“I want to visit Burma. I cannot speak Burmese very well. I am happy to speak our own language. I feel I am Burmese,” said Ma YaminHlaing, a student atthe SAW school.

But more than this, the SAW safe house provides the children with a family.

“They are orphans, so we are their fathers and mothers. We are their family. We can stop this program if we don’t have enough funding, but we can’t stop caring for these kids. We have to feed them two or three times a day, and we are responsible for their mental development. These tasks are on our shoulders,” Ko Min Min said.

According to Ko Min Min, the program couldn’t survive without the support of donors.

The cost of each child’s basic needs is a very modest 6,000 baht per year. However, some of the children who stay at the safe house also have special needs.

“I have taken care of five disabled children here, but only one is still alive now,” said Grandma Htay, who is in charge of taking care of children with disabilities.

Currently, there are about 200 children living in the SAW safe house. Of these, 80 are studying in a Thai school and the rest are studying in SAW’s school for migrant children.

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