Blessed Homes

Blessed Homes is an international organization that provides a home for children who are have inherited the consequences of the longstanding Burmese conflict. There are three children’s homes along the Thai/Burma border in the villages of Noh Bo, Klee Tho Kloo, and Mae Oo Ho. There is also a Youth Center located in Mae Sot. Blessed Homes is a safe-haven for more than 100 children. Thanks to ongoing international support, Blessed Homes has been able to provide for these children since 2007.(1


1"Blessed Homes Card." E-mail message to author. September 15-18, 2017.

Substance Abuse Among Displaced People

The psychological stress of displacement, resettlement, and/or achieving refugee status are many. Stressors such as disadvantage, trauma, loss, and adjustment to a new place are very powerful and substance abuse is often a coping mechanism.1 Alcoholism is found in Karen communities both in their native regions of Thailand and Burma, and abroad. The massive amount of displacement, war crimes, and resettlement that the Karen have undergone tells a story of much difficulty and a loss of sense of identity2.

The following sources contain significant information regarding the subject of substance abuse among refugees and displaced people:

Karen Specific Substance Abuse Resources

Substance Abuse Among Displaced People Resources

Use of Illicit Substances among the Karen


1Sowe, Helen. Are Refugees at Increased Risk of Substance Misuse?. DAMEC, 2005.

2Ehklo moo (Karen musician) in discussion with author, June 2016.

Refugee & IDP Camps

Along the border of Thailand and Burma there are more than a dozen Refugee and IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps. These camps are home to more than 100,000 refugees and internally displaced persons. The ethnicities of these are Karen, Karenni, Burman, Mon, and others. Over the past decade the populations have been declining due to refugee resettlement. Organizations like Church World Service, Norwegian Church Aid, and Inter Pares, to name a few, have been central to the relocation and assistance for thousands of these refugees.1

There are 15 IDP and Refugee camps along the border that are monitored by The Border Consortium, the largest being Mae La Camp which is home to more than 36,000 as of November 2017. The populations of the camps have been declining over the past decade.2

Annual Reports, 6-month Reports, Camp Populations, and IDP Population information can call be accessed via The Border Consortium: Reports and Populations Details.

Photo of Mae La Refugee Camp by Mikhail Esteves from Bangalore, India - CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


1 "Key Resources." The Border Consortium. Updated November, 2017. http://www.theborderconsortium.org/resources/key-resources/.

2 "Who We Are."The Border Consortium. Accessed January, 2017. http://www.theborderconsortium.org/about-us/who-we-are/.

Noh Bo

Noh Bo is a small village that lies on the border of Thailand and Burma. It is in the Tha Song Yang district, the northernmost district in the Tak Province.1Noh Bo sits beside the Moei River; a north-flowing tributary that functions as part of the border of the two countries. The village sits in the hills surrounded by forest. Rice, bananas, coconuts, and mangos are some of the edible vegetation that grows in Noh Bo.2

The village is home to many Karen. There are two Christian churches in the village as well as a Buddhist Temple. Their education in the village consists of a Thai school and the Noh Bo Academy which is a secondary school focused on the education of migrant children.3

Prominent Organizations in Noh Bo:


1"Tha Song Yang District - Wikipedia." Accessed September 19, 2017.

2Melachrinos, Stephanie. "Want to be a primary source?" E-mail message to author. July 25, 2017.

3"Gyaw Gyaw – Academy School in Noh Bo." Accessed September 19, 2017. http://gyaw.org/portfolio-items/academy-school-in-noh-bo/.

Education in Thailand

Thai Education - Primary and Secondary

The education system in Thailand is controlled by The Ministry of Education. All children residing in Thailand, regardless of nationality, are guaranteed up to 15 years of free education. However, the quality of this education is not equal among all children. Organizations such as Unicef are working to spread education to children in remote rural areas to aid in the fulfillment of the Ministry of Education’s mission.1

Thai Education - Post-Secondary

Tertiary and other post-secondary education is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of University Affairs. These institutions number close to 200 and are both public and private.2 Many of the Institutions are called Rajabhat Universities (Royal Universities). They were developed by the Thai government to provide citizens a high level of education for vocational purposes, research, producing teachers, and promoting and maintaining culture.3

Karen Schools

Depending on the village, region, and religion, a Karen child might attend Karen school. Many of the Karen schools are associated with Christian Karen communities but are not specific to Christian Karen. The education might be considered superior to the level of education provided to similarly aged pupils in other cultures. These schools are not mandated by the Thai Government but the education is respected. Within the refugee camps there are several educational systems; Karen schools, college, and seminaries.4

Additional Resources


1"UNICEF Thailand - Education - Overview." Accessed February 13, 2018. https://www.unicef.org/thailand/education.html.

2"Education in Thailand - Wikipedia." Accessed February 15, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education.

3"พระราชบัญญัติสถาบันราชภัฏ พ.ศ.2538 - thailawonline." Accessed February 15, 2018. http://thailawonline.com/th/thai-laws/laws-of-thailand/184-rajabhat-institutes-act-be-2538-1995.html.

4Multiple Karen in discussion with author, June 2016

Guitar

The guitar can be found throughout Karen communities in Thailand, Burma, and abroad. Aside from the t’naku, it has become the only other major pitched string instrument for the Karen, through adoption. The versatility of the guitar makes it ideal for multiple climates and can be seen in the Karen homeland and throughout the refugee communities around the world. The guitar is used as a main instrument for modern Karen music, worship in Karen churches, and music celebrations.1


1Ehklo Moo in discussion with author. June, 2016.

Traditions and Preservation

There are many noteworthy and dominant traditional icons within Karen culture: weaving, singing, t’nakus, hospitality, to name a few. Music is used to promote the preservation of traditions and is almost always part of ceremonies and celebrations.

The Karen have been living off the land for the extent of their known history. Methods of forest preservation are significant to the continuation of their ways of life. Swidden, crop rotation, and recycling are farming methods used by some Karen to keep the land healthy for continual use. Forest preservation ceremonies where Karen of various religious backgrounds gather are events that can be witnessed deep in the forests of Thailand.

As some Karen spread around the world, social media is used to maintain contact with the homeland. Karen in the far reaches of the world continue to practice celebrations and aspects of their culture.

Card-traditionsandpreservation1

Weaving

Karen weavings are quite distinct. Handbags, shirts, longyis, dresses, and headwraps are some of the distinct items woven by the Karen. The patterns of the weaving are intentional and maintain different meanings.

Card-traditionsandpreservation2

Singing and Dancing

Singing and dancing are highly regarded as key elements of Karen festivals and ceremonies. These may include Christian or ancient festivals, weddings, or funerals.

Karen Music

Music that is culturally traditional Karen music is identified by a sound or a melody. The main instruments associated with traditional Karen music are the t’naku, basic percussion, and voice. However, many other instruments are part of Karen music, both traditional and contemporary. It is common for Karen musicians to adopt foreign music and bring it into their canon, be it intentional or natural.1 The history of Karen music prior to western influence is not well documented. Pentatonicism is noted to have been a primary scale, similar to other Eastern nations.2 With the introduction of Christianity, a loss of music was found in specific Karen cultures.

“It is to be regretted that, with the acceptance of Christianity, the Karen have almost entirely dropped their own music for that of the West.”2

Instruments

Traditional Karen instruments vary from region to region. When speaking with a Karen musician from Karen State (“Kayin State” South Eastern Burma) they might not be aware of instruments that have been used by Karen for generations in a village in Northern Thailand. The diversity of the Karen ethnicity provides unique cultural differences within the population. Instruments include, but are not limited to: plucked strings (harps and lutes), percussion (xylophone, cymbals, drums - bronze, leather, bamboo, and wood), flutes, free-reed aerophones, and bowed string instruments.

Vocal Music

In a culture that is passionate about singing, the Karen, as a whole, have been known to absorb the musics of other cultures. Because of this trait and western proselytization, it is difficult to know the true nature of the ancient style of Karen singing. Harry Ignatius Marshall, while spreading western Christianity, had encouraged the preservation of traditional Karen music; “It’s a shame they are abandoning their own music, i urge them to preserve.”1 Choirs and solo singing are a key part of Karen celebrations and ceremonies but also part of everyday life. In the United States, there are Karen festivals where Karen groups get together and sing and celebrate. Christmas time is a prominent period where singing, dancing, and instrument playing, which has been rehearsed for months, takes place.

Hta, an ancient manner of singing among Karen, is being developed and preserved. Read the article "Mother Died and Time Passed" for more information regarding Hta.

Contemporary Music

Modernization has brought western instruments into the world of the Karen—especially Karen youth. The guitar and piano are very common in Christian Karen church services as well as other Christian events. Recording studios are found within refugee camps, villages in Thailand and Burma, and resettled populations of Karen around the globe. Many of these studios produce contemporary Karen music that is shaped around the modern garage band.

Karen music, like other musics in minority populations, is being preserved through the efforts of ethnomusicologists and, more importantly, by the Karen themselves.


1Stern, Theodore, and Theodore A. Stern. ""I Pluck My Harp": Musical Acculturation among the Karen of Western Thailand." Ethnomusicology 15, no. 2 (1971): 186-219.

2Marshall, Harry I. The Karen People of Burma: A Study in Anthropology and Ethnology. Columbus, OH: The University at Columbus 1922.

La June Paw's Story

Local boy rides bicycle on the main road of the village of Noh Bo, Thailand.
Watch the Video
Singer songwriter La June Paw performs a self-written song on the steps of her room at Blessed Homes Noh Bo.

La June Paw

The decades of conflict in Burma have caused a significant amount of displacement for the diverse Karen ethnic group and many other ethnic minorities. La June Paw is a child of this displacement. She lives at Blessed Homes in the beautiful village of Noh bo which sits right on the border of Thailand and Burma (Myanmar).

The Noted project | La June Paw | part 1 of 4

Children at Blessed Homes Noh Bo gather to eat their second meal of the day.

Both of June’s parents are still alive but the choice to live with them is not an option.

La June Paw poses for a portrait at Blessed Homes Noh Bo.

June's Family

Both of June’s parents are still alive but the choice to live with them is not an option. Her mother’s changeable attitude of having June as a daughter has been very painful for June and her father’s addiction to alcohol, apathy for his parental responsibilities, and involvement in one of the local armies precludes him from parental care. She was passed around through various family members in and outside of Mae La Camp for several years and eventually found familiar stability in Noh Bo. This has been her residence for the past 11 years. Her grandmother resides in Noh Bo as well and is a part of her life.

The Noted project | La June Paw | part 2 of 4

Paw Wa Jaw, resident of Blessed Homes, eats a mango picked from a local orchard.

Her life at the home would seem to some to be living in a jungle paradise.

Rainy season at Blessed Homes Noh Bo.

June's Home

Her life at the home would seem to some to be living in a jungle paradise. Surrounded by banana trees and bamboo the chickens and dogs run freely. The home is along side a mango orchard and the Maoi River where the children swim almost daily. As one of the eldest in the home June helps to take care of the younger kids. Her life in the home gives her access to visitors from various countries and her life circumstances along with her education have allowed her to learn several languages including English, Thai, Sgaw Karen, and Burmese. She attends the Karen School in the village which has a rigorous curriculum. Her father is Sgaw Karen and her mother is Pwo Karen. However, because she is separated from her mother she did not learn to speak Pwo Karen.

The Noted project | La June Paw | part 3 of 4

Two girls living at Blessed Homes Mae Oo Hoo watch a drone in the sky.

Like many of the Karen youths, June writes songs to cope with the pain and emotional burdens caused by displacement.

La June Paw sings a religious Karen song with her choir from a local church.

June's Music

June participates regular in traditional celebrations of the Karen that include dancing and music. Like many of the Karen youths, June writes songs to cope with the pain and emotional burdens caused by displacement. Her friends enjoy her musical abilities and and often seek her to sing and play guitar for them. When she write songs she writes them in Sgaw Karen. Her ear for music is quite sharp, she likes to sing harmony when she participates in the local choir. She sings at church regularly and her strong personality and keen perceptibly have made her a leader among her peers.

The Noted project | La June Paw | part 4 of 4

Rice fields and mountains surrounding Noh Bo, Thailand.

"When I just have a free feeling...I write it. If I don’t have, I don’t write."

La June Paw

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