My Chance To Make A Difference

The journey of a CHANGE AGENT

Age is nothing but a number

As I learn more about the Nica life, I dive into a different world.  In El Transito, men rule the world.

Being a woman, you are subjected to men constantly whistling at you as you walk down the street.  To majority of the women here consider this a compliment.  To me, coming from the states, I think it’s rude.  I have to remind myself, “Tina, you aren’t in the states.”

There is a chance you can enter motherhood at the early age of 12 or 13.  Girls become sexually active as soon as the reach puberty.  Sometimes, even before.  In this world, this is considered “normal.”  Unfortunately, since there isn’t much to do in the “pueblo” aka town, the children turn to sex as a form of entertainment.

Photo courtesy of/taken by Jonathan Brody

Photo courtesy of/taken by Jonathan Brody

I imagine myself in their situation.  At 12/13, I was no where near ready to be a mother…to have a baby…to be responsible for another individual!  I wouldn’t even know where to begin!

What would be better?  To teach the children abstinence or safe sex.  From what I’ve seen and learned, at this point, it would be safe sex.

The men on the other hand, married or not, have the ability to move from women to women.  Or even have a wife/live in partner while still sleeping with other women.  Therefore, majority of women have more than one child, each with a possibility of being from a different man.  Once again, this is normal…this is a Nica man.

I may not agree with the role of the man and the woman, however I do appreciate the sense of community and family that El Transito nurtures.

Since El Transito lays along the beach, fishing is one of the main forms of income for those living in the pueblo.

Men head out to sea around 5pm every day.  Approximately 6 pack into one small boat at a time, hoping for a large catch.  As the sun sets and the backdrop of the ocean becomes dark, the twinkling lights of the boats out at sea begin to shutter.  What a beautiful view!

Fishermen hauling in their catch from the evening

Fishermen hauling in their catch from the evening

On a good day, the men haul in tons of fish for their family to prep.  The mothers and children sit with the man and begin gutting and cutting the fish so that it can be sold.  It’s a family affair.

Fisherman's daughter gutting the catch from the evening

Fisherman’s daughter gutting the catch from the evening

Firshermen weighing in their catch

Firshermen weighing in their catch

At the end of the day, it’s about the familia.

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My first few days…

Unfortunately, public schools in El Transito are neglected and many kids neglect to go to school.  So to help entice them and brighten their spirits, the first few days were spent beautifying the local school, El Colegio Douglas Vasquez.  This was also the first opportunity I had to meet the kids of the town.  Many offered to help because painting was new and different from their everyday life.

Hamilton, the painter

Hamilton, the painter

Hamilton's Assistant hard at work.

Hamilton’s Assistant hard at work.

Friday was “Noche de Pelicula” for the children at the school.  It was the premier of SPY Kids in El Transito!  The day before, we walked around the town to distribute flyers.  We recruited a few kids to show us the way, but most importantly, point out the homes that have children.  In El Transito, that is almost every home.  Back in the states, I could easily email, mail, text message, call or use social media to spread the word, but here, it’s not as easy.  In this aspect, I truly appreciate the true meaning of social media.  If used correctly, social media can definitely help.

One of the kids, Hamilton (pronounced AM-OL-TON), walked around with no shoes.  This baffled me.  His big smile masked the fact that the path consisted of rocks and unpaved ground.  His little calloused feet walked the route like there wasn’t a worry in the world.

These little feet went to help spread the word

These little feet went to help spread the word

Seeing this for myself, makes me appreciate NGO’s like Soles4Souls and social enterprises like TOMS.

Lana, one of the other wonderful volunteers, purchased a pair of sandals for him after our door to door marketing approach.The one thing that NICA stresses is “only give if they earned it.”  This is actually something that I should always remember when volunteering.  I tend to thing that the best way to help is to give freely, but in some cases, it can hurt the current situation.  These kids, eventhough they deserve the world, need to also understand that they must work in order to obtain their goals.  Is this is one simple way of teaching them this.

We headed to Leon this weekend.  Leon is has a very active nightlife.  In my opinion, dancing is a universal expression for FUN!  No matter where you are, women always love to dress up.  For many women, dressing up gives them a sense of confidence.  Confidence in the way they look, and who they are.

As we journeyed back on the 1.5 hour ride via public bus…more like a school bus…our bodies jerked around on the rocky roads.  Most of the time, our bodies shook as the bus driver maneuvered professional on the road.  Since owning a car is a rarity, majority of the people, of all ages, depend on these buses as their main mode of transportation.

A typical Nicaraguan bus.

A typical Nicaraguan bus.

At each stop, vendors would hop on and go up and down the aisle to sell their goods.  Sometimes, the vendor would be a very young kid.  When I think of children, I think of kids on the playground, laughing and playing…not working for pennies a day.  But of course, that’s the “gringo” in me.

Hasta mañana!

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My first day in Nicaragua…

Luckily this time, the trip out was a lot friendlier than my flight to Thailand.

As we drove from Managua to El Transito, I soaked up the views around me.  To some, it’s not a sight to see, but to others, the sights tell a story about the people, history and culture.

There is something about being in another country that I absolutely love.  I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I love it.  As I sat in back of the Jeep, I tried to soak up the Nicaraguan culture.

Upon my arrival to the NICA volunteer house, I was greeted by a group of cows who roamed into the yard looking for water.  I tried to get close enough to pet them, but instead I scared them away.  I guess they didn’t want to be my friends.

As this journey continues, I am sure I will make new friends and love living the life of a local.

Until next time…adios!

 

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To the individuals that helped fund my first international volunteer trip…

To the individuals that helped fund my first international volunteer trip:

Throughout the past year, I constantly looked back on my time in Thailand, working with the Burmese community and the Foundation for Education and Development (FED).  The experience changed me and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity and memories.

As 2012 comes to a close, I wanted to reach out to you and thank you, again, for your support.  Your generosity not only helped fund my volunteer trip to Thailand, but it also sparked a fire within me to become a professional international volunteer.  For now, that means volunteering internationally every couple of years.  One day, I will do it on a full-time basis.  

Upon my return from Thailand, I updated my resume to reflect my volunteer experience and was  offered a position at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the leading non-profit organization for pancreatic cancer.  A part of me believes that I was offered this position because of my experience as an international volunteer.  In this role, I travel once every other month, which means I rack up frequent flyer miles VERY quickly.

It’s only fitting that I use my frequent flyer miles to continue my role as a volunteer.  I am happy to tell you that in a little over a month, I will travel to El Transito, Nicaragua from January 30th-February 15th to work with Nicaragua Initiative for Community Advancement (NICA).  NICA’s mission is to empower Nicaragua through community development, helping the country become more self-sufficient and a greater participant in the global economy.  NICA focuses on five areas (infrastructure, education, health care, commerce and community pride) and is building a model that could be repeated throughout all of Nicaragua, and hopefully all developing nations.  I will blog about my experience on the same blog I used while in Thailand: https://mychancetomakeadifference.wordpress.com/

Not that I am keeping track, but your gift…

  • Helped fund my volunteer trip to Thailand, which in turn…
  • Helped me figure out “what I want to be when I grow up” AND
  •  Helped me obtain my new position, and is now
  • Helping me get to my next destination to volunteer

My hope is that your gift will continue to give me the opportunity to give to others…I am positive it will.  Thank you again and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

(To learn more about NICA, please visit http://www.nicafund.org)

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My Final Reflection

Click on the link below to read my final reflection.

My Final Reflection

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WHAT A DAY! Part 4: SHARK ATTACK!

After lunch, we drove for another 30 minutes or so…I took this time to contemplate what I had just learned about migrant documentation.

As we drove into the Kuruburi fishing community, you could see a number of men wearing bright orange vest.  Of course, I didn’t think anything of is, but the Medic pointed out “the men with the orange vest are Burmese migrants.  They wear it so that their employer can keep track of them.  On the back, it has the employers name and their assigned migrant employee number.  It is mandatory for them to wear at ALL times.”  I responded with “so, only the migrants have to wear the vest?”  “Yes,” the Medic replied “and also, they are not allowed to ride bicycles or motorbikes in this community.”  Brittany and I stared at each other as we red flagged the situation as a huge human rights/labor rights violation.

 

The orange vest

 

We then pulled up to the community’s Learning Center (School) ran and sponsored by FED.  The children just finished their lunch and were playing in the small play area.  Brittany and I joined them, acting like children at heart.  The two of us were getting a little tired and sat down in a classroom. Some of the children followed, asking us simple questions with the English they were taught and knew.  “What is your name?  How old are you?”  They were eager to show us what they knew and in some cases, what they could draw.

 

Kuruburi Learning Center

 

Children at play

Playing with the children

Children swinging

Playing with a camera

Drawing

 

After class began, Brittany and I headed to the Women Exchange.  As we walked along the same path the men with orange vest walk on a daily basis, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted SHARKS!  Not one, or two, but FOUR.  Four sharks being arranged in the bed of a truck.  I turned to Brittany and said, “did you see that???”  The translator, Lady, who was guiding us to the location of the Women Exchange, made a photo snapping gesture with her hand to asked “photo?”  I quickly responded with “Yes, please.”  As we walked over, the fishermen proudly laid out the sharks for us to take pictures.

 

Shark

Shark fishing

 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, lists sharks as an item to avoid, meaning that, currently, these items are overfished or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.

According to http://www.shark.ch/Database/EndangeredSharks/index.html

Endangered Shark Species
The “International Action Plan for Sharks” initiated by CITES and the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) have established that:

1.more than 100 out of 400 shark species are being commercially exploited

2. many of these shark species are so overexploited that even their long

term survival can no longer be guaranteed

3. a serious monitoring and control program is lacking for international shark trade.

Since shark is harder to catch, and not as plentiful, there is a higher demand. To the fishermen, this means the ability to charge more and less time out at sea.  To be honest, I don’t believe these men are aware of the facts about fishing for shards.  But for those that do, given their situation, they most likely chose to ignore the facts in order to better provide for themselves and their families.

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WHAT A DAY! Part 3: The documentation process

After a heartbreaking morning, we were on our way to Kuruburi for WEDA’s Women Exchange and the Health Clinic’s Community Visit.  First off, we stopped by a pharmacy/medical supply store.  The prices of medicine shocked me.  In America, prices of medication can be outrageous!  But here, in Thailand, prescriptions are not needed and prices are affordable.  Affordable enough for FED to purchase mass supplies twice a month, to hand out to the different communities they support.  I couldn’t help but get frustrated at the games health care companies play in the States…all for money.

The drive was long enough for us to stop by on the side of the rode for lunch!  For those who know me well, that can be an entire blog within itself!

During the ride there, we continued our dialogue we started in the morning on documentation, while waiting at the WEDA Center, with the Medic and Health Care Coordinator.  We were curious about the little boy who was now in the hospital recovering from his seizure.  Since his parents are undocumented, would they be reported?  Do they have health insurance? How are they going to pay for the services?  Here are a few things that we found out.

–       It takes months to apply and receive a Burmese passport, which is only valid for 3 years at a time.  The Burmese passport gives them the flexibility to move around Thailand freely.

–       Migrants who have a Burmese passport and work permit are allowed to apply for an ID card.  HOWEVER, the Thai government places restrictions on applications and only gives them a short window of time to apply for it.  For example, the last window of time was this past July, for those migrants that have lived in Thailand for at least 3 years.   In addition, the location to apply is far, approximately 1-2 hours away from where I am currently volunteering.  The price of a ID card is approximately 1,000THB a year.

–       To get a work permit, a migrant person must have a Burmese passport and apply for the permit in person, WITH their employer.  The price of a work permit is 1,000THB a year.

  • The employer can easily hold this against the migrant worker.  Most of the time, keeping their passport as collateral so that the migrant doesn’t leave…a modern form of slavery.

–       Once a migrant obtains an ID card, they are eligible to apply for a health insurance card, HOWEVER, the price is $2,000THB a year.  They must carry the card around WITH their ID and work permit at all times.

  • For a child, they must have a Thai birth certificate and their parents must have an ID card and work permit.  The cost of the health insurance card is about the same price as an adult’s.
  • Children born in Thailand have only recently been given the right to a Thai Birth Certificate, according to Thai Law, no matter the status of their parents. HOWEVER, in most cases, hospitals will only issue a birth certificate if both parents have an ID card or Burmese passport (I can not recall which of the two is required).

–       In order to apply for a driver’s license, they must have an ID card.  If they are approved, they are issued a temporary DL for one year, which cost 300-500THB.  After a year, they should be able to apply for a permanent DL.  However, for migrants, this is normally not the case.  Instead, they are taken advantage of and issued another temporary DL.  The reason for this is 1- They must pay every time they are issued a temporary DL and 2- If they get into an accident with a temporary DL, they can get their driving privileges revoked completely, however with a permanent one, accidents do not endanger their driving rights.

The Burmese migrants have a need to obtain all the documents, above, in order to live a decent life in Thailand, however it is not an easy or cheap process for them.  Keep in mind, some of the fees are more than the salary of the average migrant and most of the time, the locations to apply for documentation is so far away, that they hire an “Agent” to do the work for them.  Therefore, the cost inflates even more!

It’s sad to know that these migrants come to Thailand for a better life, yet they are continually taken advantage of because of their stateless status. It’s event harder to digest the idea that there are people in this world who find it ok to do so.

I am blessed that my parents immigrated to America, where they were free to live the “American Dream.”  Based on what I learned about the process of documentation for the Burmese migrants living in Thailand, I can only imagine what my life would be today if there was a “What if…”

I AM THE PRODUCT OF THE AMERICAN DREAM

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WHAT A DAY! Part 2: A visit to the ER

We left for Kuruburi but made a pit stop at the Parkweep Nursery.  The Health Care Clinic coordinator asked me if I wanted to take a peak and before I could say yes, my body had already made it’s way out of the car towards the nursery.

Parkweep Nursery

Parkweep Nursery Sky Lantern Mural (from Tangled inspired by the Thai Yi Peng Festival)

Children's shoes neatly lined up in front of Parkweep Nursery

As I walked in, I noticed all the children looking out the front door, pass my direction with blank stares.  I brushed it off and started snapping my camera.  I was excited to visit a FED nursery for the first time!  I noticed a crowd gather near the car and rushed over to get in, thinking that it was time to go.  As I got into the car, I noticed a teaching carrying a little boy.  His eyes were droopy.

Children of the Parkweep Nursery

Children watching as the teacher and Medic attend to the little boy

After I got in the car, the Medic and teacher got in the back seat with the little boy.  They laid him across their laps.  I turned around and asked the Medic “Is he not feeling well?  Is he sick?” thinking that we were taking him home because he had a cold.  The Medic calmly replied with “yes, he is not feeling well and he is epileptic.”  It finally hit me; the little boy had a seizer at school.  To confirm my assumption, I double-checked with the Medic, “He’s epileptic?  He had a seizer?”  To my dismay, the Medic replied with “Yes.”  I wasn’t sure where we were going…to a hospital, to take him home…but I now knew why the children of the nursery looked distressed.

The Medic and teacher kept engaging with the child.The little boy was going in and out of consciousness.  The Medic kept track of his heart rate as my heart sank and I felt a puddle of tears forming in my eyes.  They started singing the ABC’s and I could hear his quaint voice following along.  At the end I couldn’t stop giving him praises…not because he could sing the ABC’s but because he was able to sing it all the way through.

What felt like a lifetime, was 30 minutes…the amount of time it took us to get to the closest hospital.  At this point, I was unsure of how long it was since the little boy had the seizure.  Burmese migrants don’t have the privilege of picking up the phone and calling for an ambulance.  Instead, they have to find their own mode of transportation.  Luckily, FED is able to provide for the migrants.  However, there are a limited number of cars and even lesser number of licensed drivers that work for FED (see my next blog about Burmese Migrant Documentation).

As the little boy was transferred to the ER, the Medic and translator (Burmese to Thai and vice versa) followed.  We later found out that the little boy would remain in the hospital for a couple of days.

It makes me so sad to know think that the little boy’s parents came to Thailand to leave a cruel country to live in better conditions.  However, this isn’t the case.  Yes, they may no longer be victims of the Burmese junta, but now, they are undocumented migrants living without certain basic human rights, such as immediate emergency aid.

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WHAT A DAY! Part 1: Breast-feeding

At the end of the day on Tuesday, all I could say was “WHAT A DAY!”  So much in just 8 hours!

I attended the Women’s Exchange and Health Clinic Community Visit.  The Exchanges and Visits happen three times a month, a different community every time.  This time, we headed out to Kuruburi, a port/fishing community.

As Brittany and I waited in the WEDA Center to begin our journey, we played with the little boy who I normally see running around the center when I am there.  The little boy got hungry and nudged at his mom who was sitting on the floor.  He proceeded to lay in his mom’s lap so that she could breast feed him.  I was shocked.  I figured the child was around 2-3 years old.  As his mom was breast feeding, I asked her how old he was and she responded with “2 years old” then out of shock, I continued to ask her how long she planned to breast feed for.  His mom explained that she would continue to breast feed him until he entered nursery or primary school.  As Brittany and I stared at each other, I carefully thought about the situation.  Once again, my Western views clouded my understanding of the matter, but after further thought, I understood the importance of breast feeding as long as possible.

In countries like Thailand, where balanced meals may not come around often, having to feed another mouth can be costly.  Therefore, it is more economical to breast feed.  In addition, breast milk provides nutrients that babies and toddlers may not be able to get from eating unbalanced solids.  I think it is safe to say that the majority of the world sees breastfeeding in this light.  Eventhough I think it is “odd,” because it’s not the normalcy I am use to seeing in the States, it is probably just as “odd” for the Burmese to see American children drinking formula as an infant or milk as a toddler.  In the instance of breastfeeding, I may have to say that the “American way” may not be the best way, especially when you take into consideration that America has the highest obesity rate in the world.

After Brittany and I had a side conversation about breast-feeding, the mother proceeded to chat with us.  She told us that she normally  works from home since she still breast feeds and only comes into the office when the rest of the WEDA team goes out into the field.  She explained that she is unable to travel outside the immediate area because she doesn’t have a (Burmese) passport.  To clarify, I asked her “because you don’t have a passport, you can’t go anywhere?”  She confirmed and said, “Yes, I can’t leave this area.”

A piece of paper, such as a passport can crack open a door for a migrant, yet for a migrant mother that is breast-feeding, it closes the door back up.  Maybe breastfeeding is a double-edged sword?  As I close this posting, I want to bring up a point Brittany made.  Since the women breast-feed until their child begins school, the mothers normally have to stay home to do so, therefore suppressing the women and not empowering them to be independent/obtain a job.  Unlike the little boy’s mother, majority of the migrant women are unable to work from home.  Just another perspective to contemplate…

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A Day at the Zoo

Yesterday, a group of the kids, approximately 50, headed to the Phuket zoo.  Since I don’t get to work with the kids the often, Haley, Brittany and I decided to tag along as chaperons.  What I thought was a 1.5 hour drive, turned into 3 hours.  As we drove up, the children excitedly jumped off the bus to enter the gates of the zoo.

Children getting ready to enter the Phuket Zoo

As we entered the zoo, I was excited for the children, yet sad for the animals.  How can you be in a place that brings joy to so many, yet sadness at the same time.  I realized that for some of the children, this may be the only time they get to visit the zoo.  However, I couldn’t suppress my broken heart for the animals that were chained up.  At that moment, I had to make a decision…ignore the living conditions of the animals to help the children have the best experience possible or focus on the mistreatment of the animals. Unfortunately, at that moment, I decided to temporarily ignore the poor treatment of the animals.

Chained Up: Sleeping Tiger

Chained Up: Dancing Elephant

We ventured through the small zoo and headed to the three different animal shows: Crocodile, Elephant and Monkey shows.  The crocodile show enraged me.  The trainers poked at the animals to aggravate them and show their notoriously vicious chomp.  When the show was FINALLY over, we headed to the elephant show.  Luckily, the treatment of the elephants during the show wasn’t nearly as rude as the crocodiles.  But I noticed an open wound on one of the animals.  Instead of thinking “what if,” I just pretended that it was discoloration of the skin.  The show eventually brought a smile to my face, but not as big as the smile on the children’s face.  The elephants played instrument, painted a picture, played basketball and gave some of the audience members massages…it amazing how smart these animals are!  Our last show of the day was the monkey show…this show gave me a sense of relief.  Throughout the show, you could tell the trainers really loved the monkeys, stroking and kissing them.  The children sat in aww as the monkey did trick after trick.

Kids watching the Monkey Show

After the show, we had some free time.  The kids got to play with some of the animals, which they truly enjoyed, and we walked around to visit the different animal exhibits.

Monkey see monkey do!

Monkeying around

Slithering through the zoo

Don't get eaten by the crocodile!

Enjoying the beauty of the koi pond

As the day was ending and we prepared ourselves for the three hour ride back home, I came to remember something.  I forget that my way of thinking is completely different from those around the world.  Being an American, my standards are higher and just because I believe the zoo mistreat the animals, the Thais probably think that they treat and care for the animals humanely.  I pose and ask myself this question a lot…”how do you teach someone right versus wrong? how do you teach a belief to someone who has already formed their our cultural opinion?”

FED's Day at the Zoo

The ride back home didn’t feel as long as the ride there.  The three of us decided to ride back on the bus.  As I entered the bus, thinking of the cool air coming from the AC running through the bus, my Westernized bubble burst.  The disco painted bus was lined with fans on the roof.  However, there was entertainment!  The children were entertained by the numerous music videos playing during the ride.  Since some of them don’t get out of their immediate area often, some of them couldn’t keep their eyes off of the scenery that was scrolling by outside.  Others were exhausted from the day’s excitement that they passed out.

A day of fun is sure exhausting

Enjoying the unfamiliar views

As I close this entry, here are a few of my favorite pictures from our trip to the Phuket Zoo.

King Kong!

There are no words to describe the love that the children have for one another

Priceless

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