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A glimmer of hope away from home

For decades, Thailand has hosted more than 100,000 refugees from Myanmar. They are scattered across nine camps located on the Thai-Myanmar border. These camps have been in place for decades as refugees fled their home country to escape persistent violence. Malteser International is working to provide basic medical care for refugees in two of these nine camps. This story highlights the experiences of two women, trapped in exile but hopeful for a brighter future.

Ker Gay prefers to leave the talking to other people, like her mother, who often accompanies her to see the psychologist in the camp. On this occasion, they plan to discuss ways on how to help Ker out of her depressive phase. The 26-year-old refugee from Myanmar is also 6 months pregnant, her husband lives in the United States of America, and only comes home once in a while. Ker Gay is deeply worried about her chronic illness, but her still uncertain future also causes her much distress. To help her mentally focus on herself and her unborn child, one of Malteser International's psychologists practices relaxation exercises with her twice every week.

Ker Gay has been epileptic since she was four years old. She was still living in Myanmar at the time. Like thousands of her compatriots, Ker is a refugee of the decades-long violent conflict that has plagued her home country. She and her mother arrived in Thailand ten years ago, and have since then lived in the Ma Lae Ooon camp currently hosting 10,000 other people. According to Kai Pohlmann, Malteser International's Program Manager for Thailand, many of these refugees are not just worried about their very uncertain future, but also about an imposed idleness. "The refugees are denied the right to work or trave l outside the camps", he explains. "150 refugees have recieved training from Malteser International to become volunteers in our health centers. By working in our health centers, the refugees earn an income. On the other hand, the patients feel more at ease to know that our clinic staff speak and understand their language."

"Being a midwife has given me the opportunity to give back some of what I received freely."

Ker Gay receives medical and psychological treatment from Malteser International's health center in the camp. The staff in these centers are predominantly refugees, who have been trained as midwives or  hospital assistants. One such midwife is Naw Htoo Htoo Say. She has lived in the camp for nine years, and has vivid memories from her life in Myanmar. She remembers seeing her father and brother murdered right before her eyes. It has been many years since the events of her past, but those images still bring her to the brink of tears. She is however thankful that she survived the violence with her mother, and that they are both safe in the camp. "Being a midwife has given me the opportunity to give back some of what I received freely."

"I have learned so much since I started to work as a midwife. I know how pregnant women feel, I can support them to improve their health, and finally help them give birth to healthy children." Ker Gay hopes to join her husband in the United States soon after her baby is born. As for Naw Htoo Htoo Say, helping women deliver healthy babies has become a dream.

Malteser International's work in the camp is funded by the European Union.

More information on Malteser International's work in Thailand

October 2017, Katharina Kiecol.


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