Thursday, 25 December 2008

News with hope from Irrawaddy

Today, Christmas Day 2008, the Irrawady website ( posted this news that the new Government in Thailand will be more supportive of the Burmese people. We wait with hope to see what this means for our friends in Mae Sot.

Speaking at an academic conference on December 19, Thailand's new Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya, said that Thailand would now run “an ethical foreign policy,” in contrast to that of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his hand-picked successors.

“From now on, there will be no personal business dealings on the side. This government will not mix business and politics,” he said. “We shall have no [personal] business deals with the [Burmese] junta; we shall observe human rights and environmental concerns; we shall treat Burmese as we do Thais.”

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Hle Bee Christmas Party

Forthview children raised enough money during Children in Need to give Hle Bee children a Christmas Party. You can see the photos of Forthview Christmas parties on Soon you will be able to see the photos of Hle Bee Christmas party here. Meanwhile Happy Christmas to all our friends and in Burmese....

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Burma Book

Murray Forgie visited Edinburgh briefly in early December. He had hoped to be here for longer but he was held up by the protests in Bangkok Airport. Eventually he flew to Edinburgh via Phuket, after an 18 hr wait in Phuket Airport, only to discover his luggage had not followed him!

My main worry was not Murray's sophisticated clothing going missing but Murray was bringing back the etchings printed by Kyaw Win in Chiang Mai. Thankfully they arrived safely and in January, I will be taking these to Balgreen, St Mary's, Tollcross and Pirniehall Primaries. Meanwhile Kyaw Win is taking these prints and the children's writing and creating The Burma Book. Watch out for a launch near you - in Edinburgh and in Chiang Mai and in Mae Sot! We are becoming veterans of International Exhibitions of Burmese-Scottish Children's Art!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Floods in Mae Sot

Yesterday Guardian Angel was telling me on the phone that Mae Sot is really badly flooded. Today I saw a photo of this on . The worrying thing is that the Rainy Season should be over and this should be the Cold Season with no rain and yet rainstorms keeps coming. Many businesses and homes have been flooded and are covered in mud. Our friends find it very depressing. We don't know yet how Hle Bee School has been affected.
Update - Hle Bee School is not flooded and the rains seem to be lessening. However they still have no long term funding although it is hoped this will come through soon.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

He just said, "YELLOW!"

In September 08, Kyaw Win, the Burmese link teacher between Hle Bee and Forthview, spent 2 weeks in Scotland. It was a whirlwind of activity but a very special moment was when Kyaw Win recited 2 poems from his childhood in Forthview Assembly. He read first in Burmese and then in English. You can see and hear him on this video clip.

You can also hear the nursery trying hard to do good listening until Kyaw Win says Patsy's favourite colour and then you can hear her, "He just said YELLOW!" Sweet.

And after all that hard work, how does a Burmese teacher wind down? On a beanbag, reading Angeline Ballerina!

Now go to Forthview School's blog and learn about Hle Bee and Forthview's joint handwashing campaign.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Kilts and Longyis Ceilidh = £713

We had a splendid evening of Scottish Dance with many kilties, of Burmese food but only one longyi (well done Mary Ryan Gillespie!) on Friday night. Around 80 folk of all ages danced away and listened to stories from the Thai Burma border. We were a richly diverse group of folk, who had not met together before and that made for a really interesting and enjoyable evening.
Thank you to St James Church for use of their building, which was looking lovely. Thank you to all the Burmese and Scottish people who cooked such delicious food (apart from Sheila's mashed potato!). Thank you to everyone who bid so generously in Murray's auction of Burmese handcrafts.
Thanks to you all, we raised £713 for Hle Bee School.
Jesu Chin Barry!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Opening of OUR LIVES - again!

The 4th showing of the OUR LIVES exhibition was celebrated at its opening today in North Edinburgh Arts, Pennywell Court, Edinburgh. This is in Forthview's own community. The exhibition was organised by the P7s you can see standing in this photo. You can also see our Burmese visitor Kyaw Win speaking to everyone. He said that he will always remember this work. He translated the Scottish children's writing into Burmese and said it was really tricky because he didn't know what a Quiet Room was or a Feeling Book or Wrestling! You can also see Pirniehall Primary 7s and staff because they were our guests at the Opening. We would like to say a special thanks to Lisa at NEA for helping us so much and teaching us how to curate an exhibition.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

P7 curate the OUR LIVES exhibition at North Edinburgh Arts

A committee of 6 P7 pupils are organising a showing of the OUR LIVES exhibition in their own community to co-incide with the visit of Kyaw Win, our Burmese exchange teacher and Murray Forgie, Director of BEST between 4 and 19 September 2008.

The children worked hard all morning with Ms Laing and Kyaw Win and Lisa from North Edinburgh Arts. It's not easy to prepare 78 pictures for exhibiting and the children were shocked at how tiring it is to curate an exhibition, as you can see.

The exhibition opens on Tuesday 9 September 2008 at 2.30pm in North Edinburgh Arts, Pennywell Court. Pop in and have a look.

And the end result (photograph taken on 8.9.08) shows Murray Forgie and Kyaw Win at the exhibition.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Kilts & Longyis Ceilidh

On Friday 12 September 2008, we are holding a Kilts & Longyis Scottish Burmese Ceilidh to raise funds for Hle Bee School.

Tickets are £5 on the door and include Burmese and Scottish food. The event is to be held at St James Church, Johns Place, Leith, Edinburgh from 7.30 - 10.30pm. As well as Scottish Dance, there will be brief reports from Scottish and Burmese people just back from the Thai Burma border.

We hope you can join us for what promises to be a great evening. Here's a map of St James, Leith.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Zin Zaw (see 23/7/08)

If you look back to the blog on 23 July 08, you will read the sad story of Zin Zaw, an able and delightful 14 year old learner who would have had to give up school to get a job if someone from Scotland hadn't offered to 'sponsor' her.

We heard today that the sister and brother in law she lives in a small corrugated iron shed with, were arrested by Thai police. "What happened to their little baby?" I cried out. "The little baby went to jail with the mother."

Can you imagine living like this?

However, a 'fine' was paid and they were all released some days later. If the 'fine' had not been paid they would have been deported to Myawaddy.

Meanwhile in Scotland we moan about our summer weather.......

Friday, 22 August 2008

Mia Farrow and Jody Williams visit Hle Bee School

We posted earlier that Murray Forgie had met Mia Farrow and Dr Jody Williams, the Nobel Womens' Initiative delegation who were in Thailand to investigate Burmese women's rights.

We only realised today that Mia Farrow and Dr Jody Williams visited Hle Bee School too and were delighted to find these photos on the internet of our dear friends with their very special visitors.
You can see more of the NWI trip on

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Art Therapy after Cyclone Nargis

Claire Soper, International Unit Manager, City of Edinburgh Council sent us this link via blog comments and we thought you would be quite moved to see it.

In the weeks following Cyclone Nargis, Burma's military rulers refused to let foreigners into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta.
As a result much of the initial relief effort was left to smaller groups with a permanent presence there.
One such organisation - the Foundation for the People of Burma - managed to mobilise about 300 people.
The workers noticed the children were "listless and in need of playful outlets" - so they gave them crayons and pencils and encouraged them to draw.

Thank you Claire.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Hle Bee students dance...

Geoff and I are spending many evening hours together turning the videos we took at Hle Bee into a presentation for Forthview staff on our first day of term, next Monday 18th August. I promised I would share some of these videos with you so here is the first one... Hle Bee students doing 3 dances. The first is more traditional, the next 2 are a fascinating mix of Burmese and American music styles. Enjoy.

Monday, 11 August 2008

A human saffron ribbon on 8.8.08

John Watson of Amnesty Scotland has agreed that I can post these photos from the event in Edinburgh's City Chambers on Friday to remember the atrocities of the military regime in Burma on 8.8.08 and since. Enjoy - we did!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

8.8.88 remembered in Chiang Mai

Minghlaba from Chiang Mai, where our day began six hours earlier than in Scotland, when Sheila was tucked up in her bed – oh, no... she was probably up blogging still!

Mar Mar from Suvannabhumi Gallery who is a good friend of BEST, has allowed us to put on Forthview and Hle Bee’s “Our Lives... Looking East, Looking West” exhibition on in her gallery, throughout August, to commemorate the 8.8.88 uprising as a community awareness event.

Our friend Khun Big, Murray and Stewart spent the afternoon before hanging it in the gallery, together with three very special portraits of Daw Aung Suu Kyi belonging to Mar Mar and Murray’s precious copy of David Mach’s Daw Suu portrait, the original version of which hangs in the City of Edinburgh headquarters, Waverley Court.

That morning we had met with Jon Glendinning the British Consul and British Council representative in Chiang Mai, to update him on the latest activities of the Global Schools Partnership and we came up with some good ideas about how to develop the programme further in Thailand.

There were two big commemorative events in Chiang Mai today. At seven o'clock in the evening in Chiang Mai, at one o’clock Edinburgh time, there was also a minutes silence to remember those killed by the Burmese soldiers twenty years before and since, followed by songs in Burmese, Karen and English language sung by survivors of those demonstrations - known as the Generation 88.

The hall was packed with young people, many of whom have been born since then and have never seen their own country, as well as older faces that haven’t seen their friends, families and home for many years.

Later in Suvanabummi gallery, Democratic Voice of Burma Televison did an interview with Murray for their new youth programme, which will be aired next week, beamed by satellite into Burma, where children there can hear about the link between Pilton in Scotland and Hle Bee in Mae Sot.

The young production crew had so many questions and were fascinated by the link: how it had started; the fact that Pilton was a community with many challenges; that the pupils of both schools were able to communicate so eloquently using both art and language and to do so in a way that raised awareness and solidarity in both Scotland and Thailand.

They took lots of pictures of the etchings and writings and copied the wonderful video of Hle Bee children receiving their letters.

Some of the older visitors to the gallery recognised many of the faces of prisoners used in David Mach's collage portrait - many were personal friends and they were very moved by the simplicity of the idea and its execution.

Murray and Stewart told them about the events that were taking place in Edinburgh at the precisely the same time and we texted Sheila a wee message of solidarity, which she received and replied to, after the Burma Play had finished in the City Chambers.

The world may be a big place, but the hope, love, creativity and active citizenship demonstrated today is truly universal and Forthview, Pirniehall and BEST can be proud of the small part that we have played. With special thanks to Amnesty, Unison, the Cooperative bank, the Festival of Spirituality, Northern International Theatre and City of Edinburgh Council, as well of course to all our Burmese friends, whose day this truly was!

Friday, 8 August 2008

8.8.2008 remembering 8.8.88

Today began in Edinburgh at 8.08am with prayers for the 88 generation students led by our local Thai Buddhist monk, a lovely man who always supports the Burma cause in Edinburgh.

After our prayers at a wee makeshift altar in front of St John's church, we began to hand out 888 saffron ribbons and leaflets to the public. A lovely Scottish Burmese lady called Karen had taken the 888 ribbons made by Forthview children and put each one in a wee bag and stapled it to a leaflet she'd made to hand out. It's the commitment of people like Karen that means so much.

An hour or so later, we headed up to Edinburgh City Chambers on the Royal Mile to hand out more ribbons and invite people to join us in creating a giant human saffron ribbon in the City Chambers quadrangle at 12.30pm. Photos of this amazing event have been posted on Amnesty Scotland's website. Why was it amazing? The mix of people ranged from the Thai monk to Aunty Maureen, our Burmese 'aunty' with her son Alistair and nieces, Sarah Boyack, MSP and BEST trustee, Councillors Jenny Dawe, Lesley Hinds, Gordon Munro, Ewen Hardie (just back from walking to London from Edinburgh for Burma), 3 Edinburgh heidies/teachers and families, Lisa from Dr Cynthia's Mae Tau Clinic in Mae Sot with her family, the cast of The Burma Play, Amnesty staff, Juliette on her last public Burma event before she moves to Oxford, having done so much for Burma whilst studying in Edinburgh, John Watson, Director of Amensty Scotland, who organised the event and more... A rich mix of people with Edinburgh connections to the Burmese people... (but we really missed you Murray!)

...followed by a very special performance of the Burma Play in the historic City Chambers where Dau Aung San Suu Kyi was given the Freedom of the City in 2005.

And what was it all for? To remember the dreadful slaughter of innocent and peaceful protesters against the Burmese government on 8.8.88 and to show solidarity for the plight of the Burmese people today.

Olympics? What Olympics? Today was Burma's day not China's....

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The Burma Play on Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Today Mary, Fiona and I saw THE BURMA PLAY on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It's a moving and powerful story of 'the continuing struggle of the people of Burma to attain the human rights and democratic freedoms they voted overwhelmingly for in 1988'. The play was stunningly performed by 2 performers and a musician with the Northern International Theatre, sponsored by The Co-operative Bank. The Co-operative Bank's sponsorship is enabling all proceeds to go to the Burma Campaign UK and our very own BEST (Burma Educational Scholarship Trust).

It was fast, comprehensive, witty, powerful and engaging. It echoed the stories the 3 of us have been hearing all summer from our Burmese friends in Mae Sot and left us deeply moved.

Don't miss it if you live in Edinburgh.
It's on until Sunday every day at 4pm in St John's church in the West End. Bypass the farce of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe ticket office and get a ticket at the door (£8 or £5 concession). There will be a discussion after the play on Sunday, which we plan to take part in.
Friday 8.8.08 is the 20 year anniversary of a dreadful slaughter in Rangoon by the Burmese junta of ordinary people protesting against the junta. To commemorate this event, there will be
1. Prayers at 8.08am at St John's followed by the handing out of 888 saffron ribbons (made by Forthview children) to the public.
2. A giant saffron ribbon will be created in the City Chambers Quadrangle at 12.30pm preceding
3. a performance of The Burma Play in the City Chambers
Don't forget the 8.8.88 generation students of Burma on 8.8.08.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Back to Scotland ... with a bump....

No, nobody came back pregnant, not that sort of bump! This is more about how the 4 of us are feeling now we are back to our daily lives in Scotland.

Each of us has found it very hard. I found it much harder this year than last year. We feel listless, low and are generally struggling to reconcile the 2 realities we have encountered during July. Coming back to this affluent world that we love and enjoy sits ill at ease with the world of Hle Bee where so little means so much, is made to go so far and is so appreciated.

I was interested to read Ewen Hardie's blog today. ( Ewen has just walked barefoot from The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh to 10 Downing Street, London to raise awareness of the plight of the Burmese people. Having made this incredible journey, he describes feeling confused, sad, something missing and a little alone. Such similar feelings to us.

I'm not telling you this to look for pity or condolences. We have all (like Ewen) enjoyed one of the most amazingly rich experiences life can give, being welcomed into the lives of others with moving generousity and we are all very grateful for it and wouldn't change it for the world.

I guess it's just an important part of the story to share. As one of my teachers said, "It's about attachment. That's why it's more hard to leave this year." It's true. It's also about a very personal experience of the injustice and inequalities of our world. It's about frustration that we can spend so little time together....

And that is just the way it is....
This video clip below shows just how happy and relaxed we are at Hle Bee. It's a birthday party for the extended family of one of the teacher's daughter.

Monday, 4 August 2008

The challenges facing Hle Bee School 2008

Looking back over Summer 2008 at Hle Bee, what challenges face the school in the days ahead?
Clearly the major challenge is to secure funding and work is being progressed in that area by the local network of Burmese education workers.

It was a very sad moment one day as I sat with Hle Bee's headteacher, Tha Zin. She was thanking me for raising the £5000 that will see them through till October 08. Tears rolled down her face though as she told me that she had hoped this would be her dream money to develop her school. What was she going to do with it? Buy 5 sewing machines, 5 computers and a car to transport children more reliably. Now the money is used for essentials - rent for the land, water, teachers' salaries etc. Her dream postponed...

The next challenge facing Hle Bee is how to manage the 150 children now enrolled in nursery and the 2 kindergarten classes. Here you see Tha Zin stand in land at the back of the school that she would love to see developed into classrooms for the early years.

They have divided these 150 children into 3 classes of 50, all within the main building of the school. The youngest children are called Nursery but are in a room with no resources at all. The other 100 children are in Kindergarten A and Kindergarten B. They have 2 spaces in the main school building. One space is a classroom space with desks and benches for 50. The other space is the space UNDERNEATH Tha Zin's house, which the main building is built around. Again the only resource here is some rush mats for comfort. When Fiona, the Scottish teacher, walked into Hle Bee School and saw Kindergarten A learning under Tha Zin's house, tears filled her eyes. The Hle Bee teachers came up with the idea of alternating Kindergarten A and Kindergarten B in the space under the house and in the classroom, which is great for the children.
However, the smallest teacher in the school gets the job of teaching EVERY DAY under the house. She might be small but she has to teach permanently bent over or sitting on the floor. It's also very hot under the house. So these early years teachers face huge obstacles in teaching - unsuitable space, no resources, too many children and yet they remain completely committed to professional development, to new ideas, to advice, to serving the school with optimisim and joy. We never heard them moan once. What an inspiration they are to us...
The next major challenge is the interface between the Thai Ministry of Education and the Burmese Learning Centres. This is too complex to go into here. We understand a little of the dynamic but not enough to write about with any accuracy. Perhaps it's enough for you to know that this is a difficult area, as you can imagine. It could be a fruitful area but both groups have their own desires and dreams and finding common ground is tricky.

These are the most obvious challenges facing Hle Bee in the months to come. Not easy for them to manage with so little resources but their greatest resource is Tha Zin and her team who live to serve the families of Hle Bee School. (I've blurred the faces in this photo.)

Thursday, 31 July 2008

The strengths of Hle Bee School 2008

Looking back over our summer 2008 in Hle Bee School, Mae Sot, what strengths did we see?

- A thriving, growing school of 329 children who feel safe, happy, nurtured and valued in their school and who have a hunger for learning.

- A community based around the school, with fantastic parental involvement in the school, so much pride in their school and a passion to improve their school

- A highly dedicated and committed staff team who live and work closely to improve the lives of their students and to give them skills which will give them better life opportunities in the future.

It's a privilege for Forthview to be global partners with Hle Bee. They have so much to teach us. Thank you Hle Bee for your amazing hospitality to us again this year. In the next post, I'll share the challenges facing Hle Bee in coming months....

However, this is probably the appropriate moment to tell you all the difficult news that Hle Bee and some other Burmese learning centres in Mae Sot have lost their previous funding. If it were not for the £5000 that Forthview raised over the last year, Hle Bee would now have no funding. This £5000 is keeping Hle Bee running until October 2008. Another long term funder is being sought but many funds are now being diverted to Cyclone Nargis relief so the future is not certain.......

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

walk a mile... wash your hands

Remember Forthview School walked a mile round the school in March 2008 and raised £200 so that Hle Bee School could have wash hand basins by their toilets? Well here are the toilets in action.

I spent many a magic moment watching children run to the toilets then come out and wash their hands.
So simple, so wonderful, so much coming from so little.

Ricky Gervais: The Real Disaster In Burma Is The Government

Friday, 25 July 2008

Safely home... but don't stop reading the blog as there's more to say!

We arrived home safely and on time on Thursday 24th July and are all fine. Please have another look at last week's blogging, particularly FRIDAY 18 JULY because I spent Wed afternoon in Bangkok uploading more photos and filling in stories.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The sad story of Zin Zaw, a young and able Burmese learner

On Thursday night while eating in the night market, we were invited over to see Zin Zaw's house (not her real name). She is in one of the top classes in school and is a very smart, engaging, clever lassie with good friends. When we saw her little home we were amazed at how lovely she and her family had made what was essentially a corrugated iron shed. It had one room and everyone slept on a wee platform with a curtain to screen off the young married couple she lives with while her mum is away working. So all in all, it seems that 7 folk may stay in this little iron lean to. On the wall Zin Zaw has her Hle Bee photo and a letter from her Forthview friend. It showed me how much hope and richness this partnership gives to individual Burmese children.

Zin Zaw is 14 and didn't turn up for school at the start of this school year. When the teachers went round to her home, they found her working in a cafe as a waitress. Her mum said they couldn't afford to have her not working any more. They need the income so she must leave school and work. The Headteacher persuaded mum to let Zin Zaw return to school but for how long?

So we asked, 'IF Scotland could pay her mother the wages Zin Zaw would earn (about 80p a day!), could the teachers ask her mother if she could come to school every day?' We know this happens for one other boy in the school from another donor. The teachers thought the mum would accept this. She does want the best for her daughter. So we wait to hear if this is possible.

How shocking is it that for 80p a day a child might have to leave school. What sort of world do we live in?
Now you know why we were so distressed....

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Lost in Trang!

Anyone seen Trang on a map and does anyone know how to get back to the hotel? Cos we haven't a clue! Our hotel in Trang is stunningly beautiful and idyllic but the remotest place in the world. It also has many signs that say TSUNAMI EVACUATION ROUTE, which seem to point in all different directions, even back to the sea - doesnae really inspire confidence. So Geoff and I decided we needed to take a 'public bus' 40 Km into Trang Town to get some expectorant for Sheila's awful cough (passed on from Hle Bee baby via Louise to Sheila) and some after sun because we burnt to a frazzle yesterday in 36 degrees by the pool! Louise decided not to join us and is staying at the hotel for her beauty treatments.

Finally we drive into Trang, somewhere on the outskirts and the driver stops and tells us to get off and meet him at 4pm. 4pm!!! 5 hours in Trang and where in Trang are we? Nightmare and many swearie words ensued. Finally decided to draw a map as we walked to somewhere. 20 mins later, all our tasks done and 4.5 hrs still to wait in what must be 40 degrees. I think it's time to go back to wet and rainy Scotland but that's tomorrow's joy, meanwhile we traipse the streets of Trang!

(Wed 23 July, Bangkok) You'll be glad to know we made it back to the hotel, which was a miracle. We left Trang this morning and are now in a Bangkok hotel for the afternoon, eating, sleeping, blogging and bogging, ready for the long haul to London via Doha tonight. Trang was beautiful and we swam in the sea, ate nice food and slept but it's a bit remote for us. The 3 of us just wanted to be back in Mae Sot with our friends....

Monday, 21 July 2008

Mia culpa... who knows when we'll be all together again?

Well, this is a guest blog from Murray, who is feeling kind of bereft after the past week’s friendship and solidarity that only comes from a seemingly bottomless supply of toilet stories from Sheila – this should perhaps be renamed – and the deep connections we have consolidated with our Burmese friends, parting from whom was so moving and has left me humming incessantly:
“We’re all together now - we’re here, we’re here...”

I have been given a long list of complicated jobs to complete as a prelude to the first part of Forthview’s reciprocal visit in September, which will coincide with work involving five Edinburgh schools’ “Awards for All” initiative - something which was planned before “my retirement” out east to Chiang Mai.

Fortunately these tasks fit very well into the community capacity building remit of my voluntary work in Chiang Mai and the Thai-Burma border and plans to extend the training opportunities for Migrant Worker/Refugee Teachers including our Edinburgh partner schools, look like being met by Dr Thein Lwin in a programme of intensive training for teachers in the Mae Sot cluster in October.

Discussions about support for Migrant schools to register as Thai Ministry of Education Learning Centres funded by the International Labour Organisation are now underway, bringing together Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and potentially the British Council into a strategic plan, which would potentially safeguard the schools’, teachers’ and pupils’ futures.

Elsewhere today, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, established in 2006 by a group of women Nobel Peace Laureates, held a special seminar at Chiang Mai University, led by one of NWI’s founder members, Anti-landmines campaigner, Professor Jody Williams. International participants included the UNICEF goodwill ambassador and famous American actress Mia Farrow, Chinese labour rights activist Qing Zhang and Dr. Sima Samar former Vice-President of Afghanistan. Discussions at the seminar focussed on the political-rights crisis faced by women in both Burma and Thailand. Mia Farrow gave a very moving account of work UNICEF have undertaken in Darfur, showing children’s drawings of villages burning, soldiers shooting women and children – images almost identical to those drawn by Burmese children on the border.

There was video testimony by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, (herself a Nobel Peace Laureate whose house arrest was recently extended for another year) which was presented and discussed, as were the systematic violations of women’s rights, the crackdown on democracy activists and the ongoing violence in Burma. A background of the terrible ongoing situation in Burma was also presented, highlighting Aung San Suu Kyi’s situation, the regime’s criminal blockage of aid to cyclone Nargis survivors and the situation of refugees on Burma’s borders who are continuing to flee from persecution.

Much of the discussion was about collectivising individual actions and active citizenship and Murray had spoken earlier with the panel, giving them each a Forthview saffron ribbon and telling them about Forthview – and now Pirniehall’s – unique Global School’s partnership with our Burmese friends: school to school; teacher to teacher; pupil to pupil. They were so moved that they proudly wore the ribbons throughout the press call and afterwards once the event was over and they said they would wear them all this week when they too visit Mae Sot – another wee bit of international solidarity and awareness raising by Forthview pupils and BEST! Told you it would happen Sheila... and here’s the photo to prove it!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Leaving Hle Bee Part 2

On Friday night, our dear friends from Hle Bee rolled up to the DK Hotel to take us to the bus station, which some of you may remember ended in us staying an extra day last year because we missed the bus... That couldn't happen again, could it? No, 20 children and adults from the Hle Bee School community came in the pick up truck to collect us. We were deeply unhappy to learn that though some of our friends were allowed up to our rooms to collect the bags, one of the lovely young teachers was told to leave the hotel by a member of hotel staff. Why? Because she is Burmese and the Thai people often look down on the Burmese. Very sad and the young woman was very embarrassed. Hmmm....

So we got to the bus station really early for the 9pm bus and were happy to see 2 Bangkok buses in. Unfortunately neither were ours and nor were the next 3 that came in. We were told one was our and the 4 of us (Sheila, Geoff, Fiona and Louise) said weeping goodbyes to our 20 friends only to be told that wasn't our bus!!!! Fiona was saying, 'We have to go tonight. I can't say goodbye again.' Finally 90 mins later, our bus rolled in and we said our final weeping farewell. These people are so hard to leave. We then set off on a very uncomfortable 8hr journey to Bangkok. Poor Geoff, he found it like torture.

We thought the bus station might be quiet at 6am - oh my goodness, there were hundreds of people getting into hundreds of taxis. We ended up going in 2 taxis and forgot to tell Geoff and Louise the name of the hotel. Fiona and I were so relieved to see their taxi roll up behind ours. Breakfast and collapsing into bed, we slept till noon.

When we woke, we phoned Guardian Angel. He told us, 'Hle Bee (most staff live there) hardly slept last night. I can't tell you how sad they feel.' Our partnership has bought us so close to our friends and they to us, that parting hurts a lot for us all. Fiona Vacher has been a basket case all week and says she's cried more here than she has for years.

Anyway, we set off to the Grand Palace of Bangkok via taxi and river bus at noon and enjoyed looking at the beautiful Thai art and buildings. Louise was very impressively photographing the decor and buildings for her 6th year art project. Back to the hotel and Fiona gathered her luggage together and left in the taxi for her flight which we hope and pray left on time at 8pm Bangkok time. Strange to say goodbye to Fiona. She worked so hard at Hle Bee, trying to help the staff become more effective in teaching the massive kindergarten. However, she is of course very excited to be returning to Beth and Gavin.

We are now back to being a wee family again and are off to Trang in South Thailand for a few days. We will post more writing and photos (can't find the packed cable tonight!) there about our last 2 days at Hle Bee and about the challenges ahead for Hle Bee and the plans we have for future working. I (Sheila) now feel completely shattered. It's been hard work for a fortnight and I still need to recover from the end of Forthview term so a few days in a very quiet hotel will be great. ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz

A note to end - Louise is sitting in this beautiful bedroom saying what we are all feeling today. 'I find it hard to think about how much we have, how much we waste and how ungrateful we are compared to what they have in Mae Sot. I'd give up all this to go back to Mae Sot.'

We all would.