Monday, 28 January 2008

"Our Lives" to be displayed in galleries in Thailand

Murray has been in both Mae Sot and Chiang Mai, negotiating places to hold the joint exhibition of “Our Lives” etchings and stories linking our two communities in Edinburgh and along the Burma border.

“Borderline” is a famous gallery in Mae Sot and “Suvannabhum” is a wonderful gallery in Chiang Mai.

Murray met with Aung Zin Oo from the exiled National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) whilst visiting “Suvannabhum” yesterday. Aung Zin Oo had represented the NCGUB in Edinburgh at the formal ceremony for Aung San Suu Kyi in 2004, when she was awarded Freedom of the City of Edinburgh.

Aung Zin Oo was very interested in the links that Edinburgh has been making with the peoples of Burma through the work of BEST, Forthview, Amnesty and the City Council and looks forward to seeing our exhibitions in June, when they will be shown simultaneously in all three places.
He was very impressed by the way Forthview, Edinburgh and Scotland were creatively raising wider awareness about Burma and the struggles of its peoples.

Our friend Mar Mar who runs “Suvannabhum” said that she would be delighted to help us by hanging the exhibition in her gallery for 2 weeks to a month, marking Daw Suu’s 64th birthday, U.N. International Refugee week and the fourth anniversary of Forthview’s link with Burma.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Old and new friends on the border

Mrs Laing's and Murray's 'guardian angel' from previous visits was at hand again today - walking Murray, what seemed like miles, around Mae Sot between schools, in the hot sunshine!

Every child at Hle Bee School received a card from Forthview today - the older ones having had theirs yesterday - and these were poured over by the wee ones who all tried to pronounce the 'strange sounding' names of their new Scottish pals.

While Murray was there, there were two very different visits to the school from Thai officials: a mobile health van from the local Thai Ministry of Health Office arrived to give each child a polio vaccine - in the middle of a slide-show on Murray's laptop about Forthview and BEST's recent activities; the second was from two policemen who were chasing a man who had used the school's back entrance as a gettaway route...

We never found out what the man was running away from, but the policemen were very friendly and gave up the chase... it was too hot and they were sweating heavily!

Teachers gave them a glass of water and one went of to try to start the chase once more, but the other, noticing all the cards and the writing in English, Thai and Burmese on the blackboards, stopped to chat to the teachers and was fascinated to hear about Hle Bee's link with Scotland. He asked if he could come back - in his own time - to give some additional Thai language support as a volunteer! WHAT A SURPRISE!!!

Later, after a delicious lunch of spicy tofu salad (Mrs Laing wouldn't have liked it) Murray went to Sat Ar Nay School again and talked more about their potential link with Pirniehall Primary, whilst meanwhile, Hlee Bee pupils worked on their reply letters to Scotland,

Lots more walking and tuk-tuk journeys between Borderline gallery and the schools; getting the Partnership Agreement signed for the next stage of our exchange - and lots of discussions about practical arrangements about the "Our Lives" exhibition of etchings and stories of Burmese and Scottish pupils...

Back at Hle Bee School, letters and handmade envelopes were carefully sorted into age-groups and packed into a BIG bag to be transported back to Scotland by Murray - then a short break for a nap, before tea.

Tea tonight was with another Burmese BEST friend of Forthview - the politician Aung Zaw Moe - who had been part of Forthview's deputation to Edinburgh's City Chambers and the Scottish Parliament back in October. Coincidentially he was visiting Mae Sot at the same as Murray, so they were able to meet up and go out as a group for dinner.

Aung Zaw Moe remains hopeful that change will still come in Burma and talked about how important is is to keep the public's eyes focussed on Burma and not to forget the people or monks! Since his visit, Aung Zaw Moe has told people from all over the border and beyond about his Scottish visit and how Forthview pupils and groups in Scotland, were helping keep the flame of hope alive...

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

20 degrees hotter in Mae Sot than in Edinburgh!

Today Murray met with our friend Nan Lung, who is doing research into how the programmes for Teacher Training, developed by our other friend Dr Thein Lwin, are being used by teachers on the border.

She is spending two months in Thailand on this work which is part of her doctoral thesis.

She and Murray are helping Pirniehall Primary School make a twinning link with Satur Nay School in Mae Sot, in much the same way as Forthview has twinned with Hle Bee School.

Head teachers Mrs Ryan-Gillespie and Pho Cho have already been emailing each other and sending photographs and when Murray visited them today they were very excited at this new link – and sang... and sang... AND SANG!

Their school is much smaller than Hle Bee and Murray was able to listen in – and understand – their lesson this morning which was Thai language training from a local Thai teacher.

In the afternoon Murray visited Hle Bee and took all the letters and cards that children had written and tried to answer all the questions that the children asked.

What a difference from when Mrs Laing and Murray visited last year – no mud; no grass and flowers; just lots of hard baked mud and a beautifully clean, concrete brick floor!

So many children, all excited to receive the cards written by P6 and P7 to their friends – and the younger pupils were very excited to get cards as well.

Mrs Laing wouldn’t like going to the toilet in the dry season any better than the rainy season – look at the difference between the two photos of the toilet block and guess which was taken today and which was taken in the rainy season!

The corrugated iron roof makes is very hot and a bit more smelly – temperatures can rise almost another 20 degrees in April/May, so imagine how bad it must be then.

Pupils opened their beautifully decorated envelopes so carefully and pinned their cards and letters to the wall of their classrooms along with other pictures and letters from their Forthview friends.

P6 and P7 are to be congratulated for their neat handwriting, which meant that Burmese pupils could easily read out loud – and understand – their friends’ messages.

BEST wishes to our nursing student friends!

BEST Director, Murray Forgie is currently in Thailand interviewing students for BEST scholarship and visiting our friends in Hlee Bee.

The teddies that have been collected by Forthview Nursery for Hlee Bee nursery who have no toys to play with, will be sent by our school by cargo boat, but Murray will be able to give our cards and a big photo of the nursery children with their teddies to Hlee Bee Nursery.

In Bangkok, as well as interviewing potential new students for Supplementary Scholarship Grant form BEST, Murray bought a group of nursing students a lap top each. These students are from inside Burma and from along the border area and have no computers to help them study – the University library in Bangkok has only 20 computers for 2000 students. Most of the other students are from well-off Thai families, who can afford to buy computers for their sons and daughters.

The Burmese students have no access to this sort of money, so BEST ran a special campaign to buy them each a lap top, which means they can down load files from the internet on memory sticks and study them later in their apartments.

Many thanks to all those who helped BEST raise this money – especially UNISON the public service trade union, who also gave special memory sticks and other small individual presents to these students.

Two of the students are from Mae Sot and have cousins who are pupils of Hlee Bee School.