Schools on the Border

Dah Wah is a nineteen year-old student in the first grade. At five years old, both of her parents died of illness, leaving her in the care of her aunt and uncle. As a family, they would often be forced to relocate due to the Burmese military regime, sometimes as frequently as ten times each year. She had no opportunity to receive an education because she had to help her family find food in the jungle.

Educators have it just as rough. It is not uncommon for a teacher to write lessons on a blackboard while carrying a rifle slung over her shoulder in preparation for a surprise attack by the Burmese military. On a moment’s notice, another teacher is ready to pick up her blackboard and run away with her students into the jungle. Once in a safe location, the teacher will then set up her blackboard and resume lessons. If caught, these determined teachers known the consequence: forced slavery or rape. But they continue to risk their lives because they know each lesson is one further step towards an empowered community.

Despite the considerable number of villages that regularly flee from the Burmese military regime, schools are one of the first community institutions to be reestablished, even if class is held in the jungle. In February 2010, 133 students were forced to flee from attacks during test time, and after regrouping, sat under trees to take their exams. Teachers and students are equally resilient and maintain a great degree of optimism and hope for the future despite the harsh educational climate. The drive to learn, no matter the teaching conditions demonstrate the strong cultural value the Karen people hold for education.

Millions of villagers have escaped or fled toward the borders of Burma due to attacks or the threat of attack by the Burmese military. As a result, there are many newly established communities along the borders that have minimal or no access to education.