Exiled Charity Loses Funds in Wake of Reforms

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TUESDAY, 07 FEBRUARY 2012

A chronic shortage of funds means that people living at the Sangklaburi Safe House in Sangkhlaburi, Thailand, receive less than 10 baht’s (US $0.32) worth of food each day as workers struggle to find more donors.

Naw San Kyawt Yin, manager of the safe house, said that many donors are now sending their contributions inside Burma due to the recent wave of political reforms. He therefore finds it difficult to feed his patients.

There are around 60 people at the Sangklaburi Safe House. Some have mental problems, some are HIV-positive, while some suffer from preventable diseases such as tuberculosis. Others are simply decrepit old men who have been abandoned by their families.

There are two buildings at the safe house which offer separate living quarters for adult patients and the elderly. One house spends just 300 baht a day on food, and the another only 190 baht a day.

Four non-governmental organizations provide funds for the safe house every year—the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), TEAR Australia, God’s Kids and the Branch Foundation.

The TBBC was a major source of income for the charity, but after losing around 30 percent of its own funding this year, the consortium was forced to encourage the safe house to search out other donors instead.

“It is very hard for us to manage our budget for the whole year while commodity prices are going up in Thailand,” said Naw San Kyawt Yin. “We are worried that we are going to lose our staff and cannot run this safe house without them with these low donations.”

The safe house currently has 12 staff members, who each receive only 3,500 baht ($113) a month. Even though the management understands that workers have difficulty supporting their own families with such low wages, it cannot provide a better salary without more donations.

“Our staff members have beautiful minds and are very tolerant of the patients. I am very proud of them,” said Naw San Kyawt Yin.

Sangklaburi Safe House is located close to the Thai-Burmese border in Huai Malai, Sangkhlaburi District, Kanchanaburi Province. The charity was set up in 1992 to help migrants in Thailand who were deported to the Thai-Burmese border.

The charity was originally established by the TBBC, Church of Christ in Thailand and the Kwai River Christian Hospital under the management of Naw Paw Lu Lu.

Sangklaburi Safe House is a community residential health facility and treatment clinic for displaced and stateless people with health issues such as HIV/AIDS, mental health problems and terminal illnesses. More than 1,600 people have been helped to return to an independent life since the charity opened its doors.

People from a number of countries, including Thailand, China, Malaysia, India and Cambodia, take refuge here. There are currently three Chinese residents who suffer from mental problems, but the Chinese embassy in Bangkok refused to take them home despite being approached by staff members.

Naw Paw Lu Lu, who is an ethnic Karen and still runs the safe house, said, “In my life we have had so many problems. When we were in Burma, we had to flee all the time and saw so many people suffering and being tortured.

“We all pitied each other but often we couldn’t do anything for each other because we were all in trouble. That is why I am happy to help people at the safe house. We know each others difficulties.

“Many people’s stories are incredibly sad; however, there is also a lot of humor at the safe house,” he added.

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