COMMUNITY New year, new life

Living

Dermot Carberry (right) with a group of Karen children from the Thoo Mweh Khee school on the Thailand-Burma border.
DEDICATED?Dermot Carberry (right) with a group of Karen children from the Thoo Mweh Khee school on the Thailand-Burma border.

New year, new life


Neale native Dermot Carberry’s love faor the Karen people has changed the course of his life

Ciara Galvin


JANUARY means new beginnings for a lot of people – new routines, new resolutions and new challenges. For 25-year-old Neale native Dermot Carberry, January will mean the start of a new life.
The newly qualified social worker has spent the last four months volunteering in a migrant school on the Thailand-Burma border. He completed his volunteering internship last month on the Thai side of the border as part of his Masters in Social Work. Now, he has decided to commit himself to volunteering indefinitely at the Thoo Mweh Khee (TMK) school and with other organisations that provide services to refugees along the border.
In January 2011, Dermot emigrated to Sydney, where he worked as a chef for a year before embarking on studies in social work at a Sydney university.
TMK is a migrant school and senior college that provides education to migrant and refugee children and youth from Burma. These students come from an ethnic group in Burma known as the Karen, who have crossed the Thai/Burma border (illegally and unaccompanied) to gain education, safety and a more-hopeful future.
The school, which caters for over 600 children and young people, is situated in a Karen community that resides on the Thai side of the border. It is Christian run and funded by charitable donations and donations from individuals and NGOs.
Dermot is returning to TMK this week. He hopes to continue as a volunteer teacher and social worker, teaching English, leadership and cultural awareness, and providing teacher training. He is also involved in song-writing workshops and hip-hop dancing.
“My role also transformed into a student counsellor for students who approached me with their problems and guidance for their future goals,” Dermot says.
The displacement of Karen youth has been prevalent in Burma since 1948. According to Dermot, ongoing civil war and the military rule of the Burmese government has resulted in increasing numbers of Internally Displaced People (IDP) in Burma and an increase in displaced Karen youth on the Thai-Burma border, with many reliant on Thai government assistance as well as NGO and volunteer organisations.

The school
Around 400 students live in the TMK community in dormitories. These students can be classified as unaccompanied minors or displaced young people, Dermot explains.
A children’s dormitory run by a Karen family houses 50 children aged five years to 12 years. There are also two boys’ dorms and two girls’ dorms for students who attend high school and the senior college.
“Some of these students have experienced hardship and extreme forms of oppression and inequality based on their ethnicity and nationality, by both the Thai and Burmese governments. Their human rights have been violated and they have been forced to flee their homes, their families and their country,” says Dermot, adding that it is difficult for displaced Karen youth to access the Thai education system.
“One of my main roles is to act as an advocate for these students to [help them] gain access to services and further educational and employment opportunities,” he says.
Poverty is widespread. There is no electricity, no running water, one room to accommodate a school, one shop, no church and no orphanage.
During an assessment of facilities in the town, Dermot determined the need for a church and an orphanage, and greater school and attendance. Over 60 percent of the children in the village were not attending school due to such factors as child labour, farm work and caring for younger siblings.
The school has no funding, no curriculum and no resources, so Dermot plans to work with education organisations to gain access to much-needed materials and resources for the school.

Future
For Dermot, the decision to dedicate his skills and experience to empowering Karen children and young people was a simple one when he compared his childhood to theirs. His was one full of choices – ‘what clothes to wear, what food to eat, even what school to go to’. “These youths have no choice and very limited opportunities,” he says. “The constant struggle at the moment is that education in colleges and migrant schools is not recognised in Thailand or Burma. Therefore, the future of these Karen youths’ lives is very uncertain.”
Dermot’s life on the Thai/Burmese border will be a busy one. He’ll be involved in community development projects in small villages in Burma, where there is a serious lack of basic resources, and he has been invited back to teach at a university in Mae La refugee camp to teach in four college courses. He’s also been asked to teach one day a week at a primary school.
His energy for the task ahead flows from his passion for the people. “It has been a privilege to have had this life-changing opportunity. I have fallen in love with the Karen people and their culture. The sense of community here has opened my eyes, my heart and my mind. The people have been not only treated me as part of their community, but they treated me as a part of their family,” he said.

Dermot Carberry is currently seeking funding to aid in his work and teaching at TMK. To help fund his work, visit http://www.gofundme.com/5umvo8 or contact him at dermotcarb@gmail.com. For more information on the Karen, see the online Karen newspaper Karen News at www.karennews.org.