Towards a Brighter Future for Karen Villagers

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Karen Villagers
Karen Villagers
Karen Villagers
Karen Villagers

A previous edition of Hua Hin Today reported on the donation of a four-wheeled drive vehicle by the Rotary Club of Hua Hin to Jungle Aid, a charity organisation providing care for Karen villagers at remote locations near the Myanmar border.

But what is really being achieved and how does this happen? We accepted an invitation to join a mission to a village at Bon Luk to witness Jungle Aid in action.
This Karen village is far from civilisation, although only about 130 kilometres from Hua Hin. It’s not easy to get there, partly because it is only accessible through the vast Kaeng Krachan National Park, but also because it includes travelling around 40 kilometres on a rough unsealed track with only four wheeled drive access and often impassable during the wet season. This also means medical accessibility issues for the villagers with the nearest primary health centre over an hour away and the nearest hospital close to 3 hours away.

Our driver was Prabhjeet Singh, the area coordinator and long term volunteer with a second vehicle driven by Tahir. Our complement of 13 volunteers first stopped after the easy part of the journey at the Kaeng Krachan dam and lake as an ablutions break before hitting the dirt track into real jungle territory. Across flowing streams and climbing steep inclines with deep ruts was not a lot of fun, especially for those who volunteered for a bumpy ride in the back of the pick-up.

However the dense and tangled jungle foliage with clouds of kaleidoscopic butterflies swarming around waterways provided some distractions. Not a boring journey, but not one to be undertaken in a vehicle unsuited to the task. You wouldn’t expect to come across a motorbike and side-car, with the passenger needing to walk the steeper hills, but these were the only other travellers encountered. A dusty hour or so later and we had arrived at the final ‘staging post’. This was alongside a clear flowing river with a suspension bridge, a Royal Project, providing access to the village on the other side.

An idyllic setting with children enjoying the cooling waters and playing the sort of aquatic games kids have played forever and in this case for the past 100 or so years. We had a virtual ‘mobile pharmacy’ with us which, along with supplies of clothing and other necessities were taken on board a village motorbike and sidecar across the bridge without delay. Jungle Aid had a purpose and a plan for this day at the village. Everyone was assigned a task and a reason for their presence; no tourists on board! Basically there were three main strategies. First, the medical mission. Our Doctor was Coco Baggelaar, a Dutch General Practitioner and another long term volunteer.

He was assisted by a translator, physiotherapist, pharmacist and a recorder to maintain records for future reference. A total of 49 patients appeared during the day, probably around 10% of villagers in residence. Apart from an assortment of common ailments needing various anti-biotic, skin treatment and anti-diarrhea medications, the open air ‘clinic’ received many requests for birth control pills. After bearing five children at only just 30 year of age, we can understand why this is so important!

One anxious young patient had previously been treated for severe facial burns when petrol from the motor of a brushcutter had sprayed him with burning fuel. On a previously trip the burns had been successfully treated but now the legacy of raised ridges of unsightly scar tissue remain. This means regular applications of steroid creams and stretching exercises to improve flexibility then a skin graft operation when the time is right. A future project may be to provide costly but life-changing surgical procedures.
Second; providing attention to the kids and games with a purpose.

It was really great to see kids running, laughing and learning how to have fun all over again. The responsible adults in the lives of many kids struggle just to provide the necessities of life, so enjoying this sort of positive attention is infrequent at best.
Lastly; understanding and planning for the special needs of the villagers. Prabhjeet, the area coordinator, with the assistance of volunteer translators, needed to spend time listening to village leaders, including the school head master, planning how to deliver specific projects with a focus on education and the future of kids. A walk around the village showed progress with sanitation, cleanliness and improvements to the issues of poor nutrition and hygiene to reduce high rates of infant mortality.

The village may superficially appear to be idyllic, but basic needs remain and the support of Jungle Aid remains vital. Another observation; not one whiskey bottle (empty or full) or smoker in sight! Apart from a small but regular group of volunteers who just appear and give their time and expertise without the need for reward or recognition, Jungle Aid has recently linked up with Chiva-Som International Health Resort for additional support. Chiva Som is a world-renowned Wellness Destination with expertise and resources that really complement the role of Jungle Aid. Not just as a token ‘corporate social responsibility’ activity or public relations exercise, but volunteers bringing medications, paramedical support and cheerfully travelling in the back of the pick-up.

As enthusiastic volunteers; these Chiva Som staff members appreciate the support of their management and were already planning to arrange something special for the next trip. Another source of support has been fund raising events at The Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa which have already realised funds to substantial increase Jungle Aid’s capacity; that’s really been appreciated. There’s more events planned at the Hilton, stay tuned!

A Final Comment

It’s often the case that well-meaning organisations or companies around town raise funds for charitable purposes. However raising funds from a generous Hua Hin community is the easy part; the hard part is to be confident that the funds will be used in an accountable way to really make a difference to the lives of those in need. Our trip with Jungle Aid was a ‘hands-on’ experience that really gave us that confidence and showed what can be achieved. This is an organisation without hidden agendas and with the knowledge and experience to deliver the goods where it is needed. Our thanks to Emma, Prabhjeet and the rest of the ‘JA’ crew for a very meaningful experience and showing us what a brighter future for the Karen people can mean. To consider volunteering, sponsorship or just to learn more visit: www.jungleaid.org.

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