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Alumni Dispatches

Tajrina Hai

MHS ’07

tajrina hai Adolescent Reproductive Health Education inside Burma and Thailand

When I first arrived in Thailand back in April to work as a technical advisor for three nonprofit Burmese organizations*, I had no idea about the extent of the crisis that the Burmese faced. The Burmese have been fleeing their homeland for over 40 years because of an oppressive, authoritarian military regime.

The same government that continues to hold over 2,000 political prisoners, including the Nobel Laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi, also limits its own people from freely navigating the Internet, forces its own people to ask permission to visit relatives in the next town, and constantly rapes and victimizes their female citizens.

Lacking basic sanitation, running water, and with limited or no education, the Burmese flee to Thailand seeking a better life for themselves. But even as they arrive in Thailand, they continue to face many restrictions. As illegal workers, the Burmese lack access to basic and affordable health care, are constantly hassled about having an ID, preventing them from freely traveling around Thailand, and are forced to pay bribes to authorities and officials in order to live and work in Thailand.

Because of the lack of access of basic health care and limited knowledge, many Burmese migrants and refugees are at higher risk for unwanted pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, and so on. To combat this, more than 12 Burmese community-based organizations formed a network to collaborate and provide health education training to Burmese migrants and refugees.

One adolescent-focused organization*, based along the Thai-Burma border city of Mae Sot, Thailand, and another, based in Chiang Mai, each represent five ethnic communities targeting different areas to increase awareness on HIV/AIDS, family planning, and to educate adolescents and young adults on reproductive health. Entering one of their trainings, I am amazed by the dedication, the passion, and the perseverance of these trainers. Playing games, describing how their bodies change through genitalia models, and with great enthusiasm, they are able to educate Burmese migrants and refugees on what are considered in nearly all cultures very sensitive topics and issues. They even provide trainings inside Burma, traveling far and unsafe distances because Burmese youth inside Burma lack access to health education.

Firmly believing in prevention through education, the trainers have increased participants’ knowledge greatly from a 20 to 30 percent in the pre-test results to participants scoring above 70 percent in the post-test during their trainings. Educating over 2,000 youth, these adolescent-focused organizations’ trainers are continually seeking to expand their peers’ knowledge base in the hopes of creating a more educated and healthier population for the future.

*Names of organizations have been withheld in order to protect their members from persecution by Thailand, which does not recognize the groups.

Tajrina Hai is a Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Advisor for a few Burmese organizations and is based in Mae Sot, Thailand.

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