Tham Hin Refugee Camp Reflection – By Alyssa Smith

Today we went to the Tham Hin refugee camp on the Thai/Burma border.  I could tell you what I saw there, what I think about the progress, and what still needs to be done, but those observations would be merely that – observations – glimpses of someone who was lucky enough to be granted a small look into the daily lives of people who have been pushed to the fringes of society at the same time they were forced out of their land.  I don’t feel that would do anyone any good.  To say what I think about the situation would be no different than if someone came and spent a few hours with you at work and then told the CEO what they needed to do in order to better run their business.  It’s foolishness.

However, what I can do is give you a small glimpse into the connections that our cohort was able to experience while we were there.  The first of these came as a complete surprise to me.  While being shown around the camp by workers from the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) we were taken to the camp’s community center.  As we approached the building I heard noise coming from within.  It was not music, but was rhythmic, methodical, but not mechanical.  We walked into the building to see a woman sitting at a large, wooden loom, weaving cloth to be used for men’s sarongs.   I almost burst into tears.  I was standing on a concrete slab with thin walls made of bamboo and tarp, watching a woman who, in many other respects was very different than myself, do something that I had spent so many hours doing myself, in a room strewn with stray skeins of yarn, warping boards, and other weaving paraphernalia, much like the studio that I used to work in.  The only difference was, she was doing a much better job that I ever had.  I watched her work quickly and skillfully and she pulled the lever above her head to activate a piece of the loom that would run a stich through the weaving, and watched her beat it in the place against the previous row.  I wanted so badly to speak her language and tell her how beautiful her work was, to have a conversation with her about the meaning of the colors she was using and the pattern she had chosen.  While this was not possible, I was able to rejoice in the, unfortunately one-sided, bond I was able to find in her.  I wanted to talk with her, learn from her, and share time with her.

The last visit of the day was to the Bible College housed inside the camp.  We walked into the large, auditorium-like room to see 50 students sitting in chairs lined up in front of what appeared to be a stage, where we would sit.  We were given much needed water, greeted warmly, and asked questions about our studies, our culture, and our lives.  We were able to ask them questions as well and shared laughs, moments of sadness at the problems we both saw in our respective country’s governments, and unity in knowing that we shared a belief in a God who help us to overcome those problems (all with the help of a very skilled translator, of course).  At the end of the meeting they requested that we sing them a song.  We stood and sang the doxology together, to mixed self-reviews, and were then given the honor of hearing them sing a song of praise in their native language.  Fifty students stood together and sang at the top of their lungs in perfect moments of both unison and harmony.  It was jaw-dropping and I have never felt so blessed.

So, while I cannot speak to deep concerns or needs within the camp, or give insight into the intricacies of the state of the Karen people in the camp, what I can say is that I could see God working there, and in our group as a result of our visit.  I hope that God continues to challenge our views on wealth, war, and relationships even after many days have gone by, and that we will take back with us a renewed awareness for the state of that little corner of the world, while keeping them always in our prayer