Newsletter & Summary 2009
We started the year with Jazz in the Garden held in February and despite some showers guests were treated to a wonderful evening of fine food and music. The newly formed Steps with Hope team managed to create an event which will become an annual must attend for Friends of Steps with Hope.
With money raised in 2008 SWH was able to fund a building, at the refugee camp, to be used as a school/vocational centre. This building was the project of 50 teenage boys from the camp, ably led by a project manager. During this process the boys were fed a hot meal daily and shared a sense of purpose and achievement, something rarely experienced in the camp.
Following the Jazz night, we continued to fund our project at 3 monthly intervals. Fifty teenagers, both boys and girls were selected to attend our school for 3 months and they received a basic education and a hot meal (the Thai military had blocked any attempts at running as a vocational centre). However, we were able to send them various gifts, backpacks, stationary, bolts of fabric, things they could take back into the camp and use with their families. What we were doing was tiny in the scheme of things – there were thousands of children in the camp still behind barbed wire, but we continued on, with Tat’s leadership at the camp end, and our small team raising money this end. We were always at the mercy of the military and had to ask permission to give anything to the children but the daily ritual of a meal and schooling seemed to continue with few problems. Our project manager continued to come daily from outside the camp and we employed one of the young male teachers from inside the camp also.
Our next fundraiser, a Spring Fair held in October was a great success, raising over $9,000. This will also become an annual event and will need to be bigger next spring, as we sold out of stock quickly. Giftware, jewellery, and crafts (many made in Thailand) will again be available next year but you need to be there early!
When SWH took on this project, the potential problems trying to maintain contact with the children under the ruling of the Thai army were evident. Sadly, in December 09 the military closed the camp and returned the refugees to Laos.
The refugees are now in a potentially dangerous and life threatening situation. The return of the refugees to Laos has contravened international human rights law and the UN is now involved. The world is finally listening.
SWH is not giving up. The school we built will be used by the Hill Tribes living near the camp, and Jen will go to Thailand in January and discuss options with Tat. We hope to continue our work with the Hmong wherever they are in Laos. We have requested that the UNHCR inform us of any refugees accepted by Australia, so we can help them here. The Laotian embassy has offered Tat a safe passage to monitor the refugee safety in Laos and we are currently evaluating if this is logistically possible. Our hope is to once again fund a vocational centre for the teenagers. It is our wish that these teenagers feel that the world is watching and they are not forgotten.
We would like to thank Barker College Music Department, West Epping Uniting Church, Barker Wailes House, Holy Family Catholic Primary and all our donors and supporters along with those who helped behind the scenes who make SWH a success, You know who you are!
With thanks and Blessings