Over 30 years ago, countless Rohinga families fled from violent human rights abuse and conflict within Myanmar (Burma) and have been “temporarily” living in nine refugee camps within the Tak Province along the western border of Thailand. With over 120,000 refugees in this region, they contribute to the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.
Rohinga families currently have no alternative than to live in cramped shacks in over-crowded make-shift communities. Regular risk of fires sweeping through these camps mean that each house is adorned with rows of small plastic bags above their entrances filled with water or sand. These families live where they can, with little access to medical care, they are dependent on donations. Many have been born into the camps never stepping foot outside of the gated and guarded compounds. Dusty air, poor nutrition and hygiene is the reality for these families. There is no alternative but to live off donated rations. Here they eat what is available and what they are given. Here there is no privacy, almost no personal space and a lack of basic amenities. Children marry young, create their own families, receive basic education provided by elected teachers within the camps. With limited access to jobs, not enough resources and opportunities, suicide rates are rising along with drug addiction and alcohol abuse.
Thailand hosted the exceedingly successful SportAccord Convention in April this year and the legacy of its success has continued where some of the youth were given the opportunity by an alliance of UTS, AIMS and IFMA to travel to Buenos Aires in October. They were able to be a part of the Youth Olympics joining the Wild Boar Youth Football team and they also received an invitation to unite with 1,200 youths from 82 countries at the Asian United Nations Head Quarter in Bangkok for the historical United Through Sports Youth Forum.
The penultimate phase to leaving a legacy behind encompassed an important trip in December to the Tak Province camps made by the CEO of United Through Sports Julia Govinden and Program Director Kevina Maddick, later joined by Asia Director of Right To Play Niamh De’ Loughry and Vice President of GAISF Stephan Fox.
With around 40,000 residents, Mae La is the largest refugee camp in Thailand. Camp leaders oversee activities, they help to safeguard the environment, distribute rations and oversee health, schooling etc. The trip focused on this camp to determine the reality of life and see first-hand what is needed and what can be done. Julia Govinden made visits to migrant youth centers, the Star Flower Migrant Learning Center and got engaged playing games, with the children of different abilities with singing and dancing. The visit to schools in the Mae Sot area gave insight into the lives of migrant children. A visit to Isalamsuka, a Muslim Thai school proved to be eventful as the children celebrated their annual sports day. Mrs Govindan focused here on giving a seminar to a large group of youth leaders focusing on life-skills, discussing values in sport and their importance to daily life. The youth then enjoyed an active introduction with education into the martial art of Muaythai. Mrs Govinden reflected on the seminar stating “ to witness the pure resilience, see the motivation and hunger in these youths’ eyes to thrive against all odds is certainly inspiring. For us at UTS, we feel it is imperative that we continue to work alongside other NGO’s such as Right To Play and organisations using the sports platform to give these children what they deserve, a fairer chance in life”.
The expedition was joined by Ms De’ Loughry and Mr Fox who made an important visit to various nursery schools in the camp and to give all the children a seasons greeting and gifts. As a surprise to many youth leaders in the camp, Mr Fox a former Muaythai Champion delivered fun-filled educational Muaythai seminars firstly to the Youth Leaders themselves and then coordinated another seminar to guide them with implementation of their skills within a community class. Donated boxing equipment was distributed much to the excitement of all the youths and Mr Fox has already been invited to return back to the camp in January to give another seminar.
The final stage of this mission will bring CEO of SportAccord Nis Hatt, Vice President of GAISF Stephan Fox, CEO of UTS Julia Govinden and Asia Director of RTP Niamh De ’Loughry to the camps early part of 2019 to distribute donations of hygiene products and sports equipment to the camp communities.
In conjunction to this trip, a Sports Gym and UTS Educational Center is opening in the heart of Bangkok for disadvantaged children and those with different abilities. Many donations were given from the sporting world and further donations were given by the Sport Is Your Gang initiative powered by IFMA.
The kind donations and the support of so many has led to leaving a legacy behind that can only bring more hope and happy faces to children in need. 2019 is already looking to be a successful and prosperous new year. With the SportAccord 2019 Convention set for the Gold Coast and the United Through Sports Festival, there is no limit.