Graduation Day is that day in anyone’s life where a sudden surge of different emotions come about all at once. It is that day when we recollect on our past experiences, both of hardships and triumph, and hold our heads up high as we stride and culminate our academic achievement. One would think that this particular moment could only possibly be had by those who live normal lives with proper access to education but to have it narrowed down as such would be wrong. Putting things into context, a normal life would constitute having afforded the basic human rights such as rights to proper shelter and education.
A normal life in this context would most certainly not be described by having driven away from one’s home and run into the jungle to save one’s life. That is not what a normal life is. In a nutshell, graduation day is a far out concern for someone who lives a life outside the norm.
In Ban Mae Surin located in Amphur Khun Yuam, Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand exists a camp that serves as home to over 4,000 refugees who have poured in from the bordering country Burma. It is an already well-known fact that these refugees have suffered the worst living conditions before they have arrived in the camps. Through the unwavering support of the various humanitarian and development groups like WEAVE, a constant process of community-building is sought after, striving to create an environment for everyone at par with normal standards.
Among the top priorities in the refugee camps is education. It may be a little-know fact that most young adults living in the camp, after finishing off with their high school education, have the very limited choice between getting married or risking their security by leaving the camp. It seems such a constrained worldview afforded to these individuals, however that no longer remains the only two choices these individuals have to deal with.
In January 2008, the Karenni Further Studies Program (KnFSP) was born. It created an alternative 2 years post-high school program in Camp 2 for Karenni high school graduates. The program caters free education for a few selected students who have made remarkable achievements in their in schooling. It provides relevant course of study with a curriculum focused on leadership and management in order to produce a population of graduates prepared to promote the social and economic welfare of current and future refugees living in Thailand.
Moo Eh Say, one of the students from the first batch of the KnFSP, according to an interview, could not be happier that she was selected as one of the 55 students in the first year. For Karenni girls like Moo Eh Say, they no longer have the limited options between leaving the camp and risk their lives or to get married and start a family after high school. Now, they have the chance to attain higher education and contribute to their community as future leaders.
Last March 16, 2010, the second batch of students of the program marched alongside their parents to culminate 2 years of their hard work and dedication. It was a very emotional affair where the graduating students shed tears of joy as they marched on the stage and accepted their certificates.
Through the KnFSP, the narrow view of graduation as a simple dream for these refugees has come to a reality. The graduates proved that despite their circumstances, they too have an opportunity to live out what is normal. On their Graduation Day, all 16 of them were not seen as refugees but as students who have successfully created a mark for themselves. On their graduation day, they no longer have the limited worldview of simply being an individual who is vulnerable but as individuals who despite the hardships and odds faced with have achieved a new window of opportunity to help build a better Burma beginning in their communities inside the camp.