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Teacher Su Meh is teaching her students on Karen language for refugee children in the camp.

Su Meh: schooling the future

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) believes that education is a necessity, not a luxury. We know that by educating children and keeping them in school for as many years as possible, we are providing the tools and resources they need to protect themselves and their family. With the support of regular givers like you, UNHCR and our local partners have established education programmes for refugee children across the world. In Thailand, we support refugees to access to education through many activities. We spoke with one refugee teacher in Northern Thailand, passionate to be passing on her knowledge…

Today Su Meh is teaching Karenni language to her primary school class. A refugee from Karenni state in Myanmar, Su Meh explains that the children would never be learning their native tongue if they still lived in Myanmar.

The Karenni language is banned in their home state and has been for many years. But, in the refugee camps of Northern Thailand, the language is flourishing in the schools and Karenni children are again learning to read and write their traditional language, as well as the commonly spoken Burmese. 

Children learning Burmese in Teacher Su Meh’s class
©UNHCR/S.Rich
Children learning Burmese in Teacher Su Meh’s class

Su Meh is pleased to be teaching the language to another generation: “One of the best things about living in the refugee camps in Thailand was that I did get to go to school and also to learn our language, as well as Burmese. In Burma we only can learn Burmese, Karenni is banned, and they did not want us knowing our language.”

Teaching children to be good people

“I arrived in 1996 with my parents,” explains Su Meh. “Like everyone else here we walked to Thailand. I was only a small child so I don't really remember much about home or about our journey here. I know we left with not much.”

Like most of the Karenni refugees in the camps in Thailand, Su Meh’s family were farmers but lost everything in brutal military raids, before fleeing Myanmar to save their lives. Today, Su Meh is 26 years old and married with two children aged seven and five. Her children and the children she teaches are everything to her.

Teacher Su Meh teaching a class of seven and eight year olds Burmese at a primary school in the Ban Mai NaiSoi refugee camp, Thailand
©UNHCR/S.Rich
Teacher Su Meh teaching a class of seven and eight year olds Burmese at a primary school in the Ban Mai NaiSoi refugee camp, Thailand

“Everything here is ok - I don't know anything different. But, the best thing about living in Thailand is education, for me and for my children.I hope my children will carry on in school and do as much as they can. I always try to teach my children as much as I can. I would like them to be good people and have a better life.”

“I enjoy teaching, it is my hobby. I like it and I want to educate other children, as well as my own.They need education to do something with their lives. They need to remember our language to help keep our people together.”

A future of freedom

Now, around two decades on from when the first Karenni refugees arrived in Thailand, the political situation in Myanmar still remains unstable. 

Portrait of 26-year-old Su Meh, refugee and teacher, living in a camp in Northern Thailand
©UNHCR/S.Rich
Portrait of 26-year-old Su Meh, refugee and teacher, living in a camp in Northern Thailand

UNHCR is working hard to find a permanent solution for refugees like Su Meh, with the eventual aims of helping her community to return home. But until that day comes we will also help to provide practical support through our network of partners to better prepare communities for a more independent future.

“I hope that I can go somewhere else or go back to Burma – we are safe here but we don't have our freedom. If we go together it could be ok and maybe we will all be safe.”

In the meantime Su Meh will continue to educate the younger generations of Karenni children, passing on their language and culture and helping them to prepare for a different future: “My teachers taught me well and that's what made me decide to become one. I can help to change their future.”