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Maredia talks to Saw Mu Tay in his aunt’s house.@UNHCR/S.Nattapoolwat

Maredia From a teenage refugee to a social worker

No matter how difficult it is to get a job with COERR, Maredia, a 22 years old has managed it. She has the job of her dreams, supporting unaccompanied children. She started it after she graduated from a high school in the camp just two years ago.

That afternoon in Mae Rama Luang refugee camp where she stays, she told us the reason she does this work. What she said was brief, but the passion of her voice and the determination of her eyes made it a statement of power.

“Some children are so unfortunate. They want to have someone to call their parents like other children, but they can’t. They have both physical and emotional challenges. I want to give them encouragement as much as I can.”

Maredia said many children have lost their parents. They needed to flee to the camp and stay with relatives or other families. Some children came to the camp to get better education and to be away from fear of soldiers in their villages. Many of them stay in boarding houses, which are divided between boys and girls.

UNHCR supports COERR to provide staff to closely monitor children without guardian or parents. The position is called a Community Social Worker (CSW). They regularly visit children to talk and check their living conditions. CSW encourages children to stay strong and motivates them to study. Maredia is one of the CSWs.

“After graduation, I wanted to learn more about our lives in the camp. I had seen CSW visiting and talking to children. I live with my parents and family. I can understand if children don’t have anyone to take care of them, how much love and warmth they are lacking,” said Maredia.

In Mae Rama Luang refugee camp, there are about 1,400 separated children. CSW takes turns visiting children in their homes. Maredia said that “in the section I work, there are about 120 children without parents and I take care of 60 children. Each day I go to their houses to talk and cheer them up; about 1-2 children a day. Each time it takes about 10 minutes but sometimes it takes longer - especially with children who are stubborn, naughty and do not listen to adults.”

When asked what she talks to the children about, Maredia replied that meeting the children is an opportunity to give them encouragement; to make them know there are people who look after them and care about them.

“We go there to tell them that there is still hope when they are living in the camp. Their parents want them to be good children with bright futures. Therefore, they need to be the best they can be for their parents and for themselves.”

Maredia said every child who comes to refugee camps wants to study but sometimes it is not easy to keep the motivation up. To share the responsibility of the children’s lives becomes important. Meeting children every month helps monitor the progress in children’s lives in areas such as health and living conditions. For example, we can find out: is the house too small? Does the roof leak? Is the house in disrepair and dangerous for them to live in? The list goes on…

After talking to Maredia, the ‘With You’ team asked for her permission to tag along to see how she works. That afternoon, she visited a refugee boy who fled to the camp and has lived with his aunt since the beginning of 2010.

Saw Mu Tay a 13-year old boy lost his parents when he was young. He came to this camp to stay with his aunt in a small cramped house, shared with four other residents. One of them is Saw’s brother, who moved to this camp four years before. His aunt wants the brothers to stay together, so they put up with the discomfort. Every time she meets Saw Mu Tay, Maredia talks to him about how to prepare for starting school, which he has not yet started; how to take care of himself; personal hygiene, and how to listen to good advice from adults. “She said I should pay attention to reading and studying. I don’t feel uncomfortable about her visiting. It’s kind of fun seeing her once a month,” Saw says.

Mu Yee, Saw Mu Tay’s 17-year old brother, said sometimes when Maredia was visiting his brother, he would join in the conversation.

Maredia says of her visits to Saw, which usually last ten minutes:

“This boy doesn’t have many problems. He is healthy, so the visit doesn’t take a long time.” Maredia explained further that if he goes to school, there will be more issues to talk about such as how to study or time management, etc.

Maredia left us. She walked quickly to get out of the pouring rain and return to the COERR office, which is quite far away from the boy’s house.