Angkana’s Secret Struggle

The following is from “The Globe,” a magazine for children to learn about child rights issues around the world as a part of World’s Children’s Prize. Learn more about World’s Children’s Prize here and on their website.

Click the images to enlarge them and click again to zoom in, or scroll to the bottom of this post for a text version the article.

Angkana's Struggle


Angkana’s Secret Struggle

Angkana was eleven years old the first time she crossed the border from the dictatorship of Burma to attend Sompop’s school in Thailand. Now , twelve years later, she is following in Sompop’s footsteps and helping Burmese children get an education. But she has to work in secret, and does not want to show her face. Burma can still be a dangerous place to fight for the rights of the child.


“Sompop’s school was so different,” explains Angkana. “We were taught both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. And I learned how to think freely!”

The poor border areas of Burma are mostly populated by hill tribes. “We have the lowest level of education in the whole of Burma,” says Angkana. “There is no money, and there are far too few teachers.”

Girls making a difference

When Angkana was 15 she attended Sompop’s first ever leadership training course, with girls from all over the Mekong Region (Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos’. They called themselves the Mekong Youth Net.

“We learned about our countries and cultures, about how to interview children and how to set up an organization. We also studied human trafficking and the rights of the child.”

Many of Angkana’s friends of the same age had left Burma to work in Thailand. “When their parents went looking for them, they were gone without a trace. While studying on Sompop’s course, I suddenly realized that my friends had probably become victims of trafficking.”

Helping Burmese children

Today Angkana herself works in secret to defend children’s rights in Burma. “It can be difficult and dangerous to run an organization here, so we have to be extremely careful. I seek out the very poorest children who have a difficult home life. There is a high risk that they will be forced to stop school and start working. Some of their parents are sick or addicted to drugs. I give them money towards school fees and food, and take them to the doctor. I also tell the whole family about the dangers of sending children to work in Thailand.”

Angkana gathers information about how life is for children living in the border area, which she gives to Sompop and his organization, to help them plan their work better. I look up to Sompop and the others who were my teachers at his school.” says Angkana.

Apia, 12

“I often have to take care of my younger brother and do the housework, because my mother has to work so much.”

Likes: Math and Burmese. It’s good to be able to count, for example when you go to the shop!”

Loves: Cycling. Especially cycling fast down steep hills.

Happy that: My father has been released from prison and lives with us again.

Wants to be: A singer.

Dream: To be able to go to university. I also want all the children in my village to be able to go to school.

H, 12

“I love my parents, but they are old and sick so we are very poor.”

Likes: Studying Burmese, reading books and magazines, writing and playing ballgames!

Wants to be: A doctor. I have asthma and my doctor helped me feel better.

Angry because: So many children are not able to go to school. They have to take care of younger siblings or move away to work.

Happy when: My brother comes home so the whole family is together.

Amoko, 12

“I have six siblings and our dad has to work really hard for our sakes. My older siblings work too. I’m scared that soon I’ll have to stop school to work and take care of my younger siblings.”

Likes: Studying Burmese.

Wants to be: A teacher.

Likes: Being with my family and watching TV. One house in our village has a TV and the children usually gather there!

Dream: To travel and maybe move to Rangoon, the capital of Burma. And to build a playground in our village.

Hill tribes’ hard life in Burma

For a long time, Burma has been rules with an iron fist by a military regime from the largest people group in Burma, the Burmese. The regime has persecuted all those in the country who fight for democracy, as well as those who belong to different ethnic groups. The hill tribes, like the Akha and the Karen, have been treated particularly badly. Children’s schools have been shut down, villages have been burnt to the ground, food deliveries have been stopped and hill tribes have been exploited through forced labor. As a result, many of them have fled to Thailand. Now the situation in Burma has improved a little. Many political prisoners have been released, such as democracy champion and the World’s Children’s Prize patron, Aung San Suu Kyi. But the hill tribe peoples do not yet dare to believe that their lives could get better.



Youth Leaders in Action: Graduation Day at Rays of Youth Mae Sot

We are always happy to hear about the wonderful efforts of graduated DEPDC daughters, sons, and youth leaders to address human trafficking and other social issues in their communities. On Saturday, June 15, we got to see some of these efforts firsthand during a visit to Rays of Youth (ROY) in Mae Sot. A small group consisting of Khun Sompop, DEPDC staff and international volunteers made the eight-hour journey to Mae Sot, a small town on the western Thai-Burmese border, to attend the graduation ceremony for the ROY Peer Leadership Program.

ROY is a project that is close to our hearts as it was founded by and is run by past DEPDC daughters. The young women were graduates of the Mekong Youth Net youth leadership training program in 2008, which equipped young people with the knowledge and skills to start their own anti-trafficking grassroots projects, to educate future leaders, to help children from all backgrounds develop ethically, and to inform communities about children’s rights and critical social issues. Armed with this knowledge, the young women returned to Mae Sot and started ROY.

ROY is currently running a number of impressive and vital projects, including:

  • Community Awareness Training to raise awareness of the situation on the Thai-Burma border and teach about local issues like child rights and child labor, health and personal hygiene, traffic rules and safe driving, human trafficking, drugs, and more.
  • A Community Roadshow which teaches the public about local issues through drama and performances, as well as sharing different ethnic cultures through traditional songs and dances.
  • Peer Leadership Program, training 20 migrant students to be youth leaders and role models. They learn skills in Thai, English, and computers and learn about problems in the border areas and how to combat them.
  • Media and Radio Broadcasting, including the production of short films, documentaries, songs, music videos, posters, and a daily radio show, to educate migrant people about relevant issues. Tune in to their radio show every day from noon to 1pm at MAP Radio Mae Sot, 102.5 Mhz!
  • Environmental Awareness campaigns and workshops encouraging people to compost their waste, teaching how to produce natural detergents, and teaching about environmental issues.
  • Multicultural Music Project, allowing the youth to express themselves and connect with one another by learning musical instruments and singing.

ROY is a program under the umbrella of Help Without Frontiers, an organization that focuses on helping refugees and others in need in Thailand and Myanmar. Among other projects, Help Without Frontiers currently runs twelve Ray of Hope Schools around the Mae Sot region and in Burma.

The graduation ceremony on June 15 marked the first class to complete the ROY Peer Leadership Program, modeled after DEPDC’s Mekong Youth Net. It was an emotional event with many tears being shed as the young people recalled their growth and learning together over the last three years. Speeches were given by Mr. Mahn Shwe Hnin, head of the Burmese Migrant Teacher Association; Mrs. Siraporn Kaewsombat, head of Help Without Frontiers Thailand; and Mr. Benno Röggla, founder and president of Help Without Frontiers. There were videos, songs, dances, and presentations by the youth leaders on their own chosen topics. It was inspiring to see the confidence and passion with which the children spoke about their chosen issues – true leaders in the making. After Khun Sompop’s speech (or, as they call him at ROY, “Po Sompop” or “Father Sompop”), in which he encouraged the youth leaders to “Learn, Be, Do, and Serve,” the young people presented him with a gift and some bottles of their homemade natural detergents. At the end of the ceremony, there were many hugs, kisses, and tears, and it was clear to see the special bonds that had been formed between the youth leaders, teachers, and program leaders, just as they were formed with Khun Sompop and his youth leadership trainees in 2008.

Mae Sot, as a Thai-Burmese border town, experiences many of the same challenges that we do in Mae Sai, Chiang Khong, and Mae Chan. Unfortunately, children and youth often bear the brunt of problems that arise from ethnic and social conflict, poverty and lack of economic opportunities, political instability, statelessness, and corruption that are endemic in the border regions. ROY aims to spread understanding and tackle these complex problems.

Read a previous post written by the ROY team leaders on the DEPDC blog here.

Or read ROY’s own blog post about the youth graduation ceremony on their blog.

Want to learn more about Rays of Youth and Help Without Frontiers? Visit their website at or check out the ROY blog at

Thank you to the Rays of Youth team for inviting us, and we look forward to hearing more from the ROY youth leaders in the future!

“Today a child, tomorrow a leader. If this is true, then I think I’ll see you tomorrow!”

Mekong Youth Net receives Honourable Commendation from UNESCO

Wonderful news for DEPDC/GMS! The results of the 2011 Wenhui Award for Educational Innovation are in! The theme of the 2011 call for nominations was “Education for Learning to Live Together” and we are very pleased and proud to announce that the Mekong Youth Net received an “Honourable Commendation” from the UNESCO

The Wenhui Award (文 晖) was established by the National Commission of the People’s Republic of China for UNESCO and the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Programme of Educational Innovation for Development (APEID).  The Award recognizes those organizations and individuals committed to educational innovation and development. The “Honourable Commendation” provides  great  exposure and promotion for DEPDC/GMS and the Mekong Youth Net throughout Asia and worldwide.  The Mekong Youth Net is honored to receive this recognition for their dedication and hard work in youth leadership and media awareness projects. Congratulations to the MYN!

Many thanks and congratulations are also due to international volunteer Alexandra Wolf, who coordinated the award application, as well as to the recommendation writers whose opinions no doubt influenced the award committee greatly.  Congratulations as well to Ajarn Sompop and Khun Noom for launching and directing this (now award-winning!) innovation.   This level of recognition for the work of the Mekong Youth Net – young people who commit their lives to benefiting their communities – is well-deserved.

To view the profiles of Mekong Youth Net and all other winners posted on the Wenhui website, please visit here. To learn more about the Mekong Youth Net and their innovative educational and media projects, please visit the Child Voice Media projects.

Congratulations to all!

Click here to read more entries about DEPDC/GMS in the News! 

Mekong Youth Leader joins Online Child Protection Experts Round in Bangkok

In late June, our partner Child Protection Partnerships (CPP) organised a showcase event that brought together child protection experts, government officials, law enforcement and students at the Foreign Correspondens Club Thailand in Bangkok. Together, they discussed the impact of information and communication technology (ICT) on child sexual exploitation and child protection. The event was supported by CPP’s executing agency, the International Institute for Child Rights and Development (IICRD), and CPP and DEPDC/GMS’ partner Plan Thailand.

CPP invited P’Mink from the Mekong Youth Net to join the event as a presenter, together with students from a school in Pattaya that runs a programme to teach children how to use the internet safely and responsibly. Read CPP’s report or visit the news section on the CPP website. Click here to visit the Mekong Youth Leaders’ YouthTube Channel and watch a news report in Thai by Channel 7.

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Child Labour Awareness Workshop

Last November, a workshop about child labour was held at the DEPDC/GMS Chiang Khong Centre, led by P’Peh, P’Nui and P’Nuan*, youth leaders of the Mekong Youth Union (MYU). They taught the girls how to recognise, react, and resist situations of child labor, human rights violations, and domestic violence.

“When they can recognise these forms of abuse while they are happening, they can apply this knowledge to real-life situations in the future,” said P’Too, Director of the Chiang Khong Centre.

Through a collaborative effort, the girls brainstormed and created a dramatised skit. With the help of P’Nuan, technician at the
MYU Training Centre, it was then recorded for future use on Child Voice Radio.

*In Thai, a P’ is added to people’s names as a form of common courtesy. It is used to address older brothers and sisters as well as older acquaintances. It is common that people of roughly similar ages address each other using P’ in front of the name. The equivalent for younger siblings and friends is Nong.

MYU at the ASEAN Youth Consultation

The Mekong Youth Net (MYN) is an initiative by DEPDC/GMS that established a grassroots network delivering an anti-human trafficking response throughout the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS). From August 9-11, MYN youth leaders from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Vietnam converged to attend the ASEAN Youth Consultation where they were joined by members from the Kayan New Generation Youth and the Colorful Ethnic Youth to brainstorm and share their ideas on ways to improve their communities.

The purpose of the conference was to gather diverse experiences, opinions and perspectives from youth leaders all around the Mekong region. Findings and conclusions would then be presented to the new ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). The ACWC was inaugurated in April 2010 to focus on issues impacting women and children and to promote women and children’s involvement in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). To learn more about the new committee, please click here.

Drawing from their in-depth community research, intensive networking and outreach, and their comprehensive work for protection from and prevention of human trafficking, the young leaders of the Mekong Youth Union (MYU), the umbrella organisation of the MYN, had plenty to say. They drew on their diverse and hands-on experiences in engaging the most challenging problems facing the Mekong region.

Together, the 74 workshop participants identified the seven most pressing issues that their communities are faced with: human trafficking, illegal drugs, HIV/AIDS, cultural preservation, domestic violence, environmental damage, and statelessness.

However, the youth leaders went one step further than just listing known issues; they also channelled their experiences into proposing creative, sustainable solutions to those serious social problems. In smaller discussion groups, they brainstormed ideas about how they could engage their communities to address these problems.

Their innovative suggestions included the creation of centres in each community to coordinate HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns, peer education to prevent substance abuse, and special travel documents that would allow stateless youth to travel to professional conferences.

The many suggestions were compiled in a document that was presented at the October 2010 ACWC Summit, making the youth leaders’ findings and conclusions heard by country representatives and policy makers in the ASEAN region – real youth empowerment in action!

The ASEAN Youth Consultation also sought to highlight and celebrate the diversity of youth throughout the GMS.

The youth leaders took part in the celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People at Chiang Mai University, where – with more than ten ethnic groups represented – they took the opportunity to showcase the music, religion, traditional costumes and culture of their ethnic communities.

It was truly heartening to see through the work and dedication of these young leaders of the MYU and the other, equally enthusiastic youth what great potential there is in the Mekong region. Attendees to the workshop agreed that they enjoyed the sessions and that they all learned a great deal from one another. The model of gathering the perspectives of youth was inspiring to all participants, who hope to pass on their experiences and empowerment to the next generations of young people in their respective countries.

The next ASEAN Youth Consultation is scheduled to be held in Chiang Rai in December, so stay tuned for further news from the Mekong youth leaders.

The ASEAN Youth Consultation workshop was organised and supported by the Southeast Asia Regional Cooperation for Human Development (SEARCH), the Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), our partner Plan International, and DEPDC/GMS.

To visit these organisation, please click on the respective logos below. For a video from the Kayan New Generation Youth, please click here.

Meet the MYN Youth Leaders in Mae Sot

We proudly introduce to you the MYN youth leaders in Mae Sot, Thailand, who are making a difference in their community every day. Let’s find out what they are up to in galvanizing their community against child exploitation!

From 2004 to 2009, the Mekong Youth Net (MYN) has trained 96 young people in their late teens to early 20s to become community leaders all across the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and to create a network against human trafficking. The idea behind the MYN project was that by recruiting young people from the six GMS countries – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam and China’s Yunnan Province – and by giving them the education and skill sets necessary, they could return to their respective home countries well-equipped to work with local NGOs and their own communities to effect changes from the most grassroots level. Let’s hear what the MYN team in Mae Sot has to say!

“Sawasdeekha! Mingalapar! Oh su lasai! Greetings from Mae Sot in Thailand. We are a team of four Mekong Youth Net (MYN) youth leaders who graduated from the MYN training curriculum at DEPDC/GMS to work alongside our host NGO, Help without Frontiers, with our local community. All of us used to be students at the Migrant Learning Centre before being recruited by DEPDC/GMS to be part of their MYN programme. We are either Burmese or Karen, one of the ethnic minorities in the region.

“First, let us give you some background on the situation in Mae Sot and why we need a programme like the MYN in the area. Mae Sot is situated in Tak province on the Thai-Burmese border, and a friendship bridge between Mae Sot in Thailand and Myawaddy in Myanmar connects the two countries. There are many migrants from Myanmar in Mae Sot, including Burmese, Karen, Mon, Shan, Lar Hu, Arakanese, Muslin and Chin people. They have been entering Mae Sot illegally in different ways and for different reasons. Some of them fled from the civil war, some came to work and some decided to live in Mae Sot because of social crises, political problems, statelessness, lack of citizenship and economic repression in Myanmar.

“There are many problems affecting migrants in Mae Sot, such as child labour, forced labour, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and substance abuse. In light of the situation, many migrant learning centres were set up to provide access to education for many children who otherwise would not be able to attend school. But children’s rights continue to be violated, and child labour exploitation and child trafficking are rife, representing huge obstacles for the future of children and youth in the region. Therefore, MYN decided to initiate the MYN Mae Sot project to provide education in the community about many of these social issues.

“The objectives of the MYN project in Mae Sot are to help children and young people to understand the different situations and problems in the border area between Myanmar and Thailand, to know how to protect themselves effectively from such problems, to develop their life skills and other knowledges, and to create youth networks to combat human trafficking. Our programmes particularly focus on awareness raising and prevention. We go out to many migrant learning centres to conduct training sessions on Health and Personal Hygiene, Child Rights, Child Labour, Human Trafficking and Substance Abuse. We use a variety of teaching techniques, from skits to question-and-answer contests, to engage our young audience and teach them about the importance of the topics. We work as a team and work very hard, and we are happy to report that in just one year alone, over 2,000 students in total have come from 9 different migrant learning centres to attend our workshops!

“Starting from January 2010, we also began to broadcast a radio programme in three different languages (Burmese, Karen and Thai) to cater to our targeted populations most at risk of exploitation. The radio programme is a very effective way to reach out to a wide audience because for many migrants, the radio is the only media channel they have access to.

“MYN Mae Sot is still a very young project team as we just started operations in August 2009. Along the way, we have faced many difficulties, because the members have still little practical experience in management and communication, and we had to learn how to effectively work together as a team. To this day, MYN Mae Sot is striving to improve our efforts, but we are now more and more confident that we can deliver better work to give back to our own community the very help we received ourselves. We would like to thank our host NGO, Help Without Frontiers, as well as DEPDC/GMS for their continual support and advice whenever we run into difficulties.

“We hope this article gives you a little idea about the work that we do every day, and the kind of challenges that border populations like those in Mae Sot face. If you have any questions, we would be glad to hear from you!”

If you like to contact MYN Mae Sot, please click here to use DEPDC/Interactive. To learn more about the other country projects of the Mekong Youth Net, stay tuned for the upcoming October issue of the DEPDC/GMS Newsletter, which features news from Cambodia, Central Laos and Vietnam.

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Child Voice News Workshop

In late July, a special workshop was held at DEPDC/GMS in Mae Sai for ten youth leaders from the Mekong Youth Net (MYN) in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). The MYN is a group of youth leaders that went through a 3-year training programme initiated by DEPDC/GMS in 2004. It established a network of grassroots anti-trafficking projects throughout the Greater Mekong Sub-region as a link between individuals as well as non-governmental and governmental organisations. The Mekong Youth Union (MYU) is the umbrella organisation of the MYN. It is located in Mae Sai and runs a training centre to further develop the Child Voice Media projects of DEPDC/GMS, namely Child Voice TV, Child Voice Radio and Child Voice News. The workshop consisted of a 3-day intensive programme led by Matthias Lehmann, a German staff member at DEPDC/GMS’ International Department, and translated by Amy, a volunteer from Thailand.

On the first day, the workshop taught the participants how to organise an editorial department. The participants then gathered the topics they would like to feature in the newspaper and were given assignments to prepare for the second day. Among the suggested topics were, to name but a few, the culture and traditions of ethnic groups in the region, health education, the difficulties ethnic minorities face in Myanmar, interviews with staff and children from other NGOs, information about local events and landmarks, introducing people of the local community, as well as information about the mission and activities of DEPDC/GMS.

Throughout Day 2, participants wrote and edited their articles and selected images to go along with them. Afterwards, two models for the structure of the newspaper were developed and discussed. On the third day, participants learnt how to research and choose images to effectively convey a message, how to edit and improve images using an image editor, and how to create newspaper pages using a publishing programme. The third day concluded with participants filling out a questionnaire to evaluate the workshop. All participants stated that they had become more interested in the newspaper project as a result of the workshop and would participate in varying degrees. Everybody welcomed the idea for a second workshop if it were to be offered and preparations for that are already underway.

Let’s hear what Amy has to say about her experience at the workshop. “I was astonished by how hard-working the youth leaders are. Although it seemed like they have a lot on their plates already, they pursued this project with passion. They had so many good ideas about how they are planning to make the newspaper relevant and interesting. They put so much energy into the work that they are doing, which I admire so much. Matthias also did an excellent job teaching them very useful computer skills and they all praised the session about that.”

Matthias observed that he “was impressed how the participants’ motivation accelerated over the three days. It boosted my own motivation and I am already planning the next workshop for the MYN youth leaders, this time led by a team of Thai journalists. It was great to work together with the youth leaders and Amy for three full days and apart from the work we accomplished, I was really glad to get to know all of them better.”

Child Voice News is intended to be published monthly in Thai, with a digest version in English every 3 months, so stay tuned for future updates!

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MYN Seminar with Frank & Becky

The students of the Mekong Youth Net (MYN) are always interested to learn new skills and develop themselves as great leaders. Thus, it was a great experience for them when our supporters Frank and Becky came to visit and carried out a two-day seminar for them to further their understanding of and knowledge about human trafficking. Frank and Becky are originally from Louisiana in the United States but now live in Chiang Mai. Together, they broke down the topic into categories, using a slide presentation. Our staff Lucy, Graziella, Sarah, Lara and P’Coun were present at the meeting alongside Khun Sompop who translated for the MYN students.

Frank and Becky talked about different cases, giving examples of situations they have been involved in or had to deal with, explaining how they overcame the problems and the best ways to correct the matters at hand. A really nice touch was that Frank and Becky sang songs at the end of their seminar. They performed Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s ‘We are the World’ and the magnificent Louis Armstrong ‘What a wonderful world’, as music can speak out to everyone.  

A suprise for everyone was that P’Coun created a sign for Frank and Becky saying “To the world you may just be one person, but to one person you may be the world’, a statement that they made during the seminar. They were extremely delighted at the gift from P’Coun and signed their names on the bottom of it, a perfect ending to a great seminar.

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