Last year, the UN reported more than 110,000 refugees living in Thailand. Escaping from ethnic conflict, many of them flee for Bangkok but most of them settle along the Thai-Burmese border to the north.
As refugees, they face a lot of obstacles. The legal means of staying in Thailand are dependent on employment but many refugees don’t have the basic Thai language they need to find work, and the Thai government refuses to recognize any education acquired in Burma. Even if work is possible, working conditions are poor – sometimes long days for less money than the Thai wage which is 300 baht ($10) a day. Many refugees are forced to live in self-built sheds, camps, or village settlements where electricity or water is scarce just to make ends meet.
In Chiang Mai there are NGOs helping to alleviate the challenges for Burmese refugees like Thai Freedom House, a non-profit organization which helps provide basic necessities and teaches valuable life skills to refugee communities and minority groups trying to integrate into a new country.
No one is free while others are oppressed.
Each time I am in the city I visit Thai Freedom House and Free Bird Café – they run a cute little café and sit-down brunch spot just outside the moat of the “old city”. I come here often because I know any money spent here helps and supports others who need it. 100% of all proceeds from this social enterprise goes back into their programs.
Eat at the Café
There are plenty of ways in which you can help, even as simple as buying breakfast or lunch can contribute to their cause. The café actually serves up the most delicious chocolate pancakes, fresh eggs, organic vegetarian dishes, and Burmese recipes. Funds raised go right back into the refugee programs.
Shop or Donate
At the back of the café, is the “pre-loved charity shop” where you can browse and purchase handcrafted bracelets and necklaces. You can also drop off unwanted clothing, shoes, toys, or household items which are redistributed to communities that need it most, or re-sold to buy emergency items like mosquito nets or beds.
There is always a need for volunteers who can teach or share a skill. Skills help refugees find work, support their families, and feel empowered. Volunteers can teach English, plan a workshop, run an arts activity, or help in the café.
Where: 116 Maneenopparat Road, Chiang Mai