16-year-old Miranda Wolford had the opportunity to visit refugee children in Southeast Asia this summer. Hear her plea on behalf of children like these for us—organizations, governments, global citizens—not to leave them behind, and how vital education is to their futures.
“Do not forget us,” the principal and students of the junior college pleaded to our group of international volunteers. Situated on the Thailand-Myanmar border, the junior college at the Mae Ra Moe Luang refugee camp serves to provide a quality education to children who have come from all over Southeast Asia to escape hardship and conflict.
With special permission, my peers and I were able to live among the resident students at the refugee camp in order to promote cultural interaction and understanding. Bonding over cute boys, music tastes, and our love for learning, I formed unique friendships with these students, and cultural and language barriers quickly disappeared.
Just as inspiring as the students, the teachers and staff at the school—many of whom are volunteers—were equally extraordinary. One man stood out in particular: the students’ fearless principal. As soon as we arrived at the humble school, he welcomed our group with open arms and a warm smile, informing us of the school’s situation with a short yet impactful speech. A room full of students from all over the world immediately fell silent as he began to speak. Standing on the tenuous wooden stage, his shaky yet sure voice carried through the small meeting room with an important message.
To put it into perspective, I rarely cry. Yet, I joined everyone else in shedding a tear at the raw emotion in the principal’s speech.
He told us about the refugees’ situation, and how none of them could legally leave the camp unless they gain citizenship elsewhere, which is a rarity. Instead of just hurling the facts at us, he gave us insight into each student’s daily life, including the various hardships they face. Many students are forced to drop out of school to support their families and provide a source of income. Many students cannot even access school because their commute has been made too treacherous in the monsoon season. Many girls are forced into becoming mothers as soon as they reach puberty.
Yet, this is not a place of misery; it is a place of promise. We cried not because we were saddened by the refugees’ stories, we cried because we were moved by their resilience and determination to seek opportunities beyond the refugee camp, despite their unfortunate experiences.
The principal also told us his own story. A few months prior, his family had won the lottery and received a chance at citizenship in the United States. This is an opportunity that does not come often in a refugee camp of over 40,000 people, so one would think them crazy not to take it. Yet, the principal was standing before us, without his family.
His overwhelming passion and intense devotion to his students and their education led him to say goodbye to his own family in favor of remaining at the camp, most likely for the rest of his life. Sacrificing his chance for a new beginning to protect the well being of the students, his heroic choice has kept the Mae Ra Mong Luang school system operational. He has dedicated his life to ensuring that the students’ immense efforts are not wasted, while at the same time, his family resides thousands of miles away in a foreign country. It is because of him that I was even able to spend time with the students who have truly changed my life and transformed my perspective.
How could I ever forget these smiling faces?
I feel incredibly blessed to have met these students and teachers, and I know it is my duty to keep my promise to never forget them. But I cannot say the same for the governments, and even populations who have chosen to sweep stories and places like these under the rug.
We must not forget about these students. Despite the hardships they’ve faced, they remain motivated and steadfast in their quest for knowledge, vying for opportunities beyond the refugee camp. While the junior college provides a temporary solution, the students are severely limited in their educational opportunities thereafter.
We must not forget about the junior college’s fearless principal, who selflessly chose to stay and fight on behalf of his students. It is sacrifices like his that truly symbolize the value of education.
Beyond the refugee children at Mae Ra Moe Luang, millions of primary-school age children are unable to receive a quality education due to a multitude of solvable yet still not accounted for issues, ranging from lack of access to feminine hygiene products to unsafe commutes to schools.
We must not forget about them.
Education is arguably the most easily attained, efficient, and successful stepping stone out of poverty, yet it still remains inaccessible to many of the children who need it most. Children brimming with promise and brighter futures are denied an education due to their inability to pay for school fees or uniforms, lack of trained teachers and mentors, labor obligations to support their families … the list goes on. With such a web of complex issues, it is nearly impossible to affect change without a unified goal in mind.
This is where the Sustainable Development Goals come into play. The SDGs are a set of seventeen global goals put into place by the United Nations to battle poverty, protect our planet, and ensure that equal opportunities to prosper are given to all, no matter their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or economic means. Currently, quality education on a global scale is goal number four.
These goals are identified in order to merge the efforts of organizations, governments, and citizens—like ourselves—so we are more effective and efficient in our change-making efforts. Therefore, it is up to all of us to initiate a ripple effect of positive change to ensure that students receive the educational opportunities they are so desperately fighting for.
Organizations such as World Vision, the United Nations Foundation, and others are paving the path for global education. Donations, big and small, can help support their efforts and bring these goals to fruition. Beyond that, each one of us can become advocates for the global goals in our communities. By raising awareness through social media and networking, our voices will be heard all over the world.
From my own personal experience, I have seen firsthand the importance of quality education on a global scale. As devoted citizens, organizations, and governments, we have a duty to ensure that children like the refugees at Mae Ra Mong Luang are not forgotten.
Child sponsorship is one of the most powerful ways you can fight poverty, through education, healthcare, nutritious food, and more! Sponsor a child in Southeast Asia today.