EDUCATION AND TRAINING IN YUNNAN, CHINA
Report ~ November 2000
The political and economic situation in countries neighboring Thailand, and in the Mekong Delta region, has resulted in an influx in the number of political and economic refugees to Thailand. While many of these refugees are housed in holding camps along the Thai-Burma border, thousands more find their way into towns and cities where they work on construction sites, in factories, in the fishing industry or as day laborers. Many, both male and female, enter the sex industry. For some, it is a full time occupation; for others it is a way of supplementing the meager income they are able to earn as "illegal immigrants". For all it means a risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
In their own countries there is little or no education on HIV/AIDS. Thus, they enter Thailand, where there is a serious AIDS epidemic, ignorant of the disease and how to protect themselves against infection. If they do become infected with HIV, they are ignorant of the symptoms and how to take care of themselves. Consequently, they become ill easily and unwittingly transmit the virus to others.
A large number of these people are highly mobile, regularly moving back and forth between Thailand and their own country. Those who have contracted HIV in Thailand, carry the virus back with them where they transmit it to others. This has resulted in a rapidly growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in countries such as Burma, Cambodia and Southern China.
To help provide education and raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, the Sangha Metta Project, which operates out of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, has recruited the assistance of Buddhist monks in neighboring countries.
With support from AusAid, the Open Society Institute, and Mr. Hal Nathan, the Sangha Metta Project commenced education and training activities for Tai Leu and Shan Buddhist monks in March 2000.
Since activities commenced, seminars and training programmes have been conducted on seven occasions. In addition, the Sangha Metta Project has coordinated study tours for monks from neighboring countries on four occasions. Details of activities are presented in this report.
1. Xeshuan Panna
In March 2000 six Thai monks working with the Sangha Metta Project traveled to Yunnan, Southern China to conduct HIV/AIDS workshops for Tai Leu monks living in Xeshuan Banna. Two workshops were conducted, both at Wat Paje Monastery in the town of Chiang Rung.
The first workshop was attended by 30 monks from monasteries in the towns of Mengla, Muang Ham, Menghai and Jinhong. All participants are teachers in temple schools and all had attended an HIV/AIDS awareness-raising seminar conducted by the Sangha Metta Project in September 1999. The workshop, which was participatory in nature, continued for three days. During that time, participants were given training in the Life Skills Development technique and shown how it can be used to teach children and community members about HIV/AIDS and non-risk behavior.
At the completion of the first workshop, the Thai monks ran a three-day demonstration HIV/AIDS awareness-raising program for novice monks studying at the temple school in Paje Monastery. Forty novices took part in the program and monks who had participated in the first workshop attended as observers and assisted with the training. In this way, the Tai Leu monks were able to develop their teaching skills.
During the same period, the Project Manager for the Sangha Metta Project visited Chiang Rung to monitor HIV/AIDS activities being carried out by Tai Leu monks and to conduct an evaluation of program activities.
It was found that since the September, 1999 seminar, all monks who participated have become actively engaged in HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care. They have been including HIV/AIDS education in their sermons and have been conducting special training for minority groups in remote regions of Xeshuan Panna. Education and training has also been given to children attending language and culture programmes conducted regularly in temples. In some cases, monks have identified people in their community who are living with HIV/AIDS and have been giving them spiritual counseling and material support. The Abbott of Wat Paje, the most senior monk in Xeshuan Panna, has issued a directive for all monks under his supervision to become actively engaged in HIV/AIDS prevention and care. In addition to the education programmes being conducted by the monks, monks have also been producing educational materials in the Tai Leu language and script and have assisted in the production of a video on HIV/AIDS.1
Although these monks are resident in Xeshuan Panna, they are highly mobile and often travel to neighboring areas and countries, such as Myanmar and Thailand, particularly Muang Yong and Kyang Tung in the Shan State of Myanmar, and Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. During their travels they share their knowledge with other monks they meet along the way and visit PHA2 support groups and activities being conducted by monks and temples in Thailand.
Some monks who participated in these seminars and workshops have now moved to Thailand to further their studies and are being included in on-going activities conducted by the Sangha Metta Project in Chiang Mai. They will remain in Thailand for about two years. After completing their studies, they will return to Chiang Rung where they will teach in temple schools in their community.
2. Shan State, Myanmar
Wat Pa Pao is a Shan temple situated in Muang District, Chiang Mai. It houses the Center for the Preservation and Promotion of Shan Language and Culture, and, in conjunction with the Department of Non-formal Education, conducts adult education classes for Shan immigrants. The temple is the center for the Shan community and immigrants generally head for this temple when they come to Chiang Mai. The temple also hosts traditional Shan festivals and ceremonies throughout the year. During these times, Shan immigrants and refugees from all over northern Thailand, flock to the temple in the hundreds.
Late March 2000, the Sangha Metta Project contacted Shan monks living at Wat Pa Pao, Chiang Mai, to assist with training programmes in the Shan State, Myanmar. These monks normally reside in various towns in the Shan State, such as Tangyii, Tachilek, Kyang Tung, and Lashio and Wat Pa Pao as their base whenever they are in Chiang Mai. Several monks from this temple have already participated in Sangha Metta seminars, workshops and training programmes. Some are supporting illegal Shan laborers and their families living on construction sites in and around Chiang Mai who have been infected with HIV.
After discussions with the monks, it was decided to conduct a training programme for Shan monks, followed by a workshop for Shan youth, in the town of Tachilek, just across the border from Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, Thailand. Traditionally, this is a Shan town but Burmans from other parts of Myanmar have been relocated here. There is a strong military presence in this town.
A meeting of Shan monks, all teachers, was scheduled in Tachilek during the month of April and two monks from Wat Pa Pao would attend. These monks3 agreed to coordinate the training programme in Tachilek to coincide with the end of the teachers' meeting. The Project Manager of the Sangha Metta Project traveled to Tachilek to assist with preparations. A temple in the town was chosen as the venue.
At the end of April, the Project Manager, Sangha Metta Project, together with three northern Thai monks, returned to Tachilek to start the training. On arrival at the temple in Tachilek, they were told that the senior monk in Tachilek had decided that it would be unwise to conduct any activities in the town of Tachilek as gatherings of more than 5 are prohibited in Burma. He feared that the training would draw the attention of the Burmese military. Rather than endanger the monks and jeopardize any work they may do in the future, it was decided to move the monks across the border and conduct the training at a Shan temple in Mae Sai.
A total of 32 Shan monks traveled across the border in groups of two and three in order not to draw the attention of the authorities. (Monks travel freely across the border and generally are not asked to show documents.)
The training was held at Wat Pa Taek, Mae Sai4, and was conducted by northern Thai speaking Thai monks working with the Sangha Metta Project. For most of the monks participating, it was the first time they had met, and none had previously had the opportunity to meet in such a large group. Once together, there was a vigorous exchange of information on conditions in their communities, and on the HIV/AIDS situation.
To clarify any misunderstandings, and to overcome preconceived notions and superstitions, the participants were first given correct and up-to-date information on HIV and AIDS. All participants were given brochures and materials in the Shan language and script.
The participants were then given training in Life Skills Development and taught how to use this technique to effectively educate youth and community members on HIV/AIDS and non-risk behavior.
The workshop, which was participatory in nature, continued for three days. In the evening of each day, the participants grouped together to relate stories they had heard about HIV/AIDS and how it is dealt with in Myanmar. Some monks from Tachilek told of a family - a father, a mother and two children, who had all been tested HIV+. They said that this family had been taken by military authorities, clubbed, stuffed in bags and thrown in the river. Others said they had heard of HIV+ people being given lethal injections. There is no evidence to confirm these stories, but that they are being told indicates that there is a presence of HIV/AIDS and a fear of the authorities prevents infected people from disclosing their status and accessing help.
At the completion of the workshop, all who had participated vowed that they would take their knowledge and skills and use them for the benefit of the people in their communities. They have now established an informal network and keep each other informed of what they were doing.
One monk who participated has since traveled to Chiang Mai. He reports that the monks are setting up awareness raising programmes for youth and community members in their temples. As all school children are obliged to attend schools run by the government of Myanmar, where the Burmese language is used, the monks take the opportunity to teach children during Shan language and culture classes.
When occasion permits, such as on festival days or when there are community gatherings at their temple, monks talk to the community about the dangers of HIV infection and the need to avoid risk behavior. On special religious days, they include the AIDS message in their sermons.
In some areas, monks have started to produce HIV/AIDS materials in the Shan language.
One monk in Kyang Tung has started construction of a community school and is giving classes in Shan culture and language. He has produced Shan language books and uses the language training classes to teach about HIV/AIDS.
Monks, novices, youth and community leaders gather at a temple school in Kyang Tung to celebrate a Shan festival during which time they are taught about HIV/AIDS.
Training of Shan Youth
In July 2000, the Sangha Metta Project was contacted by Shan monks and asked to conduct an HIV/AIDS awareness-raising programme for Shan youth attending the non-formal education school at Wat Pa Pao. As mentioned earlier, most of these youth are political or economic refugees residing and working in northern Thailand. Some of these youth are working in entertainment establishments where they face the danger of being lured into the sex industry. Without proper education and training, they are at risk of contracting HIV. As the majority does not have official papers, they tend to remain underground and are consequently overlooked by other NGOs5 conducting HIV/AIDS training programmes for youth.
Northern Thai monks trained by the Sangha Metta Project conducted a three-day workshop that was attended by 64 students from the school. Prior to commencing the training, questionnaires on personal behavior were distributed to the participants. Results showed that several are sexually active and using narcotics. Pre- and post-training questionnaires assessing participants' knowledge of HIV/AIDS were also distributed. While the scores on the pre-training questionnaires were in the middle 60s, the post-training questionnaires showed perfect scores or in the high 90s. By distributing these questionnaires, the trainers were able to determine the participants' level of knowledge of HIV/AIDS and risk behavior. They could then use the findings to determine which points to focus on to improve participants' knowledge and reduce their risk of contracting HIV.
During the training the youth were educated on all aspects of HIV/AIDS, including how the virus is transmitted, how to protect themselves from infection and how to show empathy towards and live with and care for HIV+ people.
At the end of the training, the participants said that they would use the knowledge for their own benefit and for the benefit of their families and friends. They would set up peer support activities in their school and communities and conduct HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns when the opportunity permitted.
Monks and Community Leaders
1. Wat Pa Taek, Mae Sai
With assistance from monks living in the Shan State, a seminar-cum-workshop was set up for Shan monks and community leaders at Wat Pa Taek, Mae Sai, in September 2000. The seminar was attended by 52 Shan monks and novices from the Myanmar side of the border. Three Shan monks living on the Thai side of the border, and 15 community and youth leaders from both sides of the border also attended. Some of the youth leaders had formerly been monks but have now disrobed and are living back with their families in Tangyii and Tachilek. While some of those from the Myanmar side of the border stayed at Wat Pa Taek during the seminar, the majority traveled back and forth each day. For the majority, it was the first time they had received any training in HIV/AIDS. Most had heard of AIDS, but did not really know what it is.
A Shan speaking doctor from Mae Sai hospital was invited to address the participants on HIV/AIDS. After explaining HIV/AIDS, modes of transmission and ways of prevention, she talked about the situation in Mae Sai and along the border.
Mae Sai, bordering on Myanmar, is a frontier town frequented by traders and tourists. Illicit activities are common. There are a large number of massage parlors, karaoke bars and brothels. The doctor explained that all of the sex workers in Mae Sai come from the Shan State across the border in Myanmar. Thai sex workers, who have the freedom to travel, move to larger cities where they can earn more money. A survey has shown that about 85 percent of the sex workers in Mae Sai are Shan, the remainder being Akha, Kachin and Burman. There is a high prevalence of STDS and HIV among the sex workers. There are occasional raids on the brothels and girls arrested are sent back to Burma, through Tachilek. Many return to Mae Sai. Some move to other towns such as Chiang Saen (at the Golden Triangle) and Chiang Khong.
The doctor also spoke about the socio-economic impacts of HIV/AIDS saying that it is not only the person infected who suffers, but also families, relatives and society as a whole. She stressed the need for everyone to join together in the fight against AIDS.
Following her talk, the participants were shown a Shan language version of the video "Sacrifice" which tells the plight of child prostitutes from Burma.
After the doctor had completed her presentation, the participants were given an activity based on the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism - Suffering (Dukkha), the Cause of Suffering (Samudhaya), the Cessation of Suffering (Nirodha) and the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering (Maggha). In this exercise, AIDS replaced suffering.
The participants were broken into groups of 7 and asked to help each other identify all the problems (Dukkha) resulting from HIV/AIDS. They were given about 20 minutes to brainstorm and then invited to present their findings, in turn, to the other participants.
They concluded that in addition to being a health problem for the person infected, there are also related problems such as loss of employment resulting in a loss of income which can have an affect on the economic stability of the family and community; stigma and discrimination which can lead to a break up in the community resulting lack of unity in development; orphans, which can have an affect on the quality of future generations; increased personal and family expenses to pay for costs of treatment at a time when the family is enduring loss of income; etc.
Monks and novices, and community and youth leaders work together to develop their understanding of HIV/AIDS and related problems.
Next, a Shan-speaking monk from Mae Chan District in Chiang Rai talked about the role of monks in managing the impacts of HIV/AIDS on the community. This monk is part of a network of monks who work in
their communities and collaboration with the local hospital6. They have set up Dhamma-based counseling room at the hospital and give counseling to AIDS patients, as well as other patients at the hospital. In their communities, they give HIV/AIDS education in schools and during sermons, support AIDS orphans, assist with income generation activities, and conduct AIDS awareness campaigns on special days such as World Aids Day. These monks have also prepared a set of sermons in the local dialect on HIV/AIDS. Copies were distributed during the seminar.
Following the presentation by this monk, the groups were reorganized and the participants were asked to brainstorm on the cause (Samudhaya) of AIDS and the related problems, focusing on two things - the transmission of a virus, and the growth of an epidemic.
After the brainstorming, the participants concluded that ignorance is a prime factor in the spread of HIV. Due to lack of education, people do not know how the virus is transmitted or how to protect themselves against infection. Because people infected with the virus do not know how to look after themselves, they become ill and eventually die, leaving their family in economic hardship and their children orphaned. People discriminate against PHA because they do not know the truth about the disease or how to live with HIV+ people.
Viral transmission has grown to epidemic proportions due to a variety of cultural, social, economic and political factors. For example, the culture of the region accepts pre-marital sex and multiple partners; societies condone sexual initiation; because of economic hardship girls enter the sex industry; because of political unrest schools have been closed and children and youth are not being educated. These are just some examples of ideas presented.
Participants were then shown a Thai language video7 "Loke Rang" (The Empty World) which shows the impacts of modernization and consumerism on a small village. First, a traditional village is connected to cities by roads. Electricity is connected and consumer goods such as televisions and motorcycles start appearing. Bars open up and young people begin to leave the village in search of work. Traditional values begin to disappear. Soon young people return, some with HIV, which they begin to spread to others in the village through the bars. Young people in the village become infected and soon begin to die, leaving an empty village.
This video generated much discussion as participants began to compare the situation with what is happening in their own communities.
The participants were then taken on a visit to the Fang Sai Project, which is an HIV/AIDS support group providing services for people in the Golden Triangle area - Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.
The Fang Sai Project provides accommodation for stateless HIV+ people, among them people from Myanmar, and various hill tribes. Other members of the group stay at home in their communities with their families. The project works in conjunction with the local temple, which has donated a plot of land for growing medicinal plants that are turned into medicines for use as immune system boosters and for treating opportunistic diseases. Many of the plants grown are also found in Myanmar. People staying at the project support themselves by cultivating organic vegetable gardens, the produce of which they sell in the local market to generate income. They also do fish breeding and make organic fertilizer.
At the time of the visit, some HIV+ Shan from Myanmar were staying at the project. For many of the monks participating in the seminar, it was the first time they had had an opportunity to actually meet and talk with someone living with HIV. The monks were able to talk freely with the people about being infected, the problems they were facing personally and problems they encountered in their community.
The following day, some people living with HIV were invited to address the seminar. The participants were also shown a Shan language version of the video "With Hope and Help" in which HIV+ people give first hand accounts of their experiences in living with HIV/AIDS.
As a final activity, the participants were reformed into groups and asked to identify the cessation of and the path leading to the cessation of HIV/AIDS (Nirodha and Maggha) by solving the problems identified in the first activity at the source identified in the second activity.
They concluded that they could overcome problems caused by ignorance by educating community members about HIV/AIDS. Then, with cooperation from the community, they would be able to work at alleviating other problems. Furthermore, once people had been educated, they would take measures to protect themselves against infection. With a better understanding, they would give encouragement and support to people living with HIV/AIDS. Teaching could be done in collaboration with local schools and temples. The temples could also help to support AIDS orphans. Some monks said that on return to their home temple, they would start growing vegetable gardens and medicinal plants. Produce could be sold in community markets to strengthen the economy of the community. They would also try to set up handicraft activities to help with income generation. Not only would this be of benefit to PHA, but it would also make it possible for young people to remain in the village and not have to move to cities where they could be tricked into prostitution. They believed that such activities would help to strengthen the community potential to resist the impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on their community.
They did see some obstacles in carrying out their work, though. Because the government does not support AIDS education it would be difficult to do the work openly. They could solve this problem by giving education during temple meetings. Lack of materials was also a problem. The monks said they would take what they had received at the seminar and try to reproduce the materials in the Shan language. This would be difficult, though, due to lack of funds. Senior monks took copies of all the videos shown during the seminar and said they would arrange for them to be copied so that they could use them for teaching.
The Sangha Metta Project has kept the names of all who participated and contact will be made at a later date for follow-up and assessment.
After the seminar, all the monks from the Shan State returned to their temples. Those from Thailand are arranging for similar seminars to be conducted in their areas. The youth leaders from Tangyii and Tachilek are setting up peer support groups in their areas.
2. Wat Fa Wiang In
Wat Fa Wiang In is a Shan temple located in Piang Luang Sub-district, Wiang Haeng District, Chiang Mai Province. The temple was originally in the Shan State, but the border has been remarked and the temple now straddles the border. Half is in Thailand and half is in Myanmar. Burmese soldiers have occupied the part of the temple that is in Myanmar and are using the buildings as dormitories, kitchens, storerooms, etc. The original school has been closed and boarded up to prevent military occupation. The temple has set up a day care center for children of people fleeing Myanmar. Because the local school has been closed, children and youth cross the border daily to attend school in Thailand. There is a border checkpoint, but people are generally allowed to travel freely. They must pay a small border-crossing fee, however. The area is traditionally Shan, but is now being taken over by the Red Wa for the production of methamphetamines. There is a lot of fighting in the area between the Shan State Army and the Red Wa, and the Shan State Army and the Burmese military. Drug trafficking in this area is very common.
The Abbott of Wat Fa Wiang In, who has participated in seminars and training run by Sangha Metta Project, assisted in setting up a seminar similar to that held in Wat Pa Taek, Mae Sai in September. The seminar ran for three days, 20-22 November 2000. The focus group was Buddhist monks and novices, and community and youth leaders. A total of 10 Buddhist monks, 2 Buddhist nuns, 25 Buddhist novices, 8 community leaders (including 3 schoolteachers), and 10 youth leaders from Piang Luang Sub-district participated. All are Shan and have fled Myanmar and are taking refuge in temples and communities in Piang Luang Sub-district, Wiang Haeng District. In addition, there were 3 Buddhist monks, 3 community leaders, and 10 youth leaders from the Shan State in Myanmar.
Wat Fa Wiang In, Piang Luang District, Wiang Haeng District, Chiang Mai.
The seminar followed the same format as that held at Wat Pa Taek, but extra emphasis was placed on narcotics abuse. Also, because of the large number of novices and youth participating, special evening activities were held. After evening chanting, the youth were invited to join the novices to watch the videos "Karate Kid" and "Goldtooth". These are cartoon videos produced by a Canadian organization called Street Kids International. The first video deals with HIV/AIDS and the second deals with narcotics. Both are very popular among young people and very effective in raising youth awareness of the dangers of AIDS and narcotics abuse. At the end of each video, viewers were given participatory activities aimed at the developing skills needed to protect themselves in risk situations. These include skills in evaluating situations, planning, effective communication, resisting peer pressure, creative thinking, showing empathy, etc.
During this seminar, elders from the Myanmar side of the border spoke about the social and political situation and how it had affected the life of the Shan. They said that they knew of many young girls who had crossed the border into Thailand seeking work, only to be lured into the sex industry. Many of these girls had returned home with HIV, become ill and died. They said that there was a high incidence of HIV infection among the Burmese army and many soldiers had died.
One man who had once been a ranking monk in Yangon, and later a Captain in the Shan State Army, urged the people to work together to strengthen their abilities to withstand the impacts of HIV/AIDS and the socio-political conditions they were facing.
Another participant, a young Shan man who drives a motorcycle taxi on the Myanmar side of the border, said that he would use his newly gained knowledge to educate his passengers and people along his route. He would invite other motorcycle taxi drivers to set up a peer education group and conduct HIV/AIDS and narcotics awareness campaigns.
At the completion of this seminar, the chief monk of the district, who is a Shan refugee from Myanmar, addressed the participants and urged them to join together to protect themselves and their communities against HIV/AIDS. He reminded them that their lives were already in upheaval due to the socio-political situation in their home state and that if they were to survive as a race, they had to remain united in the face of all adversities, including narcotics and HIV/AIDS. He gave approval for all monks in attendance to set up HIV/AIDS and narcotics awareness raising activities in their temples and urged them to seek the cooperation of temple committees and community members.
3. Wat Pa Taek, Mae Sai (ii)
In November 2000, the Sangha Metta Project was contacted by an NGO working in Myanmar and asked to conduct training for a group of Shan monks and teachers. They had already identified a group of monks and teachers from the towns of Namkham, Muse and Lashio, in the Shan State, and Ruelei, which is just across the border in Southern China.
In collaboration with the NGO, the Sangha Metta Project conducted a seminar-cum-workshop at Wat Pa Taek from 19-22 December 2000.
The participants traveled overland from their hometowns and entered Thailand through the border crossing at Tachilek.
For the participants, it was the first time that had received any education or instruction on HIV/AIDS. They said that although they have heard of AIDS, they did not know what it is and that there is no education in their areas. It is generally never talked about. Normally, if people are tested HIV+, doctors tell them not to reveal their status to anybody and to just return home and stay there. There is no care, treatment or counseling for PHA. The monks stated that they had seen people in their communities whom they suspected to have AIDS but, because of their lack of knowledge, have never made contact with them. There is much ignorance and fear in their communities. They also confirmed that there is a high incidence of HIV among the Burmese military. It is not unheard of for soldiers take young women and use them as their wives or rape them. These women feel that they are no longer pure, so leave their homes and make their way to Thailand where they work in the sex industry. Many of these young women are also unknowingly infected with HIV and unwittingly transmit the virus to others. There is also a high incidence of intravenous drug use and many drug users appear to be suffering from AIDS.
The seminar followed the same pattern as previous seminars. All participants were given materials in the Shan language, as well as Shan language copies of the videos "Sacrifice" and "With Hope and Help".
In addition to the talks and participatory activities incorporating the Four Noble Truths, the participants were taken on site visits to the Fang Sai Project and to Mae Chan District Hospital. During these visits, they were able to study the structure of support groups, the cooperation between temples and communities, and meet and talk with HIV+ people. There were several people from Myanmar at the Fang Sai Project. The monks spent about two hours talking with them and gave them monetary donations.
Any misunderstandings, false beliefs or doubts that the participants had about HIV/AIDS prior to the seminar had all been clarified by the end of the seminar. All participants were extremely motivated and said that they would commence HIV/AIDS activities as soon as they return to their communities.
They said that they would make contact with sympathetic doctors and try to identify HIV+ in their communities so that they could give them counseling, advice and support. They would use their temples to set up support groups and encourage HIV+ people to become members. They would also commence education and training programmes in schools and for community leaders. After education, they would, with assistance from NGOs in their communities, recruit the support of people in the community in the fight against AIDS. They would encourage young people to commence peer education activities.
One of the monks is a well-known writer. He said that he would start preparing materials about HIV/AIDS and try to get them printed so that he could distribute them to others.
To ensure that their teaching is effective, the Sangha Metta Project also gave them some examples and demonstrations of how to teach using the Life Skills Development approach. All found it very effective and said they would apply it on their return.
The Sangha Metta Project is maintaining contact with the NGO in Myanmar to monitor and evaluate activities. The names and address of all participants have been kept for future contact.
To help monks develop their skills in HIV/AIDS prevention and care, the Sangha Metta Project helped coordinate site visits for monks from Chiang Rung, the Shan State and Cambodia on three occasions.
On these visits, monks were taken to study projects being conducted by monks and temples in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. These included a monk run hospice, 3 temple-community based activities, a network of monks working in HIV/AIDS prevention and care, Buddhist University and school projects, and several lay Buddhist projects. They were also taken to orphanages to see the impact of AIDS on children and how orphans are being cared for under foster parent programmes. When occasion permitted, they were taken to visit people with AIDS being cared for by their families at home. During these visits, they performed religious ceremonies, gave counseling to the patient and family, and gave donations.
From these visits, the monks were able to see how activities are being conducted at the community level with the support of the community. They were also able to meet and talk with Thai monks and learn how to set up similar activities in their own countries. Monks are planning to adapt these project activities, where appropriate, to suit the conditions in their own communities.
Problems and Obstacles
1. Sangha Metta Project
Political conditions and travel restrictions imposed by the governments of neighboring countries have made travel difficult for the Sangha Metta Project. This has been overcome by sending monks from Thailand to conduct education and training activities, or bringing monks from neighboring countries into Thailand.
There have also been some problems with language. Not all participants are able to understand Thai fluently and several are unable to read the Thai script. Where necessary, the northern Thai dialect, which is similar to Shan, has been used. In some cases, interpreters have been called in. This has not been a serious obstacle, though. In the case of materials, the Sangha Metta Project has coordinated with other organizations to acquire materials in the Shan language and script.
There could be problems with monitoring and evaluation and the Sangha Metta Project may have to rely on the assistance of NGOs and monks in their own communities. Contact is now being made with people who can assist and, if possible, a visit will be made to areas where monks are working. A network has already been established and contact is no problem.
2. Participating Monks
Language has been the main problem for participating monks. Not all understand Thai language fluently. This has not been serious, though, and has been overcome by using interpreters where necessary.
With regard to conducting activities on their return, monks feel that working under the current political and social conditions may be difficult. Lack of support from the government may be an obstacle. They are determined to commence work, though and feel they can overcome this problem by using their temples as venues and by working during temple meetings, and language and culture classes. Materials are another problem. Monks do not have access to materials in their own language. They plan to solve this problem by preparing their own materials based on what they have received during seminars and trainings. Budgets for printing will be a problem, though, as the monks do not have any money and they will need to print materials in large numbers for distribution. The Sangha Metta Project plans to give training in preparing materials.
Arrangements are being made for seminars and training in Fang and Mae Ai Districts, Chiang Mai Province. The target groups will be Shan monks from both sides of the border. Contact has already been made, but dates have yet to be set. It is anticipated that the seminars will be held late January and early February.
A training programme for Shan Youth Leaders is being planned for late February. Shan youth from both sides of the border will be brought together for a workshop in Mae Sai. The youth will then be urged to establish a network and conduct peer activities in their communities.
Seminars and workshops are also being planned in Mae Hong Son Province for Karen monks from Myanmar. There are many refugees in this area and there is a lot of movement back and forth between Myanmar and Thailand. Contacts are being made and it is expected that these activities will be held in March.
Monitoring and evaluation will take place in April-May and a final evaluation report will be prepared and submitted by mid-June.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Through activities conducted by the Sangha Metta Project, with support from AusAid, the Open Society Institute and Mr. Hal Nathan, a large number of Tai Leu and Shan Buddhist monks, novices, nuns, and community leaders have been educated and trained in HIV/AIDS prevention and care.
They form a very valuable pool of resource persons for managing the AIDS epidemic in their own countries. Through the work they are doing, they are helping to educate their communities on all aspects of HIV/AIDS and strengthening the community potential to reduce the impacts of AIDS on the communities. The work they do will also help to reduce the cross border spread of AIDS.
It is recommended that these monks be given all the support possible in conducting their activities.
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