Fears On The Border

After the announcement that international aid will likely plummet under the Trump administration, our partner charity SpinningTop's manager Annie Fischer shares her fears and a reality check on what that might look like for those living on the Thai/Burma border. 

 

I have a confession to make. Like many of you I have been obsessed with the US election and the impact the new administration will have not only on the US but also on the rest of us. I have found myself scouring online news sites finding it hard to tear myself away due to my disbelief at what I am reading.

On my recent trip to visit SpinningTop’s projects on the Thai/Burma border I spent time with a lot of very worried people. These are people who are already contending with the most unimaginable conditions. But in the past few years they have had hope. Hope that the international community will continue to support them and hope that with the recent elections in their own country life will start to improve.

After almost five decades of living under an oppressive military regime, the people of Burma (also known as Myanmar) are starting to take their first faltering steps towards joining the 21st Century. But after so long existing as a pariah state they need help. The annual GDP of Burma is around 62 Billion – about a third of New Zealand’s. In a country with no infrastructure, crumbling buildings and a population 14 times that of ours this doesn’t go very far. Their shaky Government is simply not stable or representative enough to fix the country's huge list of problems.

So when Donald Trump announced on the campaign trail “we have to stop sending aid to countries who hate us” for many people it set off alarm bells.

Since their victory the new administration has wasted no time compiling its 2018 financial budget blueprint. It’s a road map of how they plan to make America “great” again. Included are stark cuts to their international aid budget. If this is passed into legislation the impact on the developing world will be massive. Before it is even passed globally the US budget is predicted to fall approximately 27%.

Sadly US governmental aid to the area was already falling. To put this aid crisis in perspective consider this. In 2015 US governmental aid to Burma and Thailand topped $390m USD. In 2018 it will likely be below $2m USD. I kid you not.

As Burma has now opened its borders and allowed visitors to travel relatively freely, many of the NGO’s are moving their bases to inside Burma or leaving for other crisis zones. Yet very few people originally from Burma are returning home, there isn’t a lot to return to. It's estimated hundreds of thousands remain in refugee camps. Many children have lived in them all their lives. So the money and support is leaving but the problems remain (and may even be growing).

Children still need to be taught, fed and protected. Sadly this is a part of the world where Human and Drug Trafficking is rife. The cultivation of Poppies for Opium and production of Methamphetamine is increasing and people are desperate for work – a dangerous combination. Two of the projects we support, Stay in Schools and SAW (Social Action for Women), work tirelessly to educate people to resist the allure of these paths. Due to generous funding from our major donor The Body Shop NZ completely covering all of our expenses (salaries, rent, IT the like) we can promise that 100% of donations and profits go to our projects.

But increasingly they are worried about their future, how will they fund their work if their donors abandon them? How will they pay their teachers? Already at many of the schools in the area teachers and other staff often work without a pay check.

Over the last decade enormous strides have been made. I spent a night talking to a twenty-year-old who in his short life had already served in the military. After leaving he hadn’t been able to deal with his actions. His form of escape was developing a meth addiction (freely available in the refugee camps). Here he crossed paths with the wonderful Pastor Peacefully founder of Thoo Mwee Khee school. His story has a happy ending – he has just sat and passed his SAT’s (American University entrance exams) and is now looking for a scholarship to go to University. He then hopes to return to his community and help educate others.

With all of these fears and worries of late, I do want to give a huge thanks to those who choose to support the work of SpinningTop and other organisations delivering international aid. We can't thank you enough, and it's always inspiring meeting the people affected and hearing more stories like the one above.

As all Western nations face their own social problems it is important not to forget the people who have no safety net, no social welfare, and help them keep at least a glimmer of hope for their future.

Finally I couldn’t resist asking people what their view of Donald Trump was and was fascinated that even in remote villages with little to no news coverage people had strong reactions – all pessimistic. While some just pulled faces others had faith that God must have a plan, I’m not so sure.

– Annie Fischer.


 

SpinningTop gives balance to vulnerable children living in poverty. They're a partner charity of ours, meaning you can easily sign up in 5 min to support them to make more of the above possible with one percent of your income. Learn more about their amazing work and give your 1%!