“I have something good to tell you,” says Bernice Koehler Johnson. “We need to focus on the good things.”
Bernice has taught English as a foreign language in Thailand to Shan refugees forced to flee from their homeland in Burma. Their homes are burned, their rice fields confiscated, their children abused. The Shan flee to Thailand, where they are unwanted and, if they can find employment, work at the most difficult, lowest-paying jobs—toting heavy loads of bricks or spraying pesticides on crops for ten hours a day, six days a week. The Shan live in limbo, unrecognized as refugees. No international aid comes their way. When they leave their homeland, they risk being held in detention camps at the borders. They may never again see the relatives they left behind.
“There are 500,000 Shan refugees in Thailand,” states Bernice. “They show up with, if lucky, one change of clothes and a pair of thongs. My students still write their words very close together because paper was so scarce in their schools.”
Read the rest of The Loft Literary Center’s article here.