By Thomas Rhoden ‘09
This project had pretty simple beginnings. I remember that I was sitting under the thatched roof of last season’s rice crop in the school where I kept my office, when one of the younger students in my English enhancement class brought in a stack of crinkled papers. At first I was not sure what the boy wanted me to do with the yellowing sheets of paper. I quickly remembered that in my exhaustion from leading a full schedule of other classes and discussion groups that morning, I had been too tired to keep up being anything even slightly resembling a proper teacher of the English language that afternoon and had given out a quick assignment to the group of bright-eyed learners to turn into me in an hour.
So here the child was with the class’s finished product, well-handled and ink-imbued. I traded a few thank-yous for his disheveled ream of papers and promptly set the pile aside. I knew I would have a chance to look over them the next day since I had nothing planned.
When I did finally tackle the stack, I was very surprised to find the contents within to be captivating and endearing.
The in-class assignment had been something along the following: Please write three paragraphs about your past. I had been expecting nothing more than the normal drill of working on the past tenses. But the students’ essays to this question ended up being so genuine and their accounts of struggle and disenfranchisement so startling that I knew I wanted to understand better their particular plight.
I wished to learn more about the refugees that I worked with and their unique experiences fleeing to and living in the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border as well as the complicated process of being resettled to a new host country. When I had another opportunity to meet with the class, I also asked them to write essays about their present situation and future dreams. I did this exercise with most of my classes.
Atop those green-wet mountains that border Thai and Burma, life continued on in the refugee camps as it always had, slowly, sparsely, until my own one-year commitment in the camps came to an end. Given some time to reflect over the experience, I knew it was time to reevaluate those essays to see if they could be brought to larger audience. This book is the final product of that process.
The main objective in compiling this manuscript is to increase awareness about the issues facing refugees and former political prisoners of Burma. Depending on which organization one cites, the total number of refugees in Thailand can vary by the tens of thousands, but most would agree that there are at least 150,000 Burmese refugees living in the camps that border Burma and Thailand.
I started the project on Kickstarter to raise funds for the production, distribution and marketing of the book. When compiling the budget for this project, I was pretty happy to see that I was able to save costs on all fronts.
Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing way to raise money for these types of creative projects. I’ve set a fundraising goal and a deadline by which I need to meet that goal. The trick is that if I don’t reach our goal by this deadline, I don’t get any of the funds that our supporters have pledged. On the bright side, I can go over our goal (and hope to do so). I’ll use any additional funds on additional marketing resources so we can reach an even larger audience.
I’m incredibly grateful to everyone in the Thunderbird community, both the alumni and current students, as well as the professors and staff for your support and encouragement. I can’t wait to share the book with all of you.
To make a pledge to my project, please see my page here.