The children’s faces, white with powder, looked eager as a big modified truck picks them up for school. It was a cool, foggy morning in Sangkhla Buri and we had the sunrise in the background as we cruised along the Thai-Myanmar border zone in Kanchanaburi province.
We passed through different border checkpoints along the way and the children put their hands up and chorused “sawaddee” to the patrol officers. Their pronunciation was clear and loud, even though they’re not Thai. They’re of Karen and Mon ethnic groups and they live in a community along the border.
Going to school, for these children, takes dedication. Even with a free ride, some of them have to walk close to 10km daily just to catch their ride. Almost 100 children filled the back of the truck and get off outside an entryway which leads to Children of the Forest (COF) — a foundation which helps stateless Karen, Mon and Myanmar children gain their rights to a full life and education.
The foundation offers free education — as a branch of Sangkhla Buri kindergarten — to almost 300 stateless children in order to enable them to enter local Thai schools. It also provides shelter for more than 100 stateless children who are at risk of being exploited.
School is not always an option for these youngsters when they have to battle with their stateless status and poverty. Even if they are fortunate enough to finish high school, some faced trouble trying to get into universities as some faculties only accept Thai nationals. Problems follow them even as they enter the workforce.