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Bridging Cultures, Fighting Poverty

NEWS ARCHIVES

9-24-2016
Update From Asia

Dear supporters and friends,

Greetings from India! Eva and I recently completed a productive and emotional trip to Northern Thailand on behalf of One World Family. This was the first trip to Thailand in four years where we weren't accompanied by our friend, translator, and operations coordinator Khun Noy who passed away this April due to an infection of the bloodstream. While his talent, knowledge, and sense of humor were missed greatly we nevertheless felt his spirit with us the whole time.

Thankfully we were blessed to be accompanied by several individuals who were able to help us with the duties normally carried out by the late Khun Noy. Our dear friend Suriya, who played an integral role in setting up our transportation program for hilltribe children six years ago, joined us again to act as our head translator. We were also joined by two new team members, Ms. Pat from Chiang Mai and Mr. Chai from Doi Saket, both of whom proved themselves very capable as translators and program leaders. All three of these individuals will continue working for One World Family on an ongoing basis, each helping oversee different aspects of our program.

As for the children, parents, teachers, and bus drivers that we visited, we received nothing but good news about our sponsorship programs.

Our longtime bus driver, Mr. Pi Phut, has been using the money we pay him to help support two other villages in addition to the two villages we originally assigned him to. Likewise, we gave a raise to our newest bus driver Mr. Somchai so that he can now transport another busload of children from a nearby village where the kids were often unable to get to school. In total, One World Family now helps over 100 children from high-poverty backgrounds to attend primary school every day.

What's more, our three high school scholars have all been getting highest compliments from their teachers and we're excited that our oldest student, Ma Tu Ros, will be taking her college entrance exam in October. If all goes well she will be the first student we sponsor to attend college starting next May, a remarkable feat considering she comes from a home with no electricity where she is the only person in her family who has even learned how to read or write.

Apart from these visits we were also able to spend a week in Yangon, Myanmar with the sole purpose of learning to prepare a variety of traditional Burmese dishes which we will be serving with Lahpet, our popup restaurant in New Orleans which supports One World Family work. We are currently in India on a shopping trip for Tibetan House, the retail shop in New Orleans that Eva manages whose work supports Tibetans in exile. Doing this work is a true blessing to us.

I should also mention that, with the new students we've begun sponsoring as well as an increase in our operations staff in Thailand, plus the prospect of a college sponsorship program on the horizon, we will no doubt be seeing an increase to our operating budget. We cannot do this work without your help and we sincerely hope you consider donating to help our little non-profit as we continue to grow and help some of the world's most impoverished and vulnerable young citizens.

Deepest thanks and love,
Mark and Eva

P.S. For more pictures and timely updates like our Facebook page!

Lahpet presents A Taste of Burma Benefit Dinner
June 15, 2016 at Live Oak Cafe

5-3-2016
In Memoriam: Khun Noy

 

Dinner Reservations at 6:30pm & 8:30pm
Milkfish, 125 North Carrollton Avenue

Using recipes and techniques learned from Burmese families, street vendors and restaurateurs, Chefs Mark LaMaire and Blake Smithson seek to bring the flavors of Burma to New Orleans in their most pure form, where traditional methods of preparation bring out the unmistakable flavors and textures of this exotic, intoxicating cuisine.

The dinner will include seven courses of traditional salads, soups, curries and dessert.  Many vegan options will be available and most dishes served will be gluten-free. Complimentary beverages will be provided.

All funds go to support One World Family International's Burmese Refugee Education Initiative.

Since 2010, One World Family International has helping Burmese refugee children receive a formal education in Northern Thailand. All proceeds from this event will help provide enrollment, uniforms and transportation for 40 children, ranging from elementary to high school.

 

Summer Love Music & Art Show 2014

4pm - Late, Sunday, June 15, 2014
Circle Bar, 1032 St. Charles Ave, New Orleans

A BENEFIT FOR ONE WORLD FAMILY

Join some of the New Orleans' most creative artists and musicians for a one day party event to benefit One World Family, a local non-profit aimed at providing educational sponsorship to some of the world's poorest people. The third annual Summer Love Music and Art Show will be held at the Circle Bar, 1032 St. Charles Ave., on Sunday, June 15. Featured bands include Mike Dillon Band, Bottomfeeders, DJ Pompeii, Blind Texas Marlin, Little Maker, Loren Murrell, Andrew Duhon, and Sara Quintana.

The event will run from 4 P.M. until late and will feature a delicious array of food and an art raffle. Event sponsors include The New Orleans Musicians Clinic, Sailor Jerry Rum Company, Capital One, Jacques-Imo's, Atchafalaya Restaurant, and Nola Brewing. Admission is $10.

One World Family is a federally recognized non-profit organization that began in 2009 by providing educational sponsorship to Burmese refugee children living in Thailand. Since then their work has expanded to helping establish healthcare clinics in rural Indonesia and working locally by sponsoring underfunded grade school music classrooms and distributing blankets to the homeless.

For more information please contact Mark LaMaire at 504-858-4652 or via e-mail at mark@oneworldfamilyonline.org.

Please consider coming out on June 15 to support our efforts at this stellar event.

Whether or not you can make it out to the fundraiser, please remember that our activities and expenses continue through the year, and we need your financial support to continue our work. Consider making a donation today.

 

5-14-2014

One World Family wishes the best of luck to the 30 students enrolled in school via our Lahu Education Initiative as they're set to start a new school year this week!  Thanks to everyone who has helped play a role in the lives of these children by donating to our work!

 

4-16-2014

A Message from Mark LaMaire

We're excited to announce that the first recipient of our new high school scholarship program passed her high school entrance exam with flying colors, has enrolled in classes and will begin school next week.  We met Maturos during our last visit to Thailand.  She was picked for the scholarship by her eighth grade teacher who recognized her as an exceptional student but who's single mother, a peanut farmer, had no means to pay the $220 worth of fees it costs to enroll in Thai public high school.  Although its difficult to imagine, many girls in rural Thailand aren't able to receive even an eighth grade education, and its rarer still that they get to go on to high school.  One World Family is honored to help Maturos achieve her dream of being the first woman in her family to graduate from high school.

We're also excited about a fundraising event we have planned for this Saturday.  The second annual Asian Fashions Fundraiser will be held at 825 Third St. in New Orleans (Eva & Mark's house) from 9 AM until 4 PM on April 19.  We'll be selling lots of amazing clothing we bought in Thailand as well as other clothes donated locally.  We'll also be selling hundreds of vinyl records and CDs donated by WWOZ DJs and a good array of other yard sale items, all priced to move.  We'd love to see you there!

 

 

1-31-2014

A Message from Mark LaMaire

Greetings again from Thailand,

Since leaving the villages two weeks ago Eva and I have been fortunate enough to be able to help a number of needy organizations working with the Burmese refugee population. In Chiang Mai we visited a small orphanage where 15 children live in a two room shack on the outskirts of town. The adults who watch over these kids are barely able to scrape enough money together to feed them and clothe them. This is the type of place that One World Family wants to help the most because they obviously have the greatest need and because they have no other organizations funding them. This need is evident by the squalid living conditions and the malnourished look of the children. However, we are still skeptical about blindly giving money to a place like this simply because they are unaffiliated with any larger organization so there is no real financial oversight to speak of. We ended up buying them enough rice to feed the kids for a month. We also donated cleaning and hygiene supplies, clothing, a tank of gas for the truck that brings the kids to school, and several pounds of meat, a luxury which they had not been able to afford for months. We will be sending two volunteers to make a similar donation in March. If you or anyone you know is going to Chiang Mai in the future please let me know as we would love to send more volunteers to help this ramshackle home for high-need children.

After leaving Chiang Mai we went to Mae Sot, a small city near the Thai/Burmese border which is a hub for NGO's and refugee activity. The scene there is very uplifting and inspiring. Dozens of refugee schools and orphanages thrive in this community. They are generally run by individuals who have, themselves, fled Burma as a result of persecution by the country's militaristic government and who now dedicate their lives to helping children in similar situations. The funding for most of these places comes from a patchwork of individual and institutional donors, with One World Family fitting somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. We were able to provide the following assistance in Mae Sot:

-1 months worth of rice and 10 new desks for New Blood School and Orphanage, where 400 students study and 200 children live.

-1 months worth of rice for Agape Orphanage and School, where 180 students study and 60 children live.

-New beds for all 50 of the children living at New Wave Orphanage and School (previously the children had been sleeping on concrete floors).

-School supplies and teaching materials for the new Mae Sot Blind Centre, which has three students.

-One year's educational sponsorship for three children living at the SAW (Social Action for Women) Safehouse.

It was a true blessing being able to help so many children during the last three weeks in Thailand. Greatest thanks to everyone who donated money to make this happen, you are the fuel behind this project and we couldn't do it without you.

Blessings and thanks,
Mark LaMaire

Summer Love Music & Art Show

Sunday, June 23, 2013 - Circle Bar, New Orleans

A BENEFIT FOR ONE WORLD FAMILY EDUCATIONAL SPONSORSHIP PROGRAMS

Join some of the New Orleans' most creative artists and musicians for a one day party event to benefit One World Family, a local non-profit aimed at providing educational sponsorship to some of the world's poorest people. The second annual Summer Love Music and Art Show will be held at the Circle Bar, 1032 St. Charles Ave., on Sunday, June 23. Featured bands include Big History, Micah McKee & Little Maker, Elli Perry, and [redrawblak] with original works of art by Horton Humble, Fat Kids, and more.

The event will run from 4 P.M. until after midnight and will feature a delicious array of foods prepared by Open Sesame Mobile Eatery. Numerous items will be raffled including original artwork and gift certificates for local businesses. Event sponsors include The New Orleans Musicians Clinic and Sailor Jerry Rum Company. Admission will be by donation.

One World Family is a federally recognized non-profit organization that began in 2009 by providing educational sponsorship to Burmese refugee children living in Thailand. Since then their work has expanded to helping establish healthcare clinics in rural Indonesia and working locally by sponsoring underfunded grade school music classrooms and distributing blankets to the homeless.

For more information please contact Mark LaMaire at 504-858-4652 or via e-mail at mark@oneworldfamilyonline.org.

 

ARTIST BIOS

Big History - New OrleansBig History is a six piece soul/electronic/pop act roaring out of New Orleans.  Their full-throttle live performances and their critically acclaimed EP "All at Once" have earned them accolades include nominations for Offbeat's Best Emerging Artist Award 2011 and Best Rock Band 2012.

Micah McKee & Little Maker - New OrleansLittle Maker is the brainchild of New Orleans-born singer/songwriter Micah McKee (Silent Cinema, Empress Hotel, The Essentials). The versatile five piece band mixes horns, strings and keyboards with an orchestral finesse perfectly befitting of McKee's complex and emotionally rich compositions.

Elli Perry - New YorkElli Perry's music has brought her recognition around the world. After making a name for herself in New York thanks to a songwriting style that has been described as “vulnerable, but with a razor sharp edge,” she has toured relentlessly and wowed audiences from Los Angeles to Paris and all points in between.

[redrawblak] - New OrleansRedrawblak is the solo project of New Orleans saxophonist/electronic music pioneer Brad Walker. With the help of loops, harmonizers, and other tools of digital wizardry Walker pulls the listener into a trance-like world that manages to sound both futuristic in its timbre and ancient in its meditative intensity.

Horton Humble - New OrleansBorn and raised in New Orleans, Horton Humble's artwork has made waves around the world. His vibrant, frenetic style of painting has earned his residencies in Portugal, Domenica and Northern Africa.

Fat Kids - New OrleansFat Kids first gained notoriety as a street artist but has since broken onto the New Orleans gallery scene. At times disturbing, at times comical, Fat Kids' refreshing style thumbs its nose in the face of high art.

Please consider coming out on June 23 to support our efforts at this stellar event.

Whether or not you can make it out to the fundraiser, please remember that our activities and expenses continue through the year, and we need your financial support to continue our work. Consider making a donation today.

 

11-19-2013

The next couple months will be exciting and challenging for the One World Family team as we continue our work with displaced and marginalized communities in Southeast Asia.  In January I will be travelling with a small team to Thailand to visit the villages we've been sponsoring since 2010.  The purpose of this visit will be to check in and make sure all the villagers we work with are happy with the educational sponsorship program and to address any concerns they may have.  While in Thailand we will also be visiting a number of schools, clinics, and orphanages to distribute critical funding to trusted organizations who are entrenched in the struggle for human rights and opportunity amidst a landscape of increased turmoil for ethnic refugees.

We are also proud to announce that our partner organization, Learn To Live, will be sending a team of volunteer health care specialists to Mok Mai, Laos this January.  During their visit they will be teaming with another NGO to start a maternal health care program which aims to lower the extremely high infant mortality rate in this isolated region.  One World Family acts as fiscal agent for Learn To Live.  We wish these brave doctors and nurses all the best as they carry out this important and challenging mission.

Thanks to every one who has supported the work of One World Family, we couldn't do it without you.  As we gear up for 2014 we are still in need of funding to assure that all the children we sponsor can continue their education for next year.  Please consider donating by clicking the icon at the top of the page.  Blessings and thanks!

 

 

9-10-2012

Eva and I are wrapping up what has been a very productive and enjoyable five weeks in Thailand. After leaving the border town of Mae Sot, where we distributed food and monetary aid to several refugee organizations, we proceeded to head north to visit the Pang Tong villages, who's children we've been sponsoring to attend school for the past two years. This visit was extremely productive, thanks in large part to our new translator Mr. Noi.

We were happy that the children from the villages have been attending school regularly and progressing in their studies. There have, however, been some kinks in the operation which we were able to iron out during our visit. The duty of driving the children had been shuffled around between a few different people over the past year, which meant that the children were arriving late some days and it also complicated the payment system. After interviewing all the drivers and also talking to parents and school administrators we established that it would be best to have just one driver. We picked Mr. Pi Phut, the driver who everyone said was the most reliable and who's vehicle is the safest. We then put in place a new payment system where we pay the driver directly, as opposed to going through the school. Our translator will conduct weekly phone check-ins with the parents, the school, and the driver to assure that everything continues to runs smoothly.

While in the villages we were also able to buy new uniforms for 25 children who had outgrown their old ones.

Its been three years now since the idea for One World Family was hatched, and two years since we began our first school sponsorship. There is great difficulty in running these programs from overseas. This is why we will continue to shift our focus to helping on-the-ground operations who are already entrenched in the fight for freedom and equality for Burmese refugees as opposed to starting any new programs ourselves. We will still keep our commitment to the Pang Tong villages as their children progress through school. Perhaps once we have assured that we have the capacity and ample lines of communications in place we could try to replicate this system in other villages, as well. Thanks to everyone who's helped make the One World Family dream a reality. We look forward to seeing you back in America soon!

 

8-20-2012

Eva and I recently left the town of Mae Sot after spending a week there doing work on behalf of One World Family.  Mae Sot is located on the Thai/Burmese border and is a hub for the Burmese refugee population and also for organizations helping to secure a better life for these embattled people.

While in Mae Sot we met many amazing people who often shared with us their stories of persecution at the hands of the Burmese army.  These stories were heart-breaking, but the spirit and resilience shown by these people is incredible and ultimately life-affirming.  It was our pleasure to allocate a portion of the money donated to One World Family to several needy organizations working in Mae Sot.

Of the many refugee schools, orphanages, and clinics we visited there was one need that was voiced by nearly every group: the need for food.  We were able to buy $600 worth of rice which we delivered to the New Blood School & Orphanage and to the One Dream One World Refugee School.  We also donated about $100 to both One Dream One World and the Heavenly Home Orphanage to buy food for the children there.  We wished we could have donated more, but the gifts were nevertheless greatly appreciated.

Burma has undergone many political changes recently, including opening their borders to international aid organizations.  Because of this many funding organizations have shifted their focus to inside of Burma and pulled funding from projects dealing with refugees outside of the country (in Thailand, for example).  This means that many of the aid organizations working in Mae Sot now face critical funding shortages despite the fact that refugees continue to pour into Thailand, this is why the children at the schools and orphanages we visited are often left going to bed hungry.  What's more, the Burmese army continues to brutalize its ethnic people daily in spite of recent political reforms.

Next on our agenda is to visit the villages we've been sponsoring to go to school for the past two years.  Please consider donating to One World Family as we continue our work with Burmese refugees.  The suffering of these people is great and the situation is dire.

 

8-3-2012

Eva and I are getting ready to leave for Thailand to continue our work with One World Family. Thanks to everyone who has donated money and also to everyone who came to our benefit concert at the Circle Bar last month. It was a great night and we raised about $1,000 for the cause.

Our partner organization, Learn To Live, has been doing incredible work in Indonesia setting up health care clinics over the past three weeks. The first clinic they set up is already fully functional and has served over 300 patients. Yanti Turang, the groups organizer, helped deliver a baby and the mother decided to name the girl after her! Congratulations are in order to this amazing group, One World Family is proud to be acting as their fiscal agent.

We are leaving for Thailand next Tuesday. Our goals for the trip are as follows:

-Visit the school and the villages that we sponsor to ensure that everything is running smoothly. Trouble shoot any problems.

-Meet with health care organizations along the Thai/Burma border to find opportunities for the Learn To Live team to replicate their work in this area.

-Network with other NGO's and non-profits in the hopes of establishing partnerships that would be beneficial to the refugee community.

-Strengthen bonds with our partners in Thailand and create new relationships with people doing similar work.

Please consider donating any amount of money to our cause. The amount of work we're able to do is dependent and the donations we receive. Also, please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we enter the next phase of this difficult but rewarding work.

 

2-2-2012

Dear Supporters and Friends,

I hope the New Year finds you well. 2012 has gotten off to a great start for One World Family. Danielle Shubert, our volunteer who is currently in Thailand, has been sending back some great news of her work there. She spent a good part of the last week in the Pang Tong villages and at the Pang Mayao School, where your donations continue to send 37 children to school daily. I’m happy to pass on the news that this project is running smoothly and the children are doing well in their studies. On behalf of the parents and the children I want to thank you for your continued support of this project.

Danielle was also able to do some good work at two different orphanages on the Thai/Burmese border. These orphanages take in children who were orphaned as a result of the ongoing violence against tribal people inflicted by Burmese government troops. To quote an email that Danielle sent me:

“All the children had really amazing stories. Most of the kids were left on the doorstep from women who couldn’t afford to feed them, or for the opportunity to obtain a Thai Id card to get a job.. One brother or sister was beaten to the point of slight retardation after witnessing their father beat their mother to death. Some were left by Karen parents who thought their children would be safer there than from Burmese persecution across the border.”

In one orphanage high in the mountains where children sleep on wood planks with no bedding Danielle was able to deliver 100 blankets. In another orphanage she spent 4 days helping out staff in a variety of ways including taking kids to the doctor, assisting in classroom and craft-time activities, and delivering donated clothes.

Some of you may have heard that Burma instated a new government last year and has promised human rights reform. While some of these reforms are real, such as the lifting of government censorship on the media, the Burmese army continues to brutalize its tribal citizens daily. In many parts of the country the violence has escalated since the regime change. Villagers are still being used as human landmine detectors, land and property is still being taken at will by government troops, and rape is still an acceptable tactic for submission used by government troops. Please pray for an end to these gross affronts to human dignity that are happening every day in Burma.

Another bit of good news I’d like to pass along is that One World Family will be helping sponsor a group of doctors and nurses to visit remote villages in Indonesia this summer. Health care experts from the US and Australia will be working with doctors in Indonesia to set up clinics where under-served villagers can receive basic health care and be taught preventative measures. Yanti Turang, a nurse here in New Orleans, has been putting together this project for the past year. One World Family has agreed to be a fiscal agent for the project. There will be a fundraiser happening at the DuMois Art Gallery at 4921 Freret Street this Tuesday, February 7 from 6-10 PM. There will be a photography exhibit as well as free Indonesian food and drinks. All are welcome to attend. For more information please visit www.learntoliveindo.org.

As I mentioned in the last update, One World Family is now a federally recognized tax-exempt organization. We are in the process of applying for grants to keep our work going. In the mean time we are still 100% dependent on donors to assure the continuation of our work. Please consider donating today at www.oneworldfamilyonline.org. The American dollar goes a long way in these parts of the world so any donation is helpful.

Thank you and best wishes!

Sincerely,

Mark LaMaire

 

 

12-9-2011

Dear Supporters and Friends,

Greetings once again from myself and the One World Family team! I’m pleased to start this letter with a piece of great news: One World Family is now a federally recognized 501c3 non-profit organization. I was thrilled to get this long-awaited news from the IRS last week. This means that all donations will now be tax deductable!

This news couldn’t have come at a better time. In January we will be helping to send Danielle Shubert, a volunteer, to do work with flood victims in the Thai country side where massive mudslides decimated countless villages. She will also be visiting the Pang Tong villages, where your donations continue to sponsor 37 children to go to school daily. Thanks to all of you who have already donated money and blankets for this upcoming mission. We have opted to not ship any blankets overseas because its more feasible to have Danielle purchase them while in Thailand. In the mean time, our team has been going out in New Orleans on cold nights and distributing the donated blankets to people living on the streets. The people have been extremely grateful!

As flood victims and refugees brace for a cold winter in the mountains of Northern Thailand we are asking you to bring them hope by donating money to buy blankets and other health care necessities. These will be distributed by Danielle with the help of our partner organizations in Thailand this January. As always you can donate safely and easily online via credit card at: www.oneworldfamilyonline.org and follow the “Donate Now” link. In addition, I’m excited to announce that we now have an Ebay page with some great holiday gifts for sale who’s proceeds will go to One World Family. Currently up for sale are some beautiful hand-embroidered bags that were made by Hmong and Lahu villagers in Thailand. Also for sale are copies of the Christmas album I recorded last year. To see all items for sale follow the link at the bottom of this letter.

As always I’d like to remind you that a little money goes a long ways in this part of the world, and any kind of support you could offer would be put to great use. Checks can be made out to “One World Family” and sent to the address below. We also love cash donations, which are quickly posted to our public financial record online.

Danielle will be leaving for Thailand on January 9 so the next report will probably be with news from her trip. In the mean time I wish you all joy and love this holiday season.

Sincerely,

Mark LaMaire

P.S. Any donations dating back to June 1, 2011 can also be claimed, retroactively, as tax deductions. Our identification number with the IRS is: 27-2595575 We will be sending reciepts to anyone who has donated $100 or more, if any other donor wishes for a reciept we’d be happy to furnish it upon request.

 ***Ebay link for great holiday gifts that benefit One World Family: http://myworld.ebay.com/lamaire/?_trksid=p4340.l2559

 

 

6-24-2011: A letter from Mark LaMaire

Dear friends and supporters,

Greetings once again!  I’m writing you from my home in New Orleans where the weather is hot and steamy.  I’ve been in regular contact with our partners in Northern Thailand and I’m happy to announce that the refugee children you’ve helped sponsor through the Lahu Education Initiative have recently entered their third semester of school under our sponsorship.  This term there have been seven new students from the Pang Tong villages enrolled in school, which puts the total number of students we’re sponsoring at 37.  On behalf of myself and the students and parents in these villages I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the support you’ve provided.

Back here in the States I’ve recently established a board of directors to oversee the work we’re doing.  The board includes myself along with Mr. Charles Cameron and Ms. Eva Sohl.  Mr. Cameron has years of international business experience which includes several years spent as the president of the National Lottery in Hungary as well as various other posts in Europe and South America.  Ms. Sohl has worked extensively as a community organizer in a variety of non-profit organizations and has also spent time with the Lahu people in Northern Thailand.  Both of these individuals will be great assets in our mission to bring hope to marginalized people living in Thailand.  Minutes from our monthly board meetings will be available on our website, www.oneworldfamilyonline.org

As civil war heats up in Burma the suffering of tribal people living in the area has increased greatly.  This has also led to a great influx of refugees into Thailand and has made the need for help even more dire.  Please keep these people in your prayers and never give up hope for the fair treatment of all people.  Sadly, we have yet to receive our first online donation for 2011 and the “ChipIn” link on our webpage shows a pathetic “$0″ for amount donated this year.  Please consider logging on at: oneworldfamilyonline.org/donate.html and giving whatever you can to help this project move forward.

Blessings and thanks,

Mark LaMaire

 

 

1-4-2011: A letter from Mark LaMaire

Dear supporters and friends,

Greetings and Happy New Year! Its been about two weeks since my last update and I’m glad to announce that all the work here is complete for this phase of the Lahu Education Initiative. Things didn’t go 100% as planned but the trip was still a success and I feel very confident about where things are as we move forward in helping provide education for the marginalized people of Northern Thailand.

As mentioned in my last update, we now have 30 students fully sponsored with transportation provided through the end of this school year, and, thanks to your donations we are making good headway towards getting the necessary funding for next year, too.

The biggest accomplishment that’s happened in the last two weeks is that the villagers finished the house they were working on for an incoming English teacher to live in. They did great work renovating an old house in the village and erecting a new bathroom hut with a sit-done toilet (the first of its kind in the village). I stayed in the house one night and it was very charming. Its a bamboo house with a thatched roof, a typical Lahu house built with materials from the surrounding hillsides. They separated the hut into two rooms and built in a sitting area outside with a beautiful view of the mountains in the day and the stars at night.

I also made connections with a group called the Thai Freedom House, which is an organization that specializes in teaching English to Burmese refugees in Chiang Mai City. They were very supportive of taking in a teacher or two from the United States. The plan now is to recruit two volunteer English teachers who could live in the village for part of the week as a sort of cultural exchange: they could teach English to the any villagers who wanted to learn and the villagers could teach them about their unique tribal way of life. The rest of the week the teachers would be in Chiang Mai and teach English to refugees at the Thai Freedom House. I realize that it will take the right people to sign up for such an adventure. However, I know that they’re out there somewhere, its just a matter of getting the word out in the right places and praying that the right people come forward. If you know of anyone who might be interested please put them in contact with me.

There were some disheartening moments over the last couple weeks, too. Namely, I made two surprise check-ups on the driver who we’re paying to take the students to school, once by showing up at the school at the end of the day and the other when I stayed in the village at night and waited for the children to be picked up in the morning. The good news is is that the kids got to school both days. The bad news is is that the driver was about an hour and a half late both times, and in the second instance didn’t show up until after a call was placed. Every time I’ve got status reports from the parents or the school director via my translator and project partner Suriya the word has been good. He’s always told me that things are going by without a hitch. Suriya is a very capable person when it comes running this project and communicating with the villagers. In many ways he’s the type of person I strive to be: someone with strong character and an innate sense of goodness that allows him to be liked and trusted by a wide variety of people. He’s the type of person who sees opportunities for mutual benefit and has a good sense of how to make it happen. In that regard I realize that its in his interest to always make it sound like things are going well with the project in fear that I might pull funding if they’re not, which would certainly hurt the villagers’ chance for education and also cut off a source of income for him since I pay him to be my translator, and also for his friend who is the driver. He assured me that he talked to the driver and that he will be on-time from now on. However, I realize that when I’m back in the United States I will have to find an independent translator to communicate with the school and make sure the kids are getting there on time. It would be very easy for me to blindly pass along any positive progress reports I get from Suriya. However, I know that its my duty to you, the donors, and to the people of the village to thoroughly check the progress myself to assure that the work that’s said is being done is actually being done. Hopefully the kids will be getting to school on-time from now on, but if that’s not the case we’ll have to make work of hiring another driver.

Despite these concerns I still consider this trip an overwhelming success. Apart from ensuring the sponsorship of the children, building the teacher house, and creating a network with like-minded people and organizations in the area I think the most important thing that happened was getting me acquainted, first-hand, with the work being done in these villages. I started this project about a year ago, but it was Mark Cooper, our first volunteer, and Suriya Takong, who he met while there, who actually did all the work on-the-ground to get it going. It wasn’t until this trip that I met Suriya in-person, met the villagers and the school director, and saw the physical locations where everything was happening. Its all been very amazing and a little unbelievable. I now feel a very personal connection with everyone involved in this project and an even stronger determination to keep it going. I have been thanked countless times by the people in the villages and in the school, but I always need to have Suriya tell them that its you, the donors, who are really to thank. I’m just a facilitator, but its your money, encouragement and prayers that has really made it all happen. So, on behalf of the Lahu people, Suriya, and myself I wish to thank you all.

As I write this from the porch of my quaint, charming guesthouse in a uncommonly quiet section of Bangkok I’ve got about 36 hours left before leaving the country. Listening the sound of exotic birds singing, family’s talking over dinner, and the chanting of monks in the distance I can’t help thinking what an amazing trip this has been, but also about how much I’m looking forward to getting home and reuniting with my own friends and family. I’ve missed you all during the last 5 weeks here and hope to see you all soon. I will be doing a clothing drive in the next couple months in hopes of sending clothes to a number of villages where children often go naked or wear the same outfit for weeks on end. Clothing and footwear of any size and style will be accepted (for children or adults), so keep that in mind if you’ve got any clothes that you’re thinking of throwing away or donating to Goodwill. Until next time thanks again and God bless you all.

Sincerely,

Mark

 

 

12-16-2010: A letter from Mark LaMaire

Dear supporters and friends,

Greetings again from Thailand!  Its been about a week since my last update and its truly been an amazing week.  I’ve spent much of it in the Lahu villages of Pang Tong Nok and Pang Tong Nai, the two villages that your donations have provided educational sponsorship for.  Because of your donations and the hard work of the One World Family team there are now 30 students going to school five days a week, most of whom attended school rarely, if ever, before.

When I started this project one year ago I wasn’t exactly sure the best place to put our resources, and I really had no idea what kind of resources would be available.  It was Mark Cooper, the first One World Family volunteer, along with our head of operations in Thailand, Suriya Takong, who got the children in these villages sponsored last fall.  The students have been attending school regularly since last October, but it wasn’t until last week that I actually got to see the villages and the results of our work first-hand.

Visiting these villages and getting to know the villagers has been nothing short of life-changing.  The villages themselves are set high in the idyllic Thanon Thongchai mountain range which straddles the Thai-Burmese border.  The villagers are poor, but maintain a proud heritage and a strong communal lifestyle which assures that no one goes hungry.  They are a hard-working people, having built their homes by hand using bamboo and teak wood from the surrounding forests.  While some villagers get jobs working for $6 a day in nearby orchards, mostly they subsist on farming the fertile mountain valley, hunting wild game, and raising livestock.

The land they live on belongs to the Thai government.  Once controlled by druglords (this area is on the outskirts of the notorious Golden Triangle, one of the largest opium producing regions on the world), the Thai government, under ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, allocated much of this land to Burmese refugees and established a heavy military presence in the area.  This solution helped reduce illicit activity while simultaneously providing refuge for people fleeing persecution from the corrupt Myanmar government.  These hilltribe people, however, are still treated as marginal members of society and very rarely granted Thai citizenship.  Plus, with the overthrow of Thaksin in 2006 and the establishment of a more bourgeois-leaning prime minister these refugee people face an ever-increasing risk of being kicked off the land that they now call home.

When Mark Cooper arrived in September very few children in the Pang Tong villages were going to school.  Despite a widespread desire for education, most parents in the villages had no way of getting their children to the nearest school, located in the small town of Pang Ma Yao.  So strong was the desire for education that some parents had their children sleep at the school, unsupervised, during the week because they had no way of providing daily transportation back home.  Other children were forced to walk the nearly four miles home from school when they couldn’t get a ride.  And then there are the numerous children who have no parents around, either because they were killed by the Myanmar government or because they fell prey to the temptation of joining one of the lucrative drug-smuggling rings and are now locked away in prison.

The money that you’ve donated pays a driver to bring all of the children in these two villages to and from school five days a week.  Mark Cooper initially got 25 children enrolled and I was successful in getting five more enrolled over the last week.  There is a third village nearby which faces the same dilemmas as the other two.  I was hoping to get this village sponsored, as well.  Unfortunately this would entail hiring another driver, thus doubling our operating costs from $320 a month up to $640 a month, and presently we don’t have the money to sustain this kind of budget.  It is my goal to make sponsoring this third village a reality by June, 2012…or hopefully before.

The parents and village leaders are all extremely grateful for the opportunity you’ve provided for their children to get an education and move up in society.  The hope is that after the first round of students graduate they will be able to get better paying jobs and in the years to come the Lahu will be able to take on more and more of their own transportation costs until our help is no longer needed.

The school in Pang Ma Yao is also very supportive of our work.  After spending much time with the school director and several teachers there I feel very good about the education that the children are receiving.  One aspect that made me particularly happy was seeing that apart from teaching math, geography, reading, etc.,  there is also a large agriculture program at the school which helps assure that the traditional hilltribe way of life is maintained in the curriculum.  Many of the 400+ students at the school come from different hilltribes in the area.

Another one of my goals with this trip was paving the way for a volunteer English teacher to come and teach in the village.  The villagers were very supportive of this plan and have been working to renovate a home in the village for such a teacher to live in.  The house was nearly completed as of yesterday and I plan to return later this week to see that it is finished and spend the night there.  The school director was also very supportive of having an English teacher at the school and promised to help out in the visa application process and with any other paperwork that would be necessary to assure the teacher would not have any problems upon his arrival.

I’ve posted a number of pictures from the villages and the school on the One World Family website (www.oneworldfamilyonline.org).  You can also find a detailed report of our finances there.  As of now all of the children are sponsored through the middle of June.  I know that once I get back to the United States I will have my work cut out for me, i.e. securing the funds for the next school year, increasing funding to get the third village sponsored, and finding a volunteer English teacher to live and teach there.  But given the good fortune that this project has already been blessed with I feel confident as we move forward, knowing that God will find a way for all good things to happen.

Sincerely,

Mark

 

 

12-9-2010: A letter from Mark LaMaire

Dear supporters and friends,

Greetings from Thailand!  I’m currently in Chiang Mai City, writing you from the beautiful Regina guesthouse where I’ve been staying, located on the banks of the Ping River.  I’ve been in the country now for just over a week.  The progress of the education work has been moving along at a good Thai pace…which is to say a little bit slow, but its moving nonetheless.

In case you’re not clear on the work I’m involved in here’s a brief breakdown:  I started One World Family and the Lahu Education Initiative about one year ago as a way to bring aid to the Lahu people of Northern Thailand, many of whom are seeking asylum from the corrupt military regime of the Myanmar government.

Earlier this year our first volunteer, Mr. Mark Cooper, came to Thailand and was successful in getting two Lahu villages completely sponsored to assure that all the children in these remote and poverty stricken villages would receive an education at the local public school in the town of Phang Ma Yao, located in the Chiang Dao District of Thailand.  Because of your donations and Mr. Cooper’s hard work there are now 25 students who are attending school five days a week, ten of whom were not previously enrolled and 15 others who could only attend sporadically due to lack of transportation.

I am now here to continue the work that Mark Cooper started.  I am in Thailand for the entire month of December and aim to accomplish four goals:

1) check to make sure the children that Mr. Cooper sponsored are still attending school regularly.

2) sponsor a third, larger village located very close to the other two villages.

3) work with the school in Phang Ma Yao to facilitate the smooth arrival of a volunteer English teacher who I hope to send over in 2011.

4) make as many contacts as possible who could help the Lahu Education Initiative and provide support for future One World Family projects.

My work here thus far has mainly been involved in the last of these goals.  I’ve spent the last few days meeting with a number of people who are involved in doing similar work in the area and also spending a lot of time with different Lahu people, becoming familiar with their struggle and identifying tangible and sustainable ways that One World Family could provide assistance.

Upon first arriving to Chiang Mai I met Mr. Suriya Takong, the man who was responsible for helping Mr. Mark Cooper carry out all the work that he did earlier this year.  Suriya will also be my main point-person for getting the third village sponsored and communicating with the school director in Phang Ma Yao.  After talking to him I felt very confident that all the work I hope to do here can be accomplished.  We were supposed to go to the village today to get the children enrolled but he ended up having to work (he owns a tour company that brings foreign visitors to hilltribe villages to see their way of life).  We had to postpone our plans until the weekend.

I spent all day yesterday with Mr. Richard Jafoo, my Lahu friend who originally inspired me to start this project.  We visited a small and extremely poor Lahu village on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, two orphanages for Lahu and other hilltribe children who’s parents were killed by the Myanmar government, and a Lahu craft-making village.  The one message that resounded from everyone is that the Lahu children need to learn English in order to gain a foothold in society, whether it be in Thailand or in a free Burmese state if the Myanmar government ever falls and they are able to return to their homeland.

There was an overwhelming sense of poverty among all of these people.  Most people in these villages subsist by selling flowers or handicrafts in town, or by begging.  However the most disturbing thing I came across was one of the orphanages, who’s owner, although a good friend of Mr. Richard, was clearly exploiting the children in his orphanage.  The man, Mr. Patong, somehow managed to get a rich Canadian tourist to blindly sponsor his orphanage by providing $35,000 a year (a fortune in Thai terms) but provide no oversite for the orphanage.  The 30 children at this orphanage, between the ages of 8 and 15, attend school during the day and then Mr. Patong puts them all to work in his rice patties until the sun goes down, 6 days a week, and then sells the rice for his own profit.  He kept telling me that his orphans have had nothing to eat but rice for over a year and kept asking me “when are you going to give me money so my children can eat?” …but yet Mr. Patong himself had what appeared to be a brand-new pickup truck parked in his driveway, presumably from the profit he earned off his child-laborers, and his own family were all very fat and obviously well-fed.  Not to mention that when we arrived one of the young orphan girls was on her knees massaging his feet.  It all made me very sick and was a good lesson about the dangers of blind philanthropy.  Mr. Patong would not reveal the name of his Canadian donor to me and in the end I felt like there was nothing I could really do to help this situation.

Seeing this orphanage and the widespread suffering of the Lahu people has been a sad lesson to me about my own limitations in doing good work here.  While I would like to come in, wave a magic wand, and make it all better I know that I can only do so much with the resources at hand.  All I can do is focus on the work I came to do while never forgetting the sad scenes that I’ve witnessed here in the hopes that someday I will be blessed with the resources to help out in a greater capacity.

That aside, there have been countless moments of inspiration and hope that I’ve witnessed in my first week here.  On Tuesday I was able to meet Mrs. Joan Eubank, an amazing woman who’s husband founded the Free Burma Rangers nearly 20 years ago.  With over 50 relief teams, the FBR is now one of the main humanitarian groups working to help ethnic villagers in Burma.  The work they do is nothing short of unbelievable.  I invite you to visit their webpage at freeburmarangers.org which will give you an accurate picture of the situation in Burma from inside the trenches of one of the most devastating and heart-wrenching struggles for human rights happening in the world today.  You will surely be moved.

I was also blessed to meet Mr. Boonsak Thongdii (aka “Tui”) who runs the Upland Holistic Development Program.  The UHDP works with the Lahu and other ethnic groups in Thailand to teach sustainable farming techniques and economic development programs to enrich the lives of these marginalized peoples and to help them gain a foothold within Thai society.  You can check out the great, uplifting work they do at uhpd.org.

Over the next week I will be delving into the main work of getting the village children enrolled in school, arranging transportation for them, and working to facilitate the arrival of a volunteer English teacher.  Thank you all again for the support you’ve provided to make this work happen.  Please pray for my continued safety, for success in the village, and for an end to the suffering of the Lahu and other oppressed people worldwide.  Also, feel free to forward this message to any interested parties.  Until next time I wish you all the best.

Blessings,

Mark

 

 

11-17-2010

Our new Facebook page is up, check it out, and please add it as a “Like” for the latest updates.

Lahu Education Initiative at Facebook

 

 

10-18-2010

The children are in school! Thanks to One World Family there are 10 students newly enrolled in school.  Daily transportation has been arranged for them and 15 other students, for a total of 25 students sponsored.

 

 

9-24-2010

Mr. Mark Cooper has spent the last several weeks in two Lahu villages and was successful in getting the first round of students enrolled in Thai school for the upcoming term. Our second volunteer, Mr. James Wise, has arrived safely in Thailand and will be continuing the work started by Mr. Cooper after he leaves to go back home to the United States.

 

 

8-4-2010

We are happy to announce that our first volunteer English teacher, Mr. Mark Cooper has arrived safely in Thailand. Mr. Cooper spent two weeks in the main Lahu village to connect with villagers and do an initial assessment. He is currently enrolled in an English teaching program in Ko Samui, and, upon completion of this program he will be returning to the village to teach English in the Lahu school. Keep checking back for pictures and updates!

Note: We are not affiliated with the One World Family Commune or their parent organization. Their webpage is www.galacticmessenger.com.