From Development to Emergency Response

Kyaw Kyaw Min Htut of BEAM Education Foundation reports on the coronavirus from Northern Thailand.

I stood at the border last week and watched tens of thousands of migrant workers return to Burma from Thailand after losing their jobs in the coronavirus shutdown. If this pandemic spreads into the working class and poor communities here, it will be a crisis.

Shops, food stalls and markets in Thailand have closed. The Thai government has declared a state of emergency. These migrant workers don’t have savings. They live day-to-day on their minimum wages. The people who can still work in factories, they are staying in Thailand. The ones who went back were the ones who could not survive here.

As I watched these workers return, I thought about the lack of facilities in Burma to take care of them. They were recommended to quarantine at home, but I’m not sure that will be effective, as social distancing is very difficult in crowded houses. The responsibility to take care of them falls on their villages.

This is not the time for development—it is a time for emergency response. Using a small personal donation, we have initiated a prevention campaign among our networks in Thailand and Burma called Little Communities Campaign for Fighting COVID-19.

Communities need materials to protect themselves. So we are now making four things: face masks, hand sanitizer, soap, and printed materials in local languages to raise awareness of the virus. The market prices of these goods are rising—they are totally unaffordable to migrant workers. We are already in the process of producing our goal of 10,000 masks at BEAM. Our vocational training classroom of sewing machines has been transformed into a mask-making workshop run by volunteers.

We will distribute these goods as packages—a mask and soap, for example—to migrant workers along the Thai-Burma border and to local healthcare workers. We are trying to launch this campaign within our network in Burma, too. This community and their health workers need support from all of us.

Volunteer makes soap at BEAM

Cut out face mask patterns

Finished mask