Mae La Refugee Camp runs for two miles along the Thailand-Myanmar border. Long and thin, the camp perches on steep river banks squeezed between a road and the Yuam River. Dirt roads weave through the huts, schools and shops of the ramshackle settlement which is home to over 30,000 Myanmarese, Muslim and Karan refugees. Permanent structures are not permitted in the camp so everyone lives in small, homemade and most often, one roomed huts crafted from bamboo, leaves and mud. Families share their homes with their pigs, goats and chickens. They also share toilet, washing, cooking and water facilities with neighbours. These conditions present significant challenges to the hygiene and health of those living in Mae La. Girls are disproportionately exposed to health risks as they look after the livestock and struggle to find the privacy they need for bathing.
Right To Play is not new to Mae La Refugee Camp, we have been serving children and young people in the camp for 15 years. Through our play-based learning we have been equipping them with education and skills to help find solutions to these challenges. To reduce diseases like typhoid, dysentery, cholera and malaria our coaches use play-based activities to teach children how diseases are spread and how they can be prevented. Games like hand-washing relay races teach the importance of good hygiene, but also start to change behaviour more widely in the camp as children take what they have learnt back to their families and establish hand-washing stations at home. Through these basic interventions good progress is being made in keeping families healthy, but more than that, our programmes are bringing vulnerable girls and boys together and building trust and understanding. This is particularly important for girls who are so frequently kept isolated for their safety. Children who have experienced great hardship are being given the critical chance to put their troubles behind them, learn and play, as children should.