If you had chanced upon the beach today at Bang Ben, you might have thought you’d struck another end-of-school year outing for kids.
But this one was different.
The thirty three students are the first batch about to complete their first year of the “Marist Training Programme” (M.T.P.), and most of them have never ventured out of the small town of Ranong in their lives.
The Marist Training Programme is for children from migrant families, aged 11 – 17. Their parents have come across to Thailand from Burma looking for work. Some of the families are legal, many illegal. But none of them can travel more than a few kilometres out of Ranong. There are carefully positioned check-points all around Ranong to see that no-one “escapes” further afield.
So these children have, for the most part, never left Ranong. Many of them are stateless. They have neither Thai nor Burmese citizenship, nor do they have any identity cards. They are meant to be neither seen nor heard. Their future, apart from undertaking harsh manual labour that no-one else wants to do, is most uncertain.
The Marist Mission in Ranong sought the permission of the Thai police to allow us to take the children to a beautiful beach that is about forty kilometres south of the town. Armed with our official papers (that the Thai authorities gave us, to their credit) we were able to brave the check points and take the children further into Thailand than they’d ever been before.
They enjoyed the trip. They enjoyed the beach. And we enjoyed it with them.