Thailand: From fear to future – becoming a leader after persecution
16 December 2010

Khu Bue Reh, new headmaster for middle and high school in Mae Hong Son's refugee camp one (Oliver White/JRS)
Khu Bue Reh will never return to Burma and appreciates the sanctuary that Ban Mai Nai Soi provides him and his family of five.
Mae Hon Song, 16 December 2010 – As Khu Bue Reh sits at his desk in the corner of a dusty classroom in Northern Thailand’s Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp, the responsibility of his new position ways heavily on his slight shoulders.

A quiet and humble man, Khu Bue Reh is a respected but reluctant leader. After only eight months as headmaster in a secondary school Khu Bue Reh will coordinate nine middle and high schools in the camp of 15,000.

“I don’t want to move to my new role but it is a necessary for our education,” he said.

Khu Bue Reh has worked as a teacher in the camp for three years. After briefly teaching at a post-secondary school he felt his skills were needed elsewhere.

“The conditions at the secondary school were worse, so I decided to come here to be a teacher.”

Khu Bue Reh’s eyes filled with sadness as he recounted why he left his home in Burma. He arrived in Ban Mai Nai Soi in 2009 after fleeing persecution in Burma. In 2005 a soldier from the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) arrested Khu Bue Reh and locked him in a dark cell for three months and six days.

“I never even saw the light or took a bath. They falsely accused me of having weapons and working for the Karreni National Progress Party (KNPP). I denied it but they made me sign a statement on black paper. I was sent to prison for three years.”

Khu Bue Reh will never return to Burma and appreciates the sanctuary that Ban Mai Nai Soi provides him and his family of five.

“I was tortured by the SPDC. I’m afraid of them and I don’t want to see their faces again. I want to stay in a peaceful place… if Thailand has no peace then I want to go to any country that is peaceful.”

Whilst Khu Bue Reh was imprisoned his son was forced to quit school so he could take care of his mother. “When I was arrested my son was in standard 9. When I was in prison he had to drop out,” he said. Now his son not only finds himself in school but his father is the headmaster.

A smile spreads over Khu Bue Reh’s kind face as he explains the benefits of having a father who is also the headmaster.

“As I am the headmaster of their school, I tell them they must try harder than the other students.”

Although Khu Bue Reh is still haunted by his past, the responsibility of educating his community provides a sense of hope and fulfilment.

Khu Bue Reh and his colleagues at Karenni Education Department (KnED) have faced a number of challenges in their efforts to provide education. Large numbers of teachers and students have left the camp for resettlement in the United States, which has created a great deal of instability.

 “Last year many teachers did not attend school regularly due to resettlement,” explained Khu Bue Reh, adding, “One of the biggest problems was absent students and dropouts.”

JRS is working with KnED to provide teacher training to strengthen the ability of new teachers.

“We now have 25 trainee teachers at this school,” he said, however, “most are students from Karenni Post 10 (post secondary school). Nearly all are new teachers, our oldest student is 27, older than many teachers.”

When Khu Bue Reh took charge he emphasised structure and discipline.

“At first there were many difficulties, but now it is better,” he explained. “There have been three headmasters since 2009. The school was very disorganised. I changed the structure and reintroduced discipline.”

Khu Bue Reh has remained patient and composed in the face of these and many other challenges, an approach that will be valuable in his new role.  As for the future, Khu Bue Reh takes every day as it comes.

“Right now I can’t decide about resettlement. I have no UN registration but if the situation in Burma improves I will stay here. I don’t want to go back inside (Burma).”

Oliver White, regional advocacy communications officer