Elin* has been serving at the School of Mercy, Thailand-Myanmar Border, for the last four years as an education consultant. Besides handling different aspects of managing the project, she also teaches English in the school and disciples the children and teachers.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, she had to leave the Border region to return to Singapore when a lockdown was impending. However, she continues to connect with some teachers and children whenever possible, subject to the availability of broadband at the Border village where they live.

Here, Elin answers a few questions we have of the situation at the Border region.

How has COVID-19 impacted the community and School of Mercy at the Thailand-Myanmar Border?

Elin: COVID-19 has impacted the rural community differently from the cities. Life is simple for the villagers. They never had entertainment amenities like cinemas to begin with and they seldom eat out too. Their lives go on largely as normal, except that some of their livelihoods have been affected and the children cannot go to school. There were many rumours going around soon after I left. One was the village headman telling villagers to stock up enough food for four months! That would have been impossible for the households which mostly do not own refrigerators and freezers. Thankfully now, it is still possible to buy fresh food and travel to neighbouring towns.

At the time of my departure, the school children have mostly already gone home for their school holidays. Only seven children remained behind in the school dormitory, together with their dormitory “mother”.

How are the children staying in the dormitory doing?

Elin: They are feeling bored and spend their time occupying themselves with simple hobbies like sewing and making snacks out of the mangos growing in the school yard. Older children are taking care of the younger ones. In particular, the oldest child in the dormitory, Aung*, 16, has been watching over the other children.

She has just graduated from Grade 6 and desires to continue her studies. The School of Mercy does not have grades beyond Grade 6 so she would have to go to the next town for higher education. Her father, a widower, was at first against her pursuit of a higher education, but she was adamant about it and convinced her father to allow her to do so. However, now there are uncertainties about when she can register for the new school and if she can find funding to continue her studies.

What is her story?

Elin: Aung’s simple gentle looks betray her steely determination and resilience. She entered the school at an age of 10, somewhat older than most children.

Aung’s birth mother had passed away when she was very young, and her father remarried. Her father sustains himself by planting some vegetables in the village. Aung’s family home is a very small basic hut. Under the influence of her stepmother, her father could not keep Aung at home and requested the school to take her into the dormitory when she first started school there. Since then, she has been staying in the dormitory and only goes home occasionally.

In the dormitory, she was initially ostracised by the other children because of her ethnicity. As she is from a minority tribe that is different from most of the other dormitory children, her facial features and language are different from them.

When I first knew her four years ago, she was painfully shy and lacked confidence. She even spoke with a stutter. But she was very responsive to me and my teammates and would often speak to us. I believe she could sense our acceptance of her. Over time, she blossomed into the confident and cheerful youth that she is today.

She has been diligent in her studies and faithful in serving the church at the School of Mercy on the worship team. Even though she does not like singing, she would sing together with the choir each Sunday during service! She loves to sew and is meticulous with her needlecraft. One day, she hopes to become a seamstress.

Her trust in God could also be seen when she prayed earnestly for her father to allow her to continue her studies. Aung was delighted when he finally said yes. Since then, she had also been contacting me regularly to learn English from me.

What are your hopes for the children?

Elin: I hope that after the lockdown ends, they will be able to go back to school. Some of their parents might want them to stop their education and start earning money. So at times, some of these children may not return.

I also hope that children like Aung are able to further their education for as long as possible so that they can have a better life in future.

It is uncertain when the School of Mercy will resume classes as the situation at the Border is still evolving. Many people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic in that region and are undetected, hence, it is hard to ascertain the true extent of community spread.

We continue to pray that the children will be healthy and that they are able to resume their education soon. Thank you for your ongoing support and encouragement. Please join us to pray for them.

* Pseudonyms are used for security reasons.