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Ultimate in Burmese Refugee Camps

by | February 7, 2011, 8:00am 5

After coming across this amazing video of Ultimate being played by sandal-clad youth on a dirt field, Skyd wanted to find out more about the program that was bringing the sport to children in the unlikely setting of a Burmese refugee camp. We caught up with DARE program director Pam Rogers and Liz Lu, a player that helped bring Ultimate to the camps with her team the Bangkok Soidawgz. The following article was contributed by Pam Rogers.

A Free Mind Cannot Be Destroyed.

Sharing the sport of Ultimate with teen refugees has been an incredible, eye-opening experience.  It makes one realize the abundance we enjoy outside the camps.  It makes one admire the spirit inside the camps.  Ultimate is the ultimate ice breaker, transcending language barriers. – Liz Lu, Bangkok Soidawgz

Saw Htoo leaps 4 feet into the air and hauls down the Disc.  His teammates call to him and as if in slow motion he spots Naw Paw in the zone.  Letting loose his best hammer time speeds up. Yes!  She has it.  They win.

Saw Htoo came to this camp with his parents when he was a baby, 15 years ago.  His family along with thousands of other families escaped their burning villages, murder and rapes, torture and land mines, chased relentless through the jungles by the Burmese Military government to reach the safety of Thailand.  Here they have been confined to guarded refugee camps and not allowed to go outside.  Saw Htoo has spent his whole life crowded inside the 6 square mile Mae La camp along with 50,000 other refugees.  There are 9 such camps on the Thai/Burma border holding over 150,000 refugees.

To cope with the daily traumas of a government that turns its head to drug distribution, rape, forced labor, violence, poverty and extreme losses, many people have become substance dependent.

DARE Network is a grassroots local NGO. DARE (Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education) provides culturally appropriate non-medical treatment and prevention education to reduce substance abuse and associated social problems within the communities of the displaced ethnic people from Burma, along the Thai/Burma border. DARE Network is the first and remains the only organization that comprehensively addresses substance abuse within the refugee and migrant populations along the Thai/Burmese border.

A trip to any refugee camp teaches you to never take anything for granted.  Every resource, from water to food to electricity is in short supply.  Water comes from communal wells, food is rationed, and walking through camp before curfew is mainly by candlelight. -Liz Lu

DARE training teaches non-medical skills based on traditional eastern and modern western approaches to addiction to the new community addiction workers to treat for substance abuse, in the refugee camps.

A child escapes the jungle rain.

Ultimate Frisbee came to DARE Network’s Teens for Kids programs with the help of an Ultimate Team in Bangkok called Soidawgz.  Championed by Soidawgz player Liz Lu, trainings were organized by Ultimate volunteers, both Thai and Expat from around South-East Asia.  These Ultimate players donated their time, money and skills to teach the young teenagers in the Burmese Refugee camps to play Ultimate through the DARE Network program.

Four years ago there were 8 teams playing Ultimate in all the camps.  Now there are over 80 teams playing in 8 camps, involving thousands of people in their addiction prevention activities.  In 2011 DARE will hold inter-camp tournaments and hopefully, with the cooperation of the Thai Authorities bring two young players, a girl and a boy, to the Bangkok Hat Tournament, sponsored by the Soidawgz Ultimate Team.

[B]y the beaming faces of the champions, it’s clear they felt a sense of Olympic pride and accomplishment. – Liz Lu, on inter-camp competitions

Ultimate Frisbee has become the “cool” thing for young refugees to do.  It belongs to them.  The DARE Teenager Teams have become leaders in their own communities.  These young people share their knowledge about Addiction and Violence and promote the “Spirit of the Game” to their peers, children, families and community leaders.  They have raised their self-esteem, learned conflict resolution and felt some hope for the future.

To learn more about DARE Network and it’s Teens for Kids program you can go to www.darenetwork.com.  To support the DARE Teens for Kids program go to GlobalGiving.Org or click on http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/burmese-refugee-youth-prevent-addiction-and-violence/

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