Wat Tham Krabok
KaYing Yang's Experience
“Wat” is Thai for temple and Tham Krabok is a cave. The location is not a camp, it is a Buddhist temple compound. Those who lived there started a program for detoxing drugs. Some Hmong folks went there for this program. The monitored refugee camps were closing, abandoned, and left to the temple. The King during that time offered protection for the refugees at the temple since they were considered undocumented. Because Hmong were undocumented, they were poorly treated by the Thai people. Here they were offered protection from police and raids. Houses were built with bamboo and thatch roof and some were lucky to have cement and concrete walls. By 2004, the population was 15,000, a majority were women and children.
Located at the foothill was a limestone mountain. They were mining the limestones so on a daily basis, there were explosions and powder that came out of there. The air was filled with particles which caused respiratory health issues and may have also affected the water.
Wells and water towers had to be built to support the refugees. Collecting water tended to be a job for women and children, mostly young girls about 10 years old. Instead of allowing them to play, they had a lot of chores and it stunted their growth. Not just nutrition, but overall growth. We have the privilege for a healthy growth. Folks will push wagons to the water tower to load water which were extremely heavy to carry.
Boiling water prior to drinking it is one of our historic work. Even if the water was clean, the containers may not be clean. Keep in mind the containers used for water may originally been used for fuel or contained bacteria. Other health impacts came from folks not having access to soap or not practicing sanitary habits like washing hands and dishes.
Almost everyone at the camps made story cloth which became a main source of income. No one makes big story cloths anymore like back at the camps. The story cloths were not historical or traditional artwork, it only began in the camps. There was more time in the camps to make paj ntaub, and became a source of income other than farming and harvesting people’s crops. There would be a group of young people standing in a field to go and work for labor. Men and women will go in different trucks. They carried their own stools and went to farm for others, then came back late afternoon, exhausted. A day’s work would often provide food for the day.
Hmong people contributed economically to the Thai market sellers. When Hmong folks had to move from the camps to the temple, the Thai market sellers followed them. Hmong folks were their main consumers. Hmong people were an asset. When we (from the US) send money over, we contribute to the economy. But when the barbed wires went up, it limited entrances and exits, so the markets around the temple lost business.
The Hmong children attended Thai schools. The barbed wires affected many schools because Hmong children could no longer go anymore. The camps were overcrowded and schools were limited so many children couldn’t get an education.
May Yer Thao's Experience
When KaYing and I first started the relocation process at Wat Tham Krabok Refugee Camp, we had about two weeks with a group of families, adults over 18, a majority of husband and wife (married couples together).
We would teach a little about the life in the United States. A day about civic engagement, the importance of voting and political structure of America. Not digging in deep, just covering what they need to do once they get to the United States like alien citizenship. As well as a session around working, employment, and mock interviews to give experience in being interviewed (which was cute and fun).
There was a trailer which was a stimulation. It covered and imitated a home, teaching the families how to use the toilet, sink, fridge and other basics of living. Many had more experience because they were living in modern times compared to my parents.
We taught budgeting and managing finances to cover all the bills. If you want to buy a car, what does that mean? Just the basic survival lessons, as well as debt. In addition, education and encouraging engagement with their kids, like teacher conferences.
The two weeks soon decreased to one week in order to get people through the door to the US. We lost a lot of quality time.
Towards the end, there was a youth curriculum. We taught eight-year-olds to teens about education, hopes and dreams, arts and crafts, and mental health. How do you take care of your well-being and mental state of being healthy? In my class, pop culture, I taught what is it like to be a teenager? I could relate most to these younger folks. We also taught them English and since they were younger, it was easier for them to grasp.
During my time there, what was really meaningful were parents being engaged with their children’s education and the mock interviews.
Hmong women, not exposed to the United States, were still very traditional. Very shy and quiet. We had to encourage them to engage, talk and interact more.
Our job also consisted of consulting with them because they were txoj kev ntshai. We gave them reassurance that they’ll be fine. It was really about empowering the Hmong women so they could overcome shyness. We discussed with parents to understand that their kids will be more motivated compared to kids born here since they will be more privileged.