Stories from the field

Author Emma De Vynck

Emma De Vynck – Blog 8: Goodbye

It has been a hectic time at KSDC recently! I share some thoughts on the goodbyes in the midst of all the busyness. 


Emma De Vynck – Blog 7: Student Thoughts on Music

This month I share some SDC students’ thoughts on music. Music is such a key part of life at SDC–I have been looking forward to writing about it. My hope in this post is that the reader gathers a bit of a sense of student perspectives, and perhaps experiences some of the jovial musical atmosphere that permeates this place. 



Emma De Vynck – Blog 6: Considering Education

One of the resounding chords I hear at the Karenni Social Development Centre is the profound value of quality education. In this blog (attached), I offer some brief background on the education situation on the Thai-Myanmar border and in Karenni State. I then share KSDC student La Pleh’s educational journey. 

I also offer some links at the end of the blog to several Myanmar-context education resources. There are some great organizations supporting schools like KSDC with curriculum, training, and more. 



Emma De Vynck – Blog 5: Some thoughts on space

This month I reflect a bit on space, movement, and expansion at the Karenni Social Development Centre (KSDC). KSDC runs human rights and community management training courses for refugee youth along the Thai-Myanmar border. I am currently at about month 4 of my 7-month placement here. 




Emma De Vynck – Blog 4: Introducing SomChai, a KSDC student

Life at the Karenni Social Development Centre (KSDC) rolls on. Rainy season has hit with full force, bringing with it rice planting season, innumerable shades of green, and beautiful foggy mornings. Now that I’ve found a daily rhythm, the days gather momentum and evolve into weeks with quick ease. I’ve had to catch myself as I settle into that rhythmic “normalcy”–I’m only here about 7 months–I don’t want to fall into a complacent lull. At the same time, finding rhythm is a great comfort, although in all honesty I’m shaken out of rhythm often enough to stay meaningfully uncomfortable. It is the “settling” and “unsettling” process, day in, day out. That may be the only constant to this “rhythm”.

 As I’ve considered what to explore in this third blog, my wandering mind has found all sorts of half-baked ideas–something on the joys of linguistic diversity at KSDC? A consideration of teaching when you’re not trained as a teacher and yet you’ve been imbued with sudden respect and responsibility? An ode to the motorbike? Or even a look at religious beliefs, religious diversity, and the expressions of religious tolerance and grace among the students? Maybe these thoughts will have their day of analysis.

For this month, I’m moving away from analysis and offering instead an interview with a KSDC Advanced Course student, SomChai. Listening to our chat might provide a bit of a glimpse into life in this corner of the world! I hope the audio is manageable–you can hear chickens, dogs, and other students in the background. I recommend you listen with headphones because the voices are a bit quiet!

In one of my first conversations with SomChai, he told me that we only receive knowledge so that we can share it. Sharing knowledgeis very important to him.

SomChai was raised in Karenni Refugee Camp 1, and as he notes in our chat, his family originally comes from Shan State in Myanmar. 

In our discussion he talks about the importance of KSDC for his community and the value of English for his future political goals. He also shares about his Shan culture, among other conversational tidbits.

I hope you enjoy hearing a bit about who he is.



Emma De Vynck – Blog 3: “Humble” – Exploring language and its resonances


A lot has transpired since my last blog post! There are many things to explore. I’ve chosen to discuss “humble” and its complexities at this point in my journey. 

Emma De Vynck – Blog 2: Settling in at the Karenni Social Development Centre

Deafening insect chirps.

Chickens babbling.

Kelly Clarkson.

Sudden, heavy rain.

Playful chit-chat.

Vegetables sizzling in hot oil.

Soulful guitar crooning.

These are but a few notes in the lush chorus of sounds at the Karenni Social Development Centre (KSDC). I arrived at KSDC about a week ago, accompanied by Robyn and a previous CAPI intern. I am joining several others in facilitating a training course for young adults at the KSDC school.

Our journey to KSDC began in Chiang Mai. After a majestic 30-minute plane ride over Northern Thailand’s rippled, jungled hills, we landed in Mae Hong Son, a small Thai city. The next day we were en-route to Nai Soi, a village tucked a few kilometers from the Thai-Myanmar border. KSDC’s principal, several alumni, and several foreign volunteers, all on motorbike, met us. Our belongings were strapped on the bikes, and we all hopped on with a kind driver for the final trek to KSDC. As we crossed Nai Soi’s village bounds, the paved road ended and the red-dirt road began. We were nearing Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp and its surrounding “hamlet”, Dokhita. Thai jurisdiction overlooks this pocket, and as such, the roads remain furrowed and muddy.  After this brief skillful motorbike ride, we approached KSDC—my home for the next 6 months—a home I now share with 20 students, several staff, 2 foreign volunteers, several dogs, (notably Bam and Liam Neeson), numerous geckos and lizards, an irritating but endearing troupe of chickens, and a diversity of unknown insects that buzz and whir at all hours.

KSDC is a community-based organization offering education in human rights, law, non-violence, women’s rights, environment, and English, among other subjects of import to the Karenni people, an ethnic group indigenous to eastern Myanmar. Decades of conflict in their home state spurred many Karenni and other ethnic groups in the area to flee to refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. Camp Ban Mai Nai Soi is but one of numerous refugee settlements on the border, most of which are home to tens of thousands of people. Those living in the camps cannot work legally in Thailand, and as such must remain within the camp, or return to Myanmar. Most students and staff at KSDC live in the camp with their families when they aren’t at KSDC dorms. Some have come from within Karenni State to pursue education in the camp, or at schools like KSDC, as education within camps surpasses much education in rural Myanmar. I have encountered the commitment and compassion of many Karenni peoples of all ages engaged in profound community development activities. It is clear that I have entered a rich web of community engagement, activism, and support. This limited but burgeoning learning is continually informed by a patchwork of both brief exchanges and sprawling conversations with students, staff, and others I’ve met in my first week here. 

KSDC’s commitment to supporting and empowering Karenni people through human rights education is a profound response to their complex and ever-unfolding story. Students share life with one another, cooking, cleaning, singing, “playing Facebook”, and pursuing community development studies. There’s also plenty of Burmese pop music and incredible Karenni food. I’m not quite sure what I’ve stepped into—but friendship and fun are of no shortage in this place. Many lives are being lived, within limitation, and beyond seeming boundaries. 

Emma De Vynck – Blog 1: A Brief Intro

My fellow CAPI intern Joel Toorenburgh asks me some questions about myself and my placement with the Karenni Social Development Centre. 

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