Lisa Nesser picked up her comfortable life in the United States and moved to Asia to help Burmese refugee children in Northern Thailand. She doesn’t have a large NGO behind her funding her projects and she’s not living large in a developing country. She’s simply offering support to a group of young people who are left to fend for themselves.
Lisa moved to Thailand in 2004 and began by teaching English and training teachers through an organization called OPC (an orphanage and learning center program for children). She then moved to Chiang Mai to teach adult Burmese refugees about Human Rights Law and Environmental Studies. While there, she became aware of the young children selling flowers to tourists into the wee hours of the morning. She realized these children were not attending school and was determined to find out why.
What she learned was that, because they are Burmese refugees, they do not possess the ID cards necessary for enrollment in school. They also do not speak Thai, but rather their local language. And, finally, they do not have the money it takes to attend school or purchase the required school uniforms. This keeps them in a terrible cycle of poverty.
Lisa with children from Freedom House.
So moved by these children, she opened Freedom House in October, 2006. This is a place to teach these children both Thai and English and educate them on basic skills in order to bring them up to speed with Thai children. These young refugees now attend school for 2 1/2 hours Monday through Friday in the mornings and are provided one healthy meal each day. It’s Lisa’s desire to expand the program to reach out into the community, teaching larger groups of people in the evenings as well.
Burmese children in Chiang Mai. Photo Credit: Lisa Nesser
One of the most striking things about this story for me is that Lisa is not waiting to have all the pieces in place before following her heart and creating a program for these children. She got started with a strong desire and a little funding and she’s making a huge difference in the lives of children who previously were spending their time selling flowers in bars late at night.
We can all make a difference in small ways as there are lots of opportunities here at home and abroad. You don’t have to move to Thailand, but you can support already established organizations and, during your next journey, keep your eyes open for small ways to help those in need.