a story from Mae Hong Son, Thailand

August 10, 2017

a story from Mae Hong Son, Thailand

We were touched by this story. Read on.

Photo of our artisans' house Mae Hong Son village, Thailand taken on April, 2017

Arada gets its name from a mother. To me, that means Arada represents strength, compassion, and love.

These qualities are uplifted and admired across cultures, but I didn’t truly understand them until I spent five months in Mae Hong Son, Thailand.

Every morning I would hear the high-pitched squeaks of the blue- green lizards and the calls of fluttering birds; a gentle reminder that it was time to peel back my rested eyelids. Through the mesh mosquito net, my eyes would carefully adjust to the sun-bathed room.

photo by Karen Abbas August, 2013

After breakfast and teaching, I would often head to the river where I loved dipping my feet in the diamond-toned water and looking out to the Burmese jungle.

Later I would learn that the Burmese and Karen tribe had been fighting in that jungle for decades, over land that each claimed.

The trees once housed a chorus of monkeys, harmonizing to the churning water. But poverty and war drove the people to eat them, to muffle the music.

The day things changed, my friend Jojoe and I stopped to talk to a Karen soldier. Behind him, sat a group of people, settled into the sand. There was a woman wrapped in red fabric, a man resting his head in his wife’s lap, a child dragging a fallen branch in the sand.  

Jojoe translated for me. He explained that life in Burma was tough and that these people had illegally come to Thailand to work in a factory. They labored inhumane hours in searing and cramped spaces, working to save enough to take home.

When they finally did, they journeyed to the water for a boat ride to Burma. Just as they began to hear the river, the police stopped them.


They now only had the clothing they wore and the people beside them. Only one woman was allowed to keep her most valuable possession. In her arms, she cradled a newborn baby.

We decided to help and rushed to Jojoe’s parents. Before I understood what was happening, his mother was holding a half filled bag of rice and throwing in packs of chilies, salt, utensils, matches, and even a pot. Most of the things she gave were the last she had, yet she gave.

We bought them more food and used the rest of the cash I had for the boats. It was not nearly enough to make up for the loss, but it was a start.

Only as the boats drifted from us did Jojoe speak again.
“They burned my house down…”

Jojoe detailed his childhood for me. He shared how he had watched Burmese soldiers destroy his village.

“So why did you help them?” I asked.

He simply replied, “because they were in trouble.”

“Trouble” is not the same for everyone, but it does create an opportunity to respond with pure strength, compassion, and love.

While we cannot change cultures in an evening, we can strive to empower.

Thank you, Arada for sharing stories, providing safe work and bridging communities.

Contributed by Karen Abbas

About the author:

Cool, calm and conscious. Karen strives to live ethically by making sure that her life style, including the things she purchases, does not negatively impact another. She lives in New York city.

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