Dave finds a calling helping Burmese
Volunteering in Southeast Asia is commonplace for many New Zealanders, but not for those on the cusp of retirement.
Dave Young, 63, has been teaching English to Burmese refugees in Thailand since March and the Tawa man has no immediate plans to move back permanently.
The former KiwiBank employee has returned to New Zealand to resolve visa issues.
He first visited Myanmar on holiday last July and was struck by the Burmese’ resilience to political repression under the military regime.
Having holidayed regularly in the region, Young decided he would like to live there on a more permanent basis.
It is Young’s first foray into overseas volunteering. He is about twice the age of the next oldest foreign teacher at his school.
He said his extra years gave him an advantage.
‘‘The time is right. I’m not saying I should have been doing this when I was 25,’’ he said.
‘‘People with life experience have got a lot to offer compared to a 20-year-old.’’
He undertook an Englishteaching qualification in Chiang-Mai, Thailand, in February, and began teaching at Thoo Mweh Khee school in the town of Phrop Phra, about five kilometres from the Burmese border.
His school’s pupils are primarily refugees of the Karen ethnic group, the third largest in Myanmar.
He said about 200,000 Karen refugees lived along the border on the Thai side. Some of his pupils, who are aged 14 years and older, have never visited their homeland.
He teaches from 9am till noon, after which temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius become too much to bear.
From 5pm, he has one-on-one sessions with students, when he asks them about their background and their hopes for the future.
‘‘If you’ve been in a refugee camp for a long time, attention is something you lack,’’ he said.
One student told him he wanted to be a soldier like his brother, after he saw his mother shot in front of him and his village twice burnt to the ground.
But Young said it was not all doom and gloom.
‘‘It sounds horrible – living in a refugee camp – but the sense of community is very strong.’’
Age no barrier: Dave Young, 63 ,has been teaching English to Burmese refugees in Thailand since March.