| Maggie | Jeremy
| Nico | Dylan
| Pakou | Pao
| Mariah | Cristina
| Jenny | Izzy
S. | Sara K. | Nate
| Erika | Benjamin
| Abigail | Sarah M. |
Laos and Thailand have mountainous lowlands
with roads made of dust and dirt where people called Highlanders,
mountain people or mountain men, live.
Not many people in Laos or Thailand have enough money to
buy horses, but if they do they will travel by horse. If not,
they will travel by foot.
In the Vietnam War, the Americans wanted to get the Hmong,
Laos and Thai because they were the strongest and toughest
fighters the American Army could find. This was due to the
fact that all the people of Laos and Thailand worked in fields,
built houses and many other activities of muscle-straining
work that made them unbelievably tough.
Hmong and Thai homes are made out of very long grasses and
some wood. Some houses had big, long slippery metal posts
that held these houses up. This is because the people did
not want rodents like rats, mice and squirrels to get into
their houses and eat the entire food supplies that the people
worked so vigorously to get.
It is very hard to be a refugee. On your way to the camps,
for instance, you had to go a very long distance without having
any food or drink and you’d think that would be enough
but they also had to cross the large Mekong River without
knowing how to swim or hardly knowing how to steer a boat.
Most people lived in the highlands of
Laos. This is why people call them “Highlanders.”
Thai call them mountain tribes, but it’s more polite
to call them highlanders or by their tribe names if you know
The Hmong were happy right where they were, but the communists
weren’t. They wanted that land so they drove the Hmong
out! They planted land mines so if you stepped on them trying
to escape you would die (or at least lose a limb). Many attempted
to flee but only those lucky enough made it to the Mekong
River. Once you were there, you had to cross the raging river!
Most couldn’t swim so they stuck bamboo under their
arms and tried to float across.
Once you crossed the Mekong River you were pretty much safe
from the soldiers, but something still attacked the people
who came over. You couldn’t see it – no, but you
could sure feel it. It was … germs. Disease killed off
many! Nurses and doctors were needed any time you could get
them. Many were starved. Many injured. Whatever happened,
they were never the same again.
As you will find out, refugee camps like
Ban Num Yao weren’t the best place to live.
First of all, it wasn’t sanitary. The bathrooms were
squat plates. The waste would go to the well, and if you drank
that water - I don’t want to think about it! Another
problem was that you could get sick easily. People got measles,
malnutrition, tuberculosis, paralysis, burns. They even came
with bullet holes and missing limbs. Some had skin diseases,
some even polio. There were mosquito nets but still some got
Malaria. With only 20 nurses and doctors, this is tough. Family
members slept on the floor next to the patient’s bed.
Shamans were sometimes called in to help.
You built your own house. The UNHCR provided materials and
you built. Sometimes all your hard work was destroyed by fire.
You take everything you can carry. And then, start over. Just
like the Hmong have been doing for so many years.
Sue showed us slides of people who were
sick or hurt in the hospital in Thailand she worked in. She
showed us people who had been shot, people low on nutrition,
people with measles, and people with bad burns. All these
people had survived leaving home, pets, animals food and shelter
behind. They crossed the raging Mekong, when some didn’t
know how to swim, despite wounds and sickness. Some went through
sometimes painful treatment at a hospital they weren’t
familiar with. Some people refused to go to the hospital,
as in Laos there weren’t any hospitals, because Hmong
asked spirits to come back, or go away.
Whenever the UNHCR trucks drove into the refugee camps, refugees
would crowd around, waiting for their share of the supplies
that they knew were in the trucks.
Sometimes you would see a wreath outside a door or a plastic
bag on the end of a long metal pole on a roof. The wreath
meant that there was a problem in the house, and the plastic
bag on a pole was the sign of toy-maker. So there were different
signs for different things.
Mosquitoes were a big problem. Sure, their bites itched,
but they carried diseases, like malaria, sometimes a killer.
So they put mosquito nets around the beds so the patients
wouldn’t get those diseases.
Sue Bassett and her son lived in Laos and
Thailand for many years. She speaks of the people not as “Oh
how poor they are; I need to help them”, but as very
resourceful, smart, kind, generous people. (I’m sure
they thought the same of her.)
Some of the things Sue showed about the hill tribes, or
“highlanders” as she called them, were these.
The roads between villages, if any, were dirt and had all
sorts of holes and ditches. You couldn’t exactly get
by with a Ferrari up in the mountains. Since the villagers
couldn’t afford cars their main transportation device
was horses. In one picture, there were many horses lined up
by a big building. Their owners were at market. Instead of
leather saddles, like horses here use, they had wooden saddles.
Goods could be attached to them with rope.
The children in the tribes often didn’t have a school
and their parents were busy, so they had to be independent
and find things to do. Sometimes they played traditional games,
such as tublub, and the Hmong version of jacks, but depending
on where they lived, they sometimes adapted new games. For
example, in one slide there were a group of boys on a footbridge
over a stream, waiting for things to come down the river from
villages upstream. Sometimes they would find firewood or old
flip-flops. The kids also made toys, but that was mostly in
The refugee camp that Sue went to was called Ban Nam Yao.
That means “Village of the Wide River.” When people
first entered the camp, they were sent to a big building that
was a big gathering place as well as a school. Then the UNHCR
would bring truckloads of bamboo and thatch, and people would
build their own houses. It took a long time, sometimes up
to one month.
Sue Bassett’s job at the refugee camp was a nurse,
so that is what many of the photos show. There were maybe
five or so foreign doctors from Europe and America. They also
had women from the refugee camp who learned how to read and
cook and would help as nurses’ aides.
When people got to the refugee camps
they got a doctor’s appointment. A lot of people had
problems. Then they got supplies to build a house. For the
toilet it was just a hole in the ground. When it rains the
poop and pee would sometimes wash down into the wells. When
people would drink the water from the wells they would get
Babies who were born in the camps are citizens of Thailand
and can go wherever they want in Thailand, but the rest of
the family can’t.
Any baby that was under weight would go to a special feeding
center. Sometimes the mom was malnourished and she couldn’t
feed the baby so they had to provide milk. They had a hospital
that had some electricity.
Some people had shot wounds. Some lost limbs because of standing
on land mines. They made artificial legs that were wooden.
Some people lost both arms and both legs. Some children would
play with the wheelchairs. They also had shamans to keep tradition
In the camps women could adopt babies. The boys played basketball
or more popular, soccer.
It was hard to watch. When people were leaving they were
sticking their hands out the window and crying.