Along the Thai-Myanmar border, refugee camps house more than 100,000 Burmese who have fled forced labor, relocations, summary executions and other atrocities in their home country, Myanmar, formerly Burma.
This summer, two Hopkins undergraduates will work alongside international relief workers helping to feed and provide medical and mental health care to these displaced people. Thanks to an anonymous donor, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences will provide annually two all-expenses-paid internships for undergraduate students to spend 10 weeks over the summer with Burmese refugees in Thailand. Under the aegis of the International Rescue Committee, these students will work with refugees and collect and assess data to evaluate community health programs at the sites. The two Hopkins students will be in separate refugee camps; one will focus on disease research, the other on mental health issues.
"This is an extraordinary opportunity for an undergraduate," says Steven David, associate dean for academic affairs, who administers the new internships. "They will experience what it's like to help people but also have hands-on experience doing important international public health research."
Brant Hager, a senior public health major, and Jessica Lundberg, a junior majoring in sociology, were chosen from a large group of students who applied for the internship.
"We were looking for students who exhibited academic excellence but also for students who have shown they're capable of roughing it," David says. "Though we're confident of their physical safety, their working and living conditions may be difficult. We also looked for students who have demonstrated a prior commitment to community service work."
Hager relishes the opportunity to live in spare, harsh conditions. He is president of the Hopkins Outdoors Club, has spent monthlong stretches in the Canadian wilderness as guide for a summer canoeing outfit and likes nothing better than sleeping under the stars.
Even at home, he says, he tries to live a simple life "and enjoy the fruits of a basic lifestyle."
"I'm a believer in keeping the outward life simple, because then your inner life is more rich," he adds.
Hager is also very oriented to social justice issues--he volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and is involved in workers' rights groups like the Solidarity Sponsoring Community and the Student Labor Action Committee at Hopkins.
Lundberg is a member of the Hopkins Or-ganization for Women, the Interfaith Council and the Baltimore Resettlement Center, which serves refugees living in Baltimore.
Like Hager, Lundberg is passionate about human rights.
"I believe that beyond the obvious learning experience involved in the Thailand internship, there is an essential reason why it is important to myself and to all the students who apply for it: It promotes human rights," Lundberg says. "When all is said and done, what really drives us is the chance to help others who are being denied the most basic human rights of life, free will and decision making. Nobody should have to fear their own government, an institution that should support and protect its citizens."
That is not the case in Myanmar, which is ruled by a military junta considered by many human rights groups to be one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. Refugees from Burma first began crossing the Thailand-Burma border in 1984. A large number of civilians fled to Thailand in 1988 following the violent suppression of the pro-democracy demonstrations inside Burma and continue to flood out of the country to escape repression. The main groups in the Thailand camps today are ethnic minorities and Burmese students. The International Rescue Committee administers health care, food and supplies to about 112,000 Burmese refugees.