350 km northwest of Bangkok and only a few kilometers from the Burmese border lies Huay Malai, a small idyllic, remote village mainly inhabited by various ethnic groups such as Karens and Mons, but also Thais.
For many decades, the ongoing problems in Burma have forced people to seek refuge here on the Thai side, but also to find work. Over time, many of these refugees have either been placed in refugee camps or even deported back to Burma.
In 1992, the "Hua Malai Safe House" was founded by TBBC (Thailand Burma Border Consortium) to provide mainly elderly refugees with health problems with basic necessities such as food, shelter, hygiene items but also simple medical care. Many of these refugees have mental problems, some do not even know anymore where they come from.
Paw Lu Lu, the current director and a Karen who fled to Thailand after the student riots in Yangon in 1988 and after a long odyssey via refugee camps first came to Mae Sot and then to Sangkhlaburi, opened here a small store where she also sold medicines. Because she had training in nursing, many local residents came to her for help. Through her own history, she also knew the problems of her fellow Burmese.
Meanwhile recognized as a refugee in Thailand, she was asked by TBBC in 1993 to take over the management of the "Safe House". At the time she accepted, almost nothing was available. Paw Lu Lu even brought her own pans and utensils from her household, until some relief organizations working in the area also actively helped.
Soon after its foundation, there were problems with the local population in Huay Malai. Because many HIV-infected people were also cared for in the "Safe House", they demanded the closure of the project. They believed that the wastewater from the house could become dangerous for them.
With the help of a doctor in the nearby hospital who educated the population and with the certainty that HIV patients are not cared for in the "safe house" but in the hospital itself, the problem was finally solved.
Nowadays, however, the "Safe House" is widely accepted by the people of Huay Malai and some locals even help out with food donations.
At the moment there are about 60 people living in the "Safe House" from different ethnic groups like Karens, Mons, Arakans, Shans, but also from Cambodia and Malaysia. Many of them have physical disabilities, but others have mental problems like depression, schizophrenia or epilepsy. Some of these patients also have their children with them. These children are also taken care of with education as far as it is possible.
The actual goal of "Safe House", however, is to help most people in such a way that one day they will be able to live again without help. Over 1600 have been cared for since "Safe House" was founded, and many have been able to lead independent lives again after some time. Patients who have recovered in health but have nowhere to live because they are paperless, however, continue to live at "Safe House".
Because many residents have psychological problems, Paw Lu Lu has provided a variety of activities. In the village of Huay Malai, where weaving is a tradition, she found some people who taught the patients how to weave. Today, the "Safe House" has its own weaving workshop where the residents enjoy working. The produced articles are sold in the own store.
Paw Lu Lu: "One of our residents, who is a paraplegic due to an accident, saw no more meaning in life and wanted to die. We encouraged him to learn weaving. Today, he enjoys working and is a very happy person."
The "Safe House" is located on the outskirts of the village Huay Malai and is housed in old, partly dilapidated buildings. Kitchen, sanitary facilities and the sleeping rooms are very simple. Many things are missing, urgently needed repairs to the facility could not always be carried out due to lack of money.
In 2013, the whole project has to be relocated because the landowner wants to use part of his land himself. Fortunately, a piece of land could be bought nearby. The goal now is to construct buildings for the accommodation of the residents as well as kitchen and recreation rooms on the new land in the shortest possible time. Of course, a new building must also be built for the weaving workshop. Fortunately, the new land is located near a stream, and so the water supply is already better than at the current location.
Community life takes place in and around the main building. The residents are delighted by every visit. Sometimes children from children's home projects in Sangkhlaburi, 20 km away, come and perform theater and yoga or sing for the residents. This is always a very special surprise for the elderly residents.
> Interview with Pi Fa, manager of the Safe House