Peace Cranes

I have always admired the Japanese tradition of origami – those teeny tiny pieces of paper folded to create beautiful birds, flowers and animals are awe inspiring – but I have never managed to successfully fold anything more intricate than an envelope. That all changed however, when I decided that Freedom House should be the place for an original origami design – paper crane earrings.

Paper cranes represent peace and freedom, especially for children. They are a symbol of the children’s peace movement and are folded as a wish for peace. Anybody from any background, living conditions or education background can fold paper cranes – they are fun, easy and can be made from any sort of paper. Many children all over the world have folded paper cranes to represent their voice and desire for freedom.

The peace crane movement began in Japan after the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. A young girl, Sadako Sasaki, was 2 years old at the time of the bombing and was only one mile from the spot where the bomb landed. As a result of her exposure to the a-bomb she developed and died from leukemia. Before she died she attempted to fold 1000 paper cranes, believing that the gods would grant her wish to get well if she did so.

Since the story of Sadako became known, a campaign to build a memorial for all the children killed by the atomic bomb started and eventually a memorial was built in Hiroshima. Every year, children all over the world fold peace cranes and send them to the monument to represent their voice for peace and freedom.

The symbol of the peace crane – for freedom and peace – is something that all the students of Freedom House wish for. Each crane is folded with a wish for something they desire, and to fashion these wishes into an earring that will be worn from Thailand to Toronto means that their dreams and desires and wishes will spread all over the world.

The earrings Freedom House students and volunteers make are fashioned from recycled paper and each crane is unique. They are available to purchase from the Free Bird Cafe shop and come in two sizes – 20baht for small and 29baht for long earrings. Students are already thinking up new designs they want to make into jewellery that we will keep you all updated on!


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Shan New Year Celebration

Shan New Year was celebrated Nov. 17 this year.  It is on a lunar calendar and is now the year 2104.  So this year at Thai Freedom House we got to celebrate 5 New Year Days!  The traditional Western Jan. 1, then the Chinese New Year, Thai New Year and finally the Shan New Year; they know how to party in Asia! 

Our Shan New Year party was organized by our new assistant director; Nang Yomt One.  She informed us of all the traditional foods that needed to be served and organized some song and dance for the students to perform.  All of the students families were invited to come and a lot of them were able to.  We had a great afternoon and evening of Shan culture appreciation.  A lot of the students commented that it was nice to have a place to celebrate like a family since normally they would be celebrating with their whole village and extended family.  I am glad that we got to share this together as our own Freedom House Family.

A student looking at our Shan culture display.
Some of the students and family members in front of Thai Freedom House
Singing some Shan traditional songs.
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Krissy's Thai Travelogue!

After a long flight from Germany to Thailand, I finally arrived in Chiang Mai on the 5th of September, excited but nervous at the same time. I did not know what to expect, how the work would be in such a different country and how the students would behave, so I entered Freedom House on a Monday with mixed feelings and was surprised when Lisa, the director, came around the corner, with a big, friendly smile on her face! My first day at Freedom House was pretty much a day of orientation. Lisa tried to tell me and Rachel, another volunteer from California, all of the problems of the Shan State and the issues children and adults have to face there everyday.
A lot of this was completely new for me. I knew that Burma had a lot of social issues and that a lot of cruelty was going on there, but to hear that kids at the age of 12 finish school and the boys become soldiers, was really something I had never heard before. Furthermore, Lisa tried to tell us more about the students and their stories. It was really interesting to hear about all that, but it is a totally different experience when the kids and young adults finally arrive for class and you get to know them by yourself!
The younger kids are really energetic and behave like kids do, I really could not believe that they actually have a hard time living here. It was fun to watch them while they were playing and observe the English class for the first time. The young adults seemed to be a little bit shy at first, but also seemed really curious about learning English. After my first day I was pretty tired, but excited to think about working there for the next 3 months!
The first week was surprisingly long, but really good. Lisa told me about the fundraiser on the 26th of September and so for the last weeks Madz, a volunteer from Australia, Lisa and I prepared a lot of things for the event. I learned to fold little origami cranes (I’m still practicing!) and how to make earrings with them (I loved doing earrings!). I also made paper bags for selling nuts at the event and besides all this I learned how to prepare a class and got used to all the teaching materials at the school.
The first days I was pretty busy with the fundraiser and with helping to prepare English classes for the kids, but soon I was asked to teach the lower class young adults…
I started to talk to John, one of the English teachers, who is teaching the higher class adults and he explained to me what was important to keep in mind. So I started to plan everything for my class on Monday. I never taught before, so I was quite excited to see how it would go. My first lesson was good and I liked teaching a lot. The next weeks, I planned new activities for them and teaching got easier and easier with each lesson.
Even with teaching, I was even more excited to see how the fundraiser would be, as the date came closer and closer. We all prepared the last things for the fundraiser, for example some more masks (because the fundraiser was all about masks and what you connect with it).
By the time we did the last steps for Saturday evening, I got to know a lot of people. The whole time that I’ve been working at Freedom House, I’ve met a lot of people, from all over the world and all are very open and fun. Finally, Saturday came and Lisa, me and some other volunteers who offered their help went to the Jazz Club to set everything up and prepare the exhibition for the night.
The Fundraiser was a great success and it was so much fun. We sold a lot of earrings and masks, which the kids made. The live music was great and a lot of people showed up. Now, I cannot wait for the next fundraiser and while I am waiting I still enjoy preparing the classes, teaching and also enjoy the art classes on Friday and different workshops such as Yoga or learning how to paint landscapes.
Furthermore I really recommend the Free Bird Café. Some people might think that I can have every food and drink for free, because I am a volunteer, but I have to pay for it and I am totally fine with it, because as a non for profit school we really make sure that the donations are used carefully and all sales from the Cafe go to support the school. But anyway, I really love the food there (they have organic food!) and all the smoothies (my favorite one is “black and white”).
I am so happy I came to Chaing Mai, Thailand and absolutely love the decision I made to work here! It is really a great place to be and apart from work also a lot of fun! I will see how the next weeks are going…

See you
Lisa and I at the fundraiser event.

Xoxox Krissy

Posted in Teaching, Thailand, Volunteer Story, Volunteering | 2 Comments

My volunteer experience at Thai Freedom House

I knew from the first day that I arrived at Freedom House that 3 weeks would not be enough for me. The feeling in that space is amazing both during the day within the Café and at night in the school. On the first night I didn’t know what to expect when the children arrived, I was greeted with Sawadee Ka (Thai for hello) from the cutest bunch of kids. I was extremely surprised at the way the children where presented as I had seen footage of the construction camps and slums within which most of them lived. The students where neatly dressed and the girls had the prettiest braids in their hair. The students take great pride in presenting themselves for class. But it was the big smiles across their faces that amazed me the most.
Now my time has come to an end and looking back, I have experienced and learnt a lot within the past 3 weeks from the Director Lisa, Nong (who works in the café) and all the students at Freedom House. I was lucky enough to spend a day out of Freedom House with Nong. We went to the Zoo which was amazing just to watch how excited she was by the trip. We then went and had lunch at Nimmenhamen (an upscale part of the city) and then to Iberry for desert. This was Nong’s first time in this area of town and we had the most wonderful day. To be able to experience some simple pleasures with her was fantastic. I am now sure that I want to come back to Freedom House for a longer period of time and that way I can bring my son back to share in the experience.
The work that Lisa is doing within the school is amazing and inspirational. Her energy for life oozes out of her and the moment the students walk into the school you can see that they feel loved and cared for. Freedom House is an amazing place and a great learning experience. If you have the time and any experience to share, I highly recommend volunteering.

Here is a photo on me (on the right) having lunch with some other volunteers at Free Bird Cafe.

Posted in Chiang Mai, Community Center, Education, Free Bird Cafe, Shan Culture, Thailand, Volunteering for Thai Freedom House | Leave a comment

Watershed: Burma News Update

Two weekends ago, after class on Thursday night at Freedom House, I boarded an overnight bus to Bangkok for the weekend (screening Rocky, dubbed in Thai). When I returned to the street of the guesthouse I was staying at on Saturday, there was a cluster of people clogging traffic that turned out to be a momentary audience for student demonstrators for a Free Burma group. It was the 21st anniversary of the 8.8.88 uprising – the height of the days of protests in Burma (August 8, 1988) and the launch of a massive strike. The uprising swelled across Burmese land into the ethnic minority states, with university students leading the charge, joined by monks, teachers, children, professionals, farmers, government workers, and even some military personnel. It was the beginning of a persistent struggle for democracy that spans longer than my own life, punctuated only by occasional eruptions of dissent from under the military’s blanket of suppression and seasoned with the death, disappearance, or imprisonment of thousands of activists, brothers, friends, wives. The students I saw in Bangkok were Thai, but demonstrating in a tourist-infested area with English signs that quotes from democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi that implored: “Please use your liberty to promote ours”.

It has been 19 years since her party – the National League for Democracy – won in a democratic election and the military junta placed her under house arrest. Tuesday, August 11, 2009, the new court decision was made: Aung San is to be under house arrest for another 18 months, a tidily convenient period to keep her out of the 2010 election the junta is planning. Until then, when the winds may change with whatever events and outcomes emerge from the gathering storm clouds of that election, we might expect to continue receiving truckloads of new refugees turned migrant workers and prostitutes, bartered on the streets of Bangkok.

You can join the international outcry against the sentence and for her release with action messages from sites like Amnesty International:
Posted in Burma News, Democracy, Thailand | Leave a comment

Thai Mother's Day 2009

In Thailand Mother’s Day is celebrated on the current Queen’s Birthday, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, August 12.  Since Thai culture and tradition is part of the curriculum at Thai Freedom House and the kids really never get to show their appreciation to their mothers for all of their hard work, we decided to have a party.  Part of our mission at Thai Freedom House is to make sure that our students families are stable and have some time to relax together and enjoy each other in their hectic lives, sometimes we take a trip to a waterfall or park or have an event such as this at the school.
We started with a monoprint making workshop so the kids could make some original and beautiful cards for their mothers.  Then the students painted small planters and planted flowers for their mothers and we arranged an evening of snacks, a movie called “Burmese Eyes,” filmed in Burma by a local ex-pat Marco Monti and performances by the kids.  This gave a chance for the parents to share their memories of life in Burma with their children by responding to the video and images of current Burma. 
The mothers who could attend were moved to tears when their children presented the cards and homemade gifts to them.  I was also in tears when I received some mothers day cards myself from the students.  It was a very sweet evening and all of the students, families and volunteers enjoyed themselves.

 submitted by Thai Freedom House Director:  Lisa Nesser

Posted in Chiang Mai, Community Center, ESL education, Free Bird Cafe, Shan Culture, Thailand, Volunteering, Volunteering for Thai Freedom House | Leave a comment

Review: Burma VJ

If you haven’t heard about Burma VJ yet – start now! This new documentary film has been gaining increasing recognition at film festivals, in newspapers, and in word on the street.

Composed of hours of footage from small handycams captured by young guerilla journalists in Burma, the documentary offers one of the few close looks inside the totalitarian state of a military junta that’s not exactly the poster child for the freedom of the press. The identity of these reporters is undisclosed, for the security of their lives outside of bars, but we follow “Joshua”, one of the leaders of young journalists as his hopes and concerns are conveyed through the piecemeal footage edited together by film director Anders Ostergaard. Though the journalists started filming in August of 2007, the groups’ activities took on critical importance as their pocket cameras began capturing shaky shots of the protests and events surrounding the September 2007 “Saffron Revolution,” when the political discontent boiled over with monks marching in the streets and foreign journalists expelled from the country.
First released in May of 2009, the Burma VJ film has since seen limited release in major cities in the United States and Europe and has garnered several awards at film festivals, from the “World Cinema Documentary Editing Award” at Sundance Film Festival to the “Movies That Matter Award” from the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival. From reviews in major newspapers to Twitter streams, it has started to gain broader attention and stimulate discussion about a brutal situation that can often fall out of the horizon of the news and popular concerns.
The beauty of the film’s approach is that the footage and narrative has been generated by the citizens of Burma themselves, allowing even those who have never been to Southeast Asia or read about Burma to begin to understand the situations in which they live from the perspective that citizens experience it – their fears, hopes, sights, and sounds. Not only does this have the potential to impact those in countries much further away, but we might hope that it could even influence the perspective of that Thai people in our community here that negatively view those fleeing from the repression of the brutal regime without awareness of the situation they are coming from.
Though it’s not available for sale as a DVD yet, we here at Freedom House will be eagerly awaiting its release, and we hope you’ll look out for it as well, and look for opportunities to share it with others, through a showing at your university, gathering with friends, event with your religious organization – seeking ways to continue the conversation and deepen understanding across borders.
You can visit their official website at, and sign up for notification of the film release on Amazon (

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Guest Blogger Dennis Guikema : Interview with our Director!

I stumbled across the Thai Freedom House when on a short walk only a few blocks from my guesthouse in Chiang Mai. I was drawn in by a small chalkboard that both touted their mission of serving refugee and indigenous communities as well as advertised the small café that helps to fund the program. I met Lisa Nesser, the founder and director, as well as two long term volunteers, Moon Hong, from Seoul Korea, and Katie Shultz, from Birmingham, Alabama. I returned on July 29, 2009 to talk with Lisa more in depth about the Thai Freedom House as well as her personal experience as a leader in Thailand.

{ Founder & Director Lisa Nesser }

Lisa has a rich and fascinating history of working with refugee communities, starting in her home of Saint Louis, Missouri, where she worked with a Bosnian community that moved into the neighborhood where her family had owned a store for over 100 years. Later she traveled to India where she volunteered with Tibetan refugees. Lisa enjoys facilitating connection for refugee communities to their culture in a new place as well as to building bridges and connections between communities.

Lisa came to Thailand about six years ago to work with refugees, first in an orphanage on the Burmese boarder, then with teacher training. (She has a degree in education and was an elementary school teacher in the United States.) She moved to Chiang Mai and continued to do this work. In talking with kids selling flowers and trinkets to tourists, she began to build connections. She started teaching English informally. Soon kids were waiting at her home for her when she returned. They began to bring siblings, then families, then they began inviting Lisa into their homes. Eventually Lisa started scheduling classes, hired a Thai language teacher, and did community outreach to help supply basic needs, identified by the community, such as mosquito netting and water filtration. Two and a half years ago, a year after she started doing this work out of her own home, she started Thai Freedom House in its own location, moving to the current space four months ago.
Currently, most of the youth and families served are from the Shan minority of Burma. The Shan have fled extreme oppression and poverty. While some are registered as “refugees” by the United Nations and have basic rights in Thailand, most are not. These children are not able to access any education, and their families are not offered even the most basic social services. Life for these kids is hard. One 14 year old boy, for example, who comes to Thai Freedom House most evenings, works in a noodle shop from 3:00 AM to 5:00 PM each day for a pitiful pay. He is new to Chiang Mai from Burma and does not speak Thai.

The Thai Freedom House serves people from 5 to 27 years of age. There are about 25 kids registered at any given time. Classes are offered Monday through Friday from 6:00 to 8:00 PM: two nights of Thai instruction, two nights of English instruction, and one night of arts or music workshop.

As one can imagine, there are many challenges that Lisa faces in this work. One is financial. She started the Thai Freedom House with no outside support, working a job during the day to provide the service at night. She now receives small donations from a number of patrons and has both foreign and Thai volunteers helping. Still, with no large foundations or private donors behind her, she still funds some of her work with her own credit card. Other challenges include confronting the misconceptions and stereotypes about refugees in Thailand (similar to negative attitudes toward immigrants in the United States and many other countries.) “The Thai press does a great job of keeping people in the dark about why the refugees are here,” she points out. As a result there is a lack of sympathy and understanding between communities. “It is a lot easier, then, to ostracize than understand,” Lisa observes. For this reason, she was very cautious when she started Thai Freedom House, waiting for it to be well established before making a visible presence in the larger community. An additional challenge Lisa faces is common in any aid work: burnout.

As I have seen from my own observations, both in the Thailand for School Leaders program and in my own visits to schools in Thailand and Laos, there is an enormous inequity in quality of education a child might recieve. Lisa cast more insight onto this. While Thailand claims to offer all citizens an education, many receive an education that is substandard, others in more rural villages have no access, and those who are undocumented refugees can not attend. Of the 25 youth who attend Thai Freedom House, fewer than five are attending school, and the five who do attend “temple school.” Lisa described many challenges presented at these schools. The teachers are mostly new and inexperienced, often without a connection to the population they serve. Most instruction is from a television, which is broadcast from Bangkok. One teacher will monitor three classes. Kids have no opportunity to ask questions or get personal attention.

As a school leader, myself, I was curious to know more about Lisa’s leadership style. When I asked her to describe her style, she said, “I’m changing that”. Lisa wants to move from the current situation of being “the face of the program” and the person responsible for every aspect, from instruction to management, to investing others with more responsibility. This shift is slowly happening and is evident in the curriculum and volunteer handbooks that were completed by Moon Hong, a volunteer from Korea. “I want to see that the school can run without me,” says Lisa. “The goal is to give this over to paid local staff. But I need to be a strong example first.”

I appreciate Lisa and her volunteers for the time they generously shared, and have a deep respect for the transformative work they do. I intend to “give back” by hosting a dinner party when I return home, showing off my pictures and new found Thai cooking skills. At the dinner, guests will have the opportunity to donate to the Thai Freedom House.

This interview was graciously provided to us from Dennis Guikema who is currently working as Assistant Principal at Urban Promise Academy in Oakland Unified School District.

You find out more about the Thai Freedom Hou

se at

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How to start your internship in a ‘spiritual’ way

-Pick your chores checklist
-Take a good look at what you’ve got: with paper in hand, consider the tasks you’ve written on your chores checklist so far. –
-What supplies are needed to complete this task? Will double the amount of supplies be needed to be most efficient?, etc.
-Consider the details
-One more thing… Aim for improvement, not perfection. Look at your household chore checklist because your home is in a disastrous mode right now. … it’s measurable and tangible and gets everyone more excited about the whole process of doing house chores.
from <Household Chores Checklist- It’s Not Magic!>

Read the list above. This is the main reason why I’ve never read self-help books. As far as I concerned, self-help books tend to lower self-esteem and make you feel bad about yourself: not doing chores “efficiently”, for instance. To be honest with you, I’ve never spent ‘enough’ time for doing for house chores in the past. If I could I came up with a dozen of excuses why I can’t do the chores right now: I’m busy with work, studies and volunteering. Don’t forget that I have a lot of important people to catch up with as well as important social gatherings to attend!

For a change I’d decided to listen to the wisdom from the world of self-help. I thought it’d be a good way of remarking a healthy and balanced life in Thailand. So as soon as I arrived in Freedom House, I started my internship from the most difficult personal task: cleaning. The Teacher’s room was filled with files, paper, art supplies, cooking utensils. During the first few days at Freedom House I threw myself into the dust.

-First of all, take a good look at what we don’t want to have. I threw away all the junk into the garage.
-Second, sort out things based on the types of items they are.
-Third, focus on cleaning big furniture first in order to create space for storage.
-Fourth, buy a pretty bookshelf. It is sky-blue ( Pink would have been too much).
-Fifth, it was time for the details. Sit down and go over all the materials, piles of hand-outs for English and art classes. -Sixth, place them into files and folders based on topics and levels.
-Last, aim for improvement, not perfection.

Cleaning is probably one of the most visibly satisfying jobs I’ve done at Freedom House. When you’re not sure where the best place to start doing things on the first day of volunteering, starting with a big cleaning and organizing day is ‘measurable’ and ‘tangible’ ways to start your internship. When you’re done, take a good photo of the room and your excessively sweaty back.

It is a definite possibility that cleaning marked a good start for my healthy, balanced and spiritual life that was so hard to achieve back home. If there are any people out there who are a bit obsessive-compulsive about cleaning, organizing and sorting things out, volunteering at Freedom House can be a great place to release your inner desire for chores.

warm regards,

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Volunteering during the rainy season!

When stepping into Freedom House you cannot help but sense you are in a supportive and caring environment. That is certainly what I felt when I first stepped through this Thai style house, nestled within a cozy part of Chiang Mai’s inner moat area. The house itself has a community spirit, with every inch of the building covered in a piece of artwork created by a Freedom House child.
After much hard work and innovation, Lisa Nesser has managed to transform a once old and lifeless building into a creative art space for children to learn and escape harsh realities for a brief moment. Freedom House has an open door policy and as a volunteer you are overwhelmed by the warmth and friendliness of both Lisa and her employee Nong, who is also a student of the school and extremely keen to learn English.
Spending several weeks at the House gave insight into the operations of a small non-government

organisation (NGO) providing underprivileged minority children, a majority of whom have fled Burma with their parents, an education. A basic human right they are not afforded due to Thai laws and policy on the immigration status of these children.
Several of my own perceptions have been quashed for sure and when undertaking a variety of tasks, I am reminded of the mammoth task it must take one women to keep such a project running. Especially a project which so many families and children within the community are dependent on for basic education.

I have been lucky enough to see the beginnings of the recently established Freedom House Café , Free Bird Cafe that is based on the grounds. A quirky and neat little business run from the house by Lisa and the students, which helps provide some income for the organization, allowing it to be more sustainable.
I have been lucky enough
To try Lisa’s homemade cookies and hummus, as part of her trial run before she finalizes the café food menu, (which I may add is all vegetarian) was a delight. There were certainly no complaints from being the taste testing guinea pig.
Above all, the lasting memory that will stay with me from the entire experience will of course be the children. Amongst the many interesting things I have been doing for the school, I have especially enjoyed teaching English to the kids and young adults, who everyday show me affection and an enduring spirit of hope, despite their uncertain fate ahead.
The children’s lessons were always interesting and certainly kept me busy; devising lesson plans for classes which included the crafting of windmills, learning parts of the human body, shapes and colours as well as the creation of a Shan folk story book (with the view of being published).
Leaving Chiang Mai after spending almost a month in this eclectic city, I am revelling in the fact that an exceptional lady is caring for the children, and I have learnt so much and will miss the friendships I have made. This is an experience I would truly recommend to anyone interested in volunteering in this area of South East Asia.
Thank you, Sofia
Posted in Chiang Mai, Community Center, ESL education, Free Bird Cafe, Thailand, Volunteering for Thai Freedom House | 2 Comments
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