This is the seventh in a series of photos and reflections about the Hmong refugee and resettlement experience, part of a project undertaken by Minors, a St. Paul based nonprofit organization working for the past three decades in support of students at remote mountain schools serving Hmong and other highland ethnic minority children in northern Viet-Nam and Laos.
Prior to that, Minors assisted thousands of Hmong and other refugee children who were orphaned or separated from their families in several refugee camps in Thailand in the 1980-90s, many of whom resettled in Minnesota.
The previous installment in the last issue of The Hmong Times was about one of the basic necessities that refugee camps provided, Shelter.
This installment focuses on the most important aspect of life in the Hmong refugee camps in northern Thailand in the 1980s, and an even more important necessity. Photos here are from Ban Vinai refugee camp, Loei, Thailand. Photos and captions are copyright by Minors.
Photo #1 In the heat of the noon-day sun, residents in Center Two lined up their own and their neighbors’ containers for the long wait at their assigned distribution point.
Photo #2 The patient waiting turned to orderly chaos when the tanks opened, carts had to be maneuvered skillfully once containers were full, to make room for those next in line. These water tanks (above) were provided by the International Rescue Committee, from the U.S.
Photo #3 The water distribution points were social gathering points as well. Usually all went well at the tanks, but now and then conflicts would arise.
Photo #4 Besides the tanks in camp that were filled by pumping from deep wells or brought in by trucks in the dry season, there were hundreds of refugee-built wells with inventive pumping systems throughout the camp. All kinds of containers were used, anything that would hold water.
Photo #5 These buckets and cans were of great value to refugees, and were carefully carried back to their houses, most often two at a time. Center 3.
Photo #6 A young girl multitasking in Center 3.
Photo #7 On the rare occasions a tank would overflow for a few minutes, children would run to catch any spillage and grab a welcome shower, also rare, as here in Center 4.
Photo #8 A girl at the start of a slippery and steep climb to her family’s quarters in Center 1.
Photo #9 It was most commonly the chore of women and girls to carry the water in camp, beginning as soon as they are able. A young girl stopped to rest on a hot afternoon, as she headed home in Center 2.
Photo #10 Men and boys did their share when called upon, especially for big loads uphill, as here in Center 1.
In our interviews for our book projects we have heard the stories of the search for water, from the earliest refugees who arrived as the camp was being built. Water was the most important day to day issue and the most time-consuming chore of camp existence for most families through all the years the camp was in operation.
In a future installment we will look at how carefully water was used, and how exceptionally important it is nowadays in the lives of Hmong children in southeast Asia. Other future installments will include photos and anecdotes from other camps, including Chiang Kham, Nong Khai, Panat Nikhom, and Wat Thamkrabok.
As with all installments, if you see someone you know or who is a family member in any of these photos, kindly let us know, so we may give them their photo, and hopefully hear their story.
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