Goalkeeper This is Ben Hammond. Cyclist Son Community Organiser Dancer Brother Teacher Former migrant
The Case of Ben Hammond I grew up in a place called Milton Keynes, about an hour outside of London (though it felt like miles and miles away). I really enjoyed my childhood… I loved playing football and cycling about wherever I went. Life in the U.K. I got to travel around the country because I had a big extended family, and my dad’s job meant sometimes we got to go overseas on holidays, like to France and the USA (my best holiday ever). So I was kind of a migrant from a young age….
The Case of Ben Hammond I moved from Milton Keynes to a small town near Bath in the west of England when I was 13. I was heartbroken to leave, but soon began a new school and made new friends… Life in the U.K. At my new school, St Laurence, there were lots of opportunities to travel… I could have even gone to India! I ended up doing the French exchange, and when I was in the sixth form in the mid 1990s I went with a team of students to Romania to work in a street children’s home
Burma is a country just east of India and south of China, and it’s run not by a government elected in free and fair elections like the UK. There the country is run by the army , and the army doesn’t get elected. They took power by force. Millions of people live in Burma and are trapped, forced to co-operate with the army’s way of doing things because they’ve got guns.
The Case of Ben Hammond The Push/The Pull Gradually I came to do talks about Burma to local schools in Norwich. I even met some refugees from the country, who had come to the UK in fear of their lives (in 1988 thousands of people were killed when they tried to protest against the Burmese army).
I moved all over the country to go to University. First I travelled right up to Durham in the north of England, to study Sports Science (I was into sport in a big way)
There I met people from all over the world. And one person I met told me about a country called Burma ...
The Case of Ben Hammond The Push/The Pull
Next it was off to Norwich to the University of East Anglia, to study Development Studies . Ever since I was young I had an interest in trying to use all the privileges I had to help people who by luck were born into less fortunate circumstances.
One refugee, who had become my friend, arranged for me to travel to Thailand, where there were many many refugees like him who had escaped the country but were trapped in refugee camps there. I would spend a year on the border helping to teach English to teachers.
I didn’t go with a charity or anything like that. I was given some names and phone numbers of people to call once I got to Thailand. I crossed my fingers it would all be alright.
The longest I had ever been out of the UK before that was two months. I was going for five times that, and was apprehensive. I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for.
I landed in Thailand and the HEAT hit me first. It was thick and stifling and tooooo much! I negotiated my way to the local airport to fly me up to Chaing Mai and my first contact.
I flew by Thai airways to Chiang Mai, and stepped out to northern Thailand to be greeted by Min Min Oo, my Burmese contact, who was living secretly in Thailand. He told me and my MASSIVE backpack to get on his scooter… and we were off on a thrill ride through the bustling streets.
Seconds later we’d been stopped by a Thai traffic cop, who confiscated my passport (I’d stupidly offered it to him after he pulled over). My host had to pay a month’s wages to get it back – a bribe because the cop knew Min Min was an ‘illegal’. I realised I was operating under different rules here, and was totally naïve about the situation Burmese refugees faced in the country.
The next day I continued on to my destination, on a rickety minibus through the jungle to Mae Sariang. A week later, once my papers were in order, I was bouncing for 4 hours through the jungle at 4am, on my way to a refugee camp hidden in the forest. I was on my own and felt it. I was scared.
Life in the refugee camp was amazing. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. People were everywhere. There was no such thing as privacy. We all slept on the floor. We ate twice a day – ‘refugee rice’ (the poorest quality) and yellow split peas. I lost two and a half stone, and started eating meat to stop the weight loss (I’d been a vegetarian since I was 16).
Life was dangerous. People didn’t give you automatic respect just because you looked different. It meant I stuck out – yes – but that meant I had to hide away, away from the Thai authorities sometimes who couldn’t know I was in the camp. It was ironic – I was in this place of beauty but I had to stay within my ‘section’, about 500 metres square. During a lesson once I had to duck onto the floor as the Thai soldiers walked past, so I wasn’t discovered. The heat was incredible, the refugees – my friends – were warm, friendly and fun-loving. In the dry season there were fires everywhere, with just dust to put them out. In the rainy season, floods washed the bamboo houses down the mountains.
I missed home massively, especially at Christmas… but had the best year of my life that year. What made it different, and heartbreaking, was that I knew I could leave at any moment . The 30,000 people I shared a home with in that camp couldn’t.
I returned back to the UK in Summer 2005. I became a teacher after that. I taught my students about the situation in Burma and how its people are suffering but struggling on. Everyone should know what’s happening. In the twenty-first century it’s not right.
The Case of Ben Hammond The Resolution? My plane home My friends, refugees