Former refugee pens memoir to raise money for a school

Former refugee pens memoir to raise money for a school
Mr Saephan's book, Stateless: Diary Of A Spirited Boy At Napho Camp, was compiled from diary entries he started writing in 2005 while studying for the O-level exams.

SINGAPORE - For the first seven years of Sanva Saephan's life, he bathed in a river and read at night under light powered by makeshift generators.

He also slept on bamboo mats and ate food rations given by the United Nations.

But today, the Laotian's life is considerably different - 33 years after his parents, fearing persecution by the communist government that had come into power, fled across the Mekong River into Thailand.

Between 1987 and 1994, he lived with his parents and siblings in two refugee camps in north-eastern Thailand, before they were repatriated home under a pact between the Laos and Thai governments.

His family is still in Laos but the 26-year-old moved here on an ASEAN scholarship in 2003, studying at Xinmin Secondary School and then Meridian Junior College.

He joined Credit Suisse bank as an operations analyst after graduating from the Singapore Management University last year.

Mr Saephan, who has applied for permanent residency here and calls Singapore his "second home", wants his countrymen to have the same shot at a better life as he did.

He has written a memoir to raise money to build a school in the village of Ban Nam Tong in north-western Laos, about 45 minutes' drive from his family home in Ban Bokeo village. It will cost US$45,000 (S$57,000) to build the school.

"I have been given a lot, including the chance to study here and meet the people who have helped me become who I am today," he says. "It is time to pass forward what I have received."

Called Stateless: Diary Of A Spirited Boy At Napho Camp, the 219-page book chronicles his time at the Ban Napho camp. It was compiled over four months this year from diary entries he started writing in 2005 while preparing for his O-level examinations.

"When people hear the word 'refugee', they often associate it with hardship," says Mr Saephan."But life was so much fun then. We lived day to day and enjoyed whatever we had."

He recalls hide-and-seek games with friends and storytelling sessions with the older refugees.

Every meal was eaten together, and everyone knew everyone else, though he has lost touch with the 400 other refugees at Ban Napho camp.

"There was no comparison at the time and we did not know about the outside world. So we were content with whatever we had," Mr Saephan adds. "The experiences taught me to be resilient, independent and caring. They also made me appreciate and treasure life more."

About 1,200 copies of the book have been pre-sold, raising $18,000. It will officially be launched on Tuesday. Costing $15, it can be bought directly from him, or at selected bookstores.

"I have managed to put a history that has hardly been talked about into a little story of my own and learnt more about myself in the process," says Mr Saephan.

"Without education, I would not have come this far. Hopefully the new school can give children back home the same opportunities."

For more information on the book, e-mail statelessdiary@gmail.com

pohian@sph.com.sg


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