An Australian educator involved in establishing schools for Karen refugees in Thailand has received one of her nation’s top honors for public service. Helen Hall, a Seventh-day Adventist working in northwestern Thailand, has been named a recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia, the Australian government announced on Jan. 26. She is believed to be the first Adventist to receive the medal.
Hall, founder and volunteer principal of Eden Valley Academy, is being recognized “for service to international relations, particularly in the establishment of educational facilities in Thailand,” according to an Australian government announcement. Since 1975 more than 14,000 Australians have been recognized for their service to Australia or to humanity.
“I think it’s lovely,” Hall told Adventist News Network in a telephone interview from Mae Sot, Tak, Thailand, where the Eden Valley Academy is located. “I hope it makes it easier for us to raise funds” for the school, which is supported by donations.
The third of a million Karen people are tribal and live in the foothills of the Dauna mountain range in Northwest Thailand along a border shared with Burma—known today as Myanmar. As Burmese refugees, the Thai government keeps them confined to refugee camps. For many years the government’s policy has restricted education for the Karen to primary level.
After only a couple of years in Thailand, Hall founded Eden Valley Academy, a school of her own, which soon extended to higher levels. Several graduates have gone on to education in other schools, including Adventist-owned Mission College, with most returning to help their people.
“I came for one year 25 years ago, and it just sort of grew when they asked me to run a school,” Hall explained when asked about her involvement. “We have a very fine Karen pastor who helps me. He gets on very well with the kids.
“It’s the kids and the needs of the people” that keep her working in Thaliand,” said Hall. She noted that she was “drawn” by the resilience of the Karen people, who have endured much over the past three decades. Cross-border fighting, disease and other complications have plagued these people. Hall noted that the school needs a new roof, and that “when it rains, we all go home for the day,” because conditions are so difficult.
During the summer months, when it is too hot for classes, the entire school is dismantled and put in storage against theft or destruction. According to a report by the Association of Adventist Women, “Hall has built schools a total of eight times. The original school has been burned down twice and dismantled and moved several times.”
Hall told ANN that more than 1,500 students from the school have been baptized as Seventh-day Adventist Christians. The Karen people respond to the Gospel message, Hall said, because of an ancient tribal legend in which the people are told to eat a “golden book” that is sent to them; when missionaries came with the Bible, they accepted it readily.