New Documentary Highlights Plight of Burmese Migrant Children

By Mary Phinney 6 October 2014

“All You Need is Love,” a documentary from second-time Scottish director Stuart Cameron, offers a look into the lives of Burmese migrant children at the Good Morning School in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. Narrated by Sigourney Weaver, the film’s focus on the plight of Burmese migrants is especially timely, as many NGOs increasingly shift their activities inside Burma, leaving refugees and migrants with fewer resources as donor funds dry up.

It’s a sweet and beautifully shot film that gently introduces the viewer to life on the border, one bright-eyed, adorable student at a time. These are children who take care of and support each other; who learn to get themselves to school before most Western children can put their own shoes on. They laugh and play, but also speak casually of human trafficking and regard unfamiliar vehicles warily while walking to the corner store for sweets. They rise early to study before school and help their parents in the fields when they return home. They dream of a future in which they are doctors, fashion designers, engineers, football players. No one takes education for granted, as they’ve seen their friends forced to drop out of school to work in factories, fields, and brothels.

The film is also a story of mothers—the strong women who dedicate their lives to supporting these children. We meet Paw Ray, a humble Karen schoolteacher who took it upon herself to educate migrant children and now oversees a network of more than 50 schools; Magsaysay Award winner Dr. Cynthia Maung of the Mae Tao clinic, who helps illuminate Burmese migrants’ lack of access to state services such as health care; and Erin Terzieff, a Los Angeles-based schoolteacher who has found her life’s passion in nurturing and protecting the children of Good Morning School. There’s also Oma, the school cook, who feeds more than 120 students (the figure has grown to 300 since the time of filming) each day while struggling to provide food for her own 10 children.

The film endeavors to take the viewer on a “journey toward a greater understanding of the human spirit,” but it tends to get caught up in the charitable spirit of the Western entities that bestow the school with a new building, pigs and supplies. It warms the heart to see the children receiving these gifts with excitement, appreciation and responsibility, but the show of Western heroism shifts the focus from the children themselves and how they make the best of their situation in the absence of these amenities. The thesis invoked in the documentary’s title is at times lost in scenes that instead seem to suggest that “All you need is love … and also, this proper school building donated by Americans.”

In many ways, however, this is true. A great deal of Burma’s untapped potential lies in the talent and ambition of marginalized children like those of Good Morning School. They need international aid to secure basic human rights and the future they deserve. Hopefully, this film will help.

“All You Need is Love” premieres Oct. 31 in select theaters in the United States.