Boy Soars as Paper Airplane Champ, But Lives Without a Country

By Dschabner

Sep 20, 2009 7:15pm

ABC News' Margaret Conley reports from Chiba, Japan:

It was a tearful farewell as Mong Thongdee’s family and supporters said goodbye Wednesday at the airport in Bangkok, Thailand.

The 12-year-old national paper plane champion made it to the next level — an international origami airplane competition in Japan.

This morning he warmed up at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba, about 25 miles from central Tokyo.

Each throw appears an acrobatic feat — his arm crossing his body three times as he winds up for release.

For Mong, getting here took more than talent.

He is stateless.  Born to ethnic Shan parents who fled Burma, he has temporary residency in Thailand where he was born.

As is the case with the nearly half a million stateless people in Thailand, to leave the country, means to not return.

“In the real society, we still give the rights to the people based on nationality,” said Lara Tien-Shi Chen of the Stateless Network, who was once stateless herself. “So if you have no nationality being stateless, you have nothing.  You have no rights to access the rights. “

Grounded, Mong’s story made local headlines.

The Thai government, which initially deemed his request to travel "a threat to national security,”  stepped in and granted him a one-time travel document on "legal and humanitarian grounds."

As Mong’s carefully crafted planes take flight, he is surrounded by supporters from multiple countries.

On the sidelines are other stateless people living in Japan, a group holding up a flag representing the Shan people, and others wearing yellow T-shirts to honor the Thai monarchy.

Mong stays focused, breaking a personal record in the exhibition round, his plane soaring in the air for 16.45 seconds. 

He finals in his age group — and of the elementary school champions, he places third.

"I want to tell my family back home that I was able to come in third place,” Mong said, according to The Associated Press.  “I also want to tell that to my friends in school. To the people who made it
possible for me to come to Japan and supported me, I want to say thank you."

“I don’t know if Mong already realizes his situation as being stateless,” said Chen, once a visiting scholar at Harvard University.  “As he becomes adult, there is more and more difficulty, so I wish the government and international society can cooperate to solve this problem.”

Thai officials say Mong’s legal status is unchanged and he remains on a list of people to be repatriated to Burma early next year.

For now, Mong is fulfilling his childhood wish, and paving the way for future dreams.

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