Category Archives: burma/myanmar

Powerful words: From a refugee camp

Judge not...Do read this powerful yet simple true story about brutality, defectors and forgiveness.

The more you understand about the horror of the 60 years of war and the Burma military’s intent on ethnic cleansing the better you will “get” its full power.

Extract to set the scene:

…He fled his battalion because he couldn’t bear to do the things his commanding officer required him to do to innocent villagers. When he arrived at the camp telling his story, nobody would listen to him or believe he was genuine. They wouldn’t give him shelter. They left him in front of the hospital to starve…

See also this post

…that morning one of the orderlies was upset because his father’s village was destroyed by the Burmese Army. His father was the pastor, and the village was burned. Later in the morning a group of Burmese soldiers was brought in, across the border…

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The current situation

KNU soldiers in their front line on Thailand-Burma border. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)

KNU soldiers in their front line on Thailand-Burma border. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)

There is a good short summary of the current situation in this Irrawaddy article: “Kayin State’s Fragile Peace” I seems balanced and careful and is well-documented.

[You may get warnings from your browser that the site is dangerous, however if you ask for the details it appears Google found as many as “0” problems when they visited! As far as I can see the warning is a error.]

An iPad in a refugee camp

Take a teacher with an iPad, her name is Diane, put her in a refugee camp with just three hours electricity per day. Mai La Ooon is out in the forest hours from the town of Mai Sariang in northwest Thailand.

She showed students how to tell their stories, in this case food:

Diane also tells her story. It is also about food as well as iPads 🙂

Videos of the fire

Here are videos of the fire. Still no news of the people…

Karen News reports that a fire has devastated the KKBBSC buildings

Photo of the fire from the Karen News website

A fire has destroyed a bible school and other buildings in Mae La Refugee Camp, 57km north of the Thai town of Mae Sot at 12.30pm today. Camp residents managed to put out the fire after about an hour.

A camp resident whom witnessed the fire explained to Karen News that the fire destroyed several buildings in the Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School and College (KKBBSC) compound located in Zone C.1A of Mae La refugee camp.

“The fire started in the food storage building. Now many buildings including the school, food storage, library, teachers’ houses and other buildings were destroyed by the fire.”

Progress in Burma

Twelve-year-old Myitung Brang Shawng found his mother shot and dumped in a cesspit (Image from the BBC report)

There’s been so much hopeful news from Burma recently, not least the bye-elections, and the talks between the government and various ethnic groups.

And yet this BBC report from Kachin State shows how in many ways and places the army is continuing “business as usual”.

At this time of hope, but uncertainty, Burma needs your hope more than ever. And our governments need wisdom, to nt release sanctions too fast, but yet to encourage the reformers.

Child labour?

The teens and their vege patches

The question of when child labour is a traditional form of community self-help has come up a couple of times for me recently.

The example nearer home came from a friend of ours working on the border in a village that runs dormitories and a school for teens and kids who otherwise would miss out (falling between two countries systems, an ongoing war and just plain remoteness). She writes(with a few identifying details changed)  of a new project at the village, a vege garden:

As I have watched the transformation of scrubland into well ordered farm, a conundrum has arisen in my mind. My Western Social Work self asks if this is a form of abuse and exploitation of a captive youth labour force compelled to do whatever their elders “ask” of them. As one new 18 year old student assertively told the Principal, “I have never had to get out of bed at 5.30 a.m. and have never had to work like this in all my life. I came here to study  so I can go to university”. Then my K’nyaw wah (white Karen) self sees one boy playing guitar and singing alongside of other boys who are splitting bamboo stakes 1, and I see the bwadawar (community) at work and it all seems perfectly normal – a  community that sows together, reaps together, producing nutritious food,  developing new skills and combating the passive donor aid mentality that so permeates the border – just one of many casualties of this 62 year old war.

Please share with me your thoughts – I would appreciate some dialogue on this.

My “take” is simple:

  • if the labour is for the children’s benefit, as in this case since they will eat the results instead of eating a more minimal diet
  • if no one but the children is profiting from the work, as in this case since the food is grown as food not for sale
  • if the children learn and grow themselves – as in this case for growing (even a little of) your own food is rewarding and builds a sense of one’s own worth as well as practicing skills of collaboration and dependability

then it is not child labour but community development.

The first example came up in a discussion on Fair Trade chocolate and the accusations of slavery in the Ivory Coast. David Ker pointed me to a post by a friend of his (a link which I have somehow lost 😦 The friend had spent time working in Ivory Coast and argued that (at least) many of the cases of supposed child labour there were the common African phenomenon of children being sent to live with relatives for their schooling, and while there helping out the family with family work.

On the whole the case he described, which fits with what we knew in Zaire/Congo, is similar to the case above, with the added benefit that the adults involved are relatives, but the complication that it is a cash crop being grown.

(On the general case of Ivory Coast I am not convinced, there are what seem to be well-documented reports from reputable organisations, e.g. the US State Department, that claim regular trafficking of children for work in cocoa plantations.)

What do you think? How would you answer my friend?