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.

Reforms and hope in Burma/Myanmar

Partners has a good simple chart of the Good (progress towards freedom and peace) the Bad (things which have not changed or are still worrying) and the Terrible (the continued atrocities and everyday disasters of a poor, run down, police state) in Burma/Myanmar today. The chart provides food for thought and a corrective to the excessive optimism most of us a prone to when there is a glimmer of hope in such a terrible situation.


Read the chart, think and pray about it (please) but also continue to pray for peace and real development, and to give to Partners or others who are working still for those goals…

More good news!

News sources including the Guardian are reporting that among the 600+ prisoners being released by the government in Nappydaw are many prominent political prisoners.

Despite the facts that there are still many political prisoners in jail and despite the laws that put them their being still on the books this is good news. It is another sign of hope after so many years of worsening gloom in Burma.

Pray that the progress may continue.

Cease Fire!

Both AFP and the Irrawaddy are reporting that the KNU have signed a ceasefire with the Nappydaw government. This deal could mark the beginning of an end to the war which has been running for well over 60 years.

Pray that this and other hopeful signs from Burma may indeed mark a new beginning for the troubled country!

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?

Murray McCully refuses to answer the question

I wrote to the Rt Hon Murray McCully (NZ’s foreign minister) back at the very start of March: Double standards? An open letter to Murray McCully. That letter basically suggested that the UN operated a system of double standards:

The United Nations operates a system of double standards. When in North Africa (close to Europe as so “visible”) a military dictator begins attacking civilians the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and Security Council reacted quickly to Colonel Gaddafi’s attacks on Libyan civilians. The Security Council passed a unanimous resolution demanding an end to the attacks, imposed sanctions, and refered Libya to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In Burma ethnic minority civilians have been attacked by the state for decades.

I then mentioned the KNU’s appeal “asking UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take effective action to immediately stop the Burmese regime’s military operations and human rights violations in Karen areas. ” and asked:

Is NZ supporting this appeal? If so how? If not why not?

Mr McCully’s answer only took about 12 weeks to compose and basically says: No, but we do support some humanitarian projects in Burma, and did oppose the unjust imprisonment of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Basically this does not answer the question. So I will reply like this:

Dear Murray,

Further to my letter of 4th March and your reply of 30th May, as I understand your answer it is a firm: No. But you seem also to claim that somehow our support of some humanitarian projects and campaigning for the release of one prominent political prisoner (out of thousands), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, somehow absolves us from complicity in the ongoing abuse (amounting according to many observers to attempted ethnic cleansing)  of the ethnic  minorities by the regime’s armed forces. Can you please explain the logic of this to me. If it was my daughter being raped, or my brother maimed by landmines I doubt I would see NZ’s support for the release of one prisoner as a great support.

Yours faithfully,


Tim Bulkeley