Thursday, October 30, 2008


It is uncomfortable for me to build the context that I am witnessing, so I won’t. It makes more sense to let the voices of the people who live here tell you what they see; the following two stories paint a vivid picture.

We Have To Fight For Our Education

I write this message to you about our Karen “aim.” We need to open our eyes and see the suffering of all the minorities in Burma. We have the right to think about our state, our freedom, and one day we will definitely become the best leaders and save our people from the SPDC. We need to destroy the SPDC with our education.
The Burmese army has had power over our Karen people for many generations. Before the British, Burmese kings came into the Karen state and took over power. A lot of Karen people were killed by the army. I’ll never forget a story I heard from my parents about what happened to our Karen people. They had to dig a pond with their fingernails. At that time a lot of Karen people had died. They had to work for many months and they had no food and no break time. If they stopped working the army would kill them. Went they finished there were very few people left alive.
In the past we had our own state, our own culture, our own language, and our own alphabet, but we did not have freedom to study, read, or write our alphabet. The Burmese army did not want Karen people to have education. When they saw Karen people reading they took their eyes and killed them, when they saw people writing they cut off their hands and killed them.
After the British gave independence to Burma, the Karen people asked for their freedom from the Burmese army but they could not get it. Their life was controlled by the Burmese army so the left their beautiful place, their villages, and they moved from place to place. The never had a happy life because the army followed them from place to place. Then they started the revolution on 31-1-1948. They knew that if they did not revolt the army would continue to kill them until they were finished in Burma. Now they still revolt because the SPDC does not stop taking over power. They don’t only take over power, but the SPDC also has the deepest plan for genocide of the Karen people, to clear up the Karen in Burma. You will see when you open your eyes. Your people are still suffering.
The SPDC wants to split the Karen and they try to do it in many ways, such as religion and business. Because of their deep plan for Karen people, now we are split into three groups. Two are called the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Karen Peace Force. These two groups are against the KNU because they are uneducated and rally foolish. They do not think about breaking down the SPDC. I hope and pray for these two groups to come back with pure hearts and organize themselves together and break down the SPDC.
Now we have the right to study and we get free education. We have the right to our state and how to save our people. Some people live in refugee camps. There are very good opportunities to get education in the camps. If we look back to our ancient people, they were not allowed to study. That is the difference between them and us. Now education is very important and every development country is full of education so that each of us will get education and open our eyes and see our people in Burma. One day we will organize and fight for our freedom from SPDC. We’ll never again let the SPDC control us. We will build up our state full of education so your people won’t be SPDC’s slaves and we will fight with our education. Remember that SPDC never sleeps!

We Want to Go Home

Our village and our homes are located in Karen State. We call our land Kae Thoo Lei, which means plentiful, pleasant and peaceful country. Our lands are very beautiful and there are many natural resources in our country, so many people like our country and our hometown.
The Burmese army (SPDC) started to torture our Karen people and raid our lands. Our people don’t like violence or killing each other, so they moved their homes and left their lands but he SPDC followed them. Because the violence became worse, in February of 1947 the Karen National Union (KNU) was founded. They tired to solve the problems and arrange negotiations between UN (Burmese leader) and Saw Ba oo Gyi (KNU leader), but the violence made it too difficult.
On the 31st of January 1949, our leader declared the beginning of the Karen Revolution in Insein. Our people said, “We need our land, we need our rights, we need equality.” Burmese and Karen should have equal rights, so we fought for our freedom but our army was very weak. They didn’t have enough food, weapons or soldiers to face their enemies. Due to these problems, three months later our Karen people left their land and moved to Eastern Burma (also called East Kaw Thoo Lei). The big problem was that many of our Karen people had died and been killed by the enemy. The enemies followed them with violence and made it difficult. Our Karen insurgency is still continuing.
In 1995 the Burmese government launched an offensive force against our headquarters in Ma Ner Plaw. They sent many soldiers to fight and capture the Ma Ner Plaw headquarter. Many of our soldiers died at this time. Soon the headquarters was captured by the SPDC. Some of our leaders moved to the Thai-Myanmar borderline. They left their land in an attempt to try to be safe. Many people became displaced. They lost their homes, land and everything that belonged to them. They started to move to refugee camps. And spend their time in camp.
When they live in refugee camps, they have no hope for the future. The children can go to school, but if you are an adult you cannot do anything. They have no jobs and they cannot do and join Thai villages because Thais look down on Karen people. We cannot do anything. We have no rights and no freedom, but the good thing is that we don’t need to be afraid of the SPDC. This life is difficult to understand.
Some people move to refugee camps, but some do not wan to leave their beautiful land, and their beautiful towns. They find places to hide and be safe in the forest. They have no house and no home. The children cannot go to school and if they fall ill, they don’t have medical care or hospitals. Their life is very pitiful. They live in the forest like wild animals that never have homes. Their life is so difficult to understand.
If you go to visit them, they will tell you “We want to go home.” We want peace, we want freedom, and we want equality. We hope we will have our own country again. We hope that one day peace and equality will be in Burma.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Impressions

These images are from my first day at Hsa Thoo Lei, where I am working. It was also World Teachers Day which included a Karen traditional dance performance.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Migrant Youth

Migrant youth would a person born by an illegal migrant worker. They do not have Thai registration and, therefore, are unable to leave the migrant camps in which they are born.

Pho Chit

Pho Chit starring down the morning sun, ready to tackle the day. She is a 3 year old from Burma.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

First Dispatch

Today was a very good day. Last night? Apprehensive. But today, ah, today was the introduction to a world I’ve never known.

We’ve all been to Nowhere. It might have been in the middle of Seattle or Saskatchewan. It might have been at a Zen monastery, a no-man’s-land border outpost, or a bungalow in a nameless beach town. You may have found Nowhere on a sultry summer night in Paris when you’d spent your last euro and had no place to sleep; or on a midnight jeep safari in the Botswana bush after you’d blown your last spare tire, with your campsite a distant pinprick of light; or in the comforting cocoon of an all-night train compartment, sharing soul-secrets with a total stranger. Nowhere is a setting, a situation and a state of mind. It’s not on any map, but you know it when you’re there.

This time it has taken, as it usually does, a tremendous amount of energy and an open mind to get to Nowhere. This time, Nowhere is Mae Sot, Thailand.

I tend to prefer the places that Lonely Planet only generates a paragraph about, for these are the places where culture dwells and tourists do not. Today I learned that the size of the world is not fixed; original experience is more abundant than arm-chair adventurists have led me to believe. Three months ago when I committed to working for BMWEC and the Hussmann Foundation I pictured myself working in refugee camps with Karen, Burmese refugees, slipping on identities like over-coats. Instead, Nowhere is turning out to be a land of heroes and compassion making it very hard to act in any other way than how I feel.

So, as for the apprehensiveness? It has been extinguished by the two-hundred and fifty teachers I saw today, all contributing to something bigger (6,200 Burmese refugee children, to be exact). Subsequent posts will surely see times of un-governed happiness just as they will unparalleled empathy. My thoughts will be unedited and I welcome your replies.