I wrote these words in 2005 after a trip to the main military base of the Shan State Army (South). I repost it here because it turns out that new horizons continue to expand and open for us in Shan State.
You wouldn’t believe it if you saw it. The table used for all surgeries as well as mothers delivering babies was made from four rough-cut teak planks. It stood in a dark corner with a wobbly shelf alongside it where the forceps and other surgical equipment would sit during any procedure. On the bottom shelf sat a pressure cooker that would be ceremoniously placed on an open fire before any surgery to decontaminate the steel tools. Some of the forceps were visibly rusty. The table, shelves, and dirt floor underneath were stained with blood and the tell-tale signs of past operations.
To Odd Arne, Trond Hattrem, and Don Fredricks, and me, this resembled a garish Hollywood set meant to depict the activities of a serial killer before the invention of the wheel. But no, here in Shan State, home to more than 10 million of Burma’s people, this is the best equipped hospital and operating theater for hundreds of thousands of displaced people in the Southern area of their war-torn land.
After we walked through the hospital we were led to the boys, then the girls orphan care shelters. Envisage 500 children, average age of 5, whose innocence and childhood has been taken from them by enemy soldiers. They are orphans of war living in a military base on top of a mountain surrounded by howitzers. Their stories affirm your worst nightmares.
The Shan leaders asked Partners to help develop their orphan care program. They asked if we would do for them what we have done for the Karen children. I left knowing that it would be wrong to deny them help; that it would fly in the face of all that I believe about God and His passionate pursuit of people who bear His image to say a prayer and forget about them.
At that moment I wasn’t thinking about our balance sheet or seeing these situations as….. Situations. I was seeing them as people. I saw those children and knew that I must act, as I would for my own children, to show them the incredible and compassionate love of God. The condition of the hospital moved me to do something to alleviate the pain, misery, and humiliation of the women who give birth and convalesce in a place I would feel bad about taking my dog for treatment, much less my wife or mother.
You may wonder, “But where will you get the money, the manpower, and the wherewithal to actually help them? And what about the Karen projects?” In response I have to say that I have asked myself these questions many times. In the end I find myself back at the starting point which is that I must “Seek first the kingdom of God…” That’s how we got to where we are today, and I remain convinced that it will fuel us along to the many new horizons God has for us.
In 2011, things are different. There is now an established clinic in this camp. Partners, built a training clinic for this population in 2008. Since 2009 Partners has worked with Shan leadership to train more than 100 health workers for these camps.
The leadership is passionate about improving the situation for their people.
Despite the odds, the Shan are charging a new path ahead for health in their State. Partners is thankful for the chance to be a part of this process.