There are times I feel like I have reasons to say my life sucks. It rains on my day off. We run out of money too often. I get the flu. How would it be if I had nowhere to live when the rain came? How would it be if there were no doctors, and no medicine when my children or I got sick?
How would it be if I was not just penniless, but also stateless, and imprisoned in a concentration-like camp with no prospects of a better life? In fact, my most likely prospect would be this: Death. What would I do?
Partners has been told that helping the Rohingya is close to impossible. The government of Burma/Myanmar forbids helping them. Ironically they will tell the world that they are helping them on their own. They may as well add: We are helping them die. Partners is proud to break the rules in order to do the impossible. Before the rains came this season we were able to give tarps and bamboo to construct shelters for 6,065 refugees. It may seem like a drop in the ocean, literally, but for these 6,065 it has meant protection from the rain, from diseases and a limited feeling of security.
But what is the value of a tarp when there is no food, no doctors, no work, no freedom to leave the camp, and no school for the children? For many the situation is so desperate that they are willing to risk their lives to leave. Thousands are paying bribes to “brokers”, packing their belongings, and strengthening their resolve to board a boat and risk the seas, human traffickers, and corrupt state powers who have caused unbelievable suffering for people who have already lost everything.
Their dream is to make it to Malaysia and seek asylum. Conservative estimates say that more than 50,000 Rohingya refugees have done just this in 2013 alone. In meetings over the last two days I heard the sickening stories and watched video footage that proves the terrible price they have had to pay. They are extorted, beaten, raped, starved, forced to squat in confinement for months; their daughters are taken, their sons become slaves, and they, when they can’t pay the price of freedom, become another casualty of visceral human desperation.
I am describing the well-documented journey of a people denied the right of existence. Right now, many of those same 6,065 people whom we helped shelter and feed through this rainy season are preparing to board ships with their families, little kids and pregnant women, knowing the dangers and accepting them because there is nothing left worth living for if not this sliver of hope created by an escape from the camps.
As they pack, our team prays, and we look for solutions to a problem so big and ugly that it overwhelms us. Some of us feel depressed; others work harder on our relief and development work to postpone the sense of trauma their deaths will produce in us and in their community. My wife, Oddny, grieves and blogs. My coping mechanism is a bit less healthy. I feel rage and a gnawing sense that many who actually know what is going on don’t care, that God Himself has abandoned them, and that there is a near total absence of resolve to do what can be done for them.
How do we overcome evil with good when evil seems to consistently win in the lives of so many people?
In my continued attempt to build compassionate community, I reach out to you. I am a desperate beggar. I beg you to spread the word, to send support, and to find a way to reach these wonderful people (millions of them if you count all the current victims of war and oppression in Asia) with the hand of love. Only when we act on love, do we prove that love has a hold on us.
“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” –Bob Dylan