Our team at Partners Relief & Development just released a video featuring one of our projects in Kachin State, Northern Burma. Love Your Neighbor tells a sweet story that illustrates the simple power of the golden rule.
In July, a Partners Relief Team traveled to Sittwe in Rahkine State to deliver rice and essential supplies. While they were there they took the opportunity to interview some of the displaced Rohingya that had been living under immense hardship in rudimentary camps with insufficient food and non-existent medical care for almost 2 years.
They told them that at the moment the people are saying they want to have a curry to go with their rice. Because all they have had for so long is rice.
“The kids… they pray for curry with their rice”.
Last month, with assistance from our local relief delivery networks and your generous financial support, it was Partners privilege to provide the answer to that request. In August we delivered food support for 9,204 Rohingya which was made up of:
- 380 chickens
- 95 goats
- 32,250 kg of rice
- 1,237.5 kg of dry chilli
- 1,006.5 kg of dry fish
- 2,475 kg of onions and
- 2,475 kg of potatoes.
This small victory represents more than anecdotal evidence of the transformation our team is a part of among populations of displaced and oppressed people in West Burma. It is a clear transforming event, pulled off by the synergy of partnership with people all over the world, on behalf of God, who is love, and behind all our team actions to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
This blog, just posted to the Partners Relief & Development blog by one of our staff members, puts into narrative form what our core ethos is all about.
I missed him the first time, on the railway platform at Brahmanbaria in Bangladesh. A kid of about 12, dragging himself along on his stomach, legs so badly twisted back up behind him that his feet touched his lower spine. He tugged at my trouser leg and I looked down in pity but with little respect or understanding. I asked a local staff member “What do we do in these kinds of situations.” “Give him a couple of Taka” was the reply. I reached into my pocket and ‘generously’ gave the kid 10 whole Taka. About 50 cents. His eyes and his incomprehensible words spoke gratitude. I felt sick inside though, and the Spirit gently tapped my shoulder “If you’d sat down and looked him in the eye you would have seen and talked with Jesus” He said. I’d missed my chance.
God is gracious. A couple of days ago and some 20 years later, I was in the concentration camps of Rakine (Arakan) State in Burma (Myanmar). We’d been visiting for a couple of days as I looked at what my friends in Partners Relief & Development had been up to, providing food, shelter, medicine and compassion to some very desperate people. We’d stopped to get a pair of crutches remodeled at a motorbike repair shop – as you do. This is for a kid whose leg was broken in a riot, the ends of the bones sticking out. Our friends had got him to a hospital where staff, doing nothing about the break at all, had sown up the flesh in the most careless, dismissive way.
All of that is another story for another time, but here we are in a bike repair tin shed and I see this kid come to watch. He moves by using his arms as crutches and his butt as a third leg. He’s 10, his legs are folded beneath him and clearly he is unable to straighten them. I’m not going to miss a second chance to meet Jesus! I get down and sit in the dirt, cross my legs as best a stiff overweight old man can, and look at this child.
Someone rushes over with a piece of flat polystyrene for me to sit on. A chair is bought. I get them to put the child on the chair and I hold his feet. We can get his legs to about 90 degrees before the pain is too obvious. I have no language and our translator is gone – we were on our way home – but with signs we figure out he’s been like this since about 2 or 3. I hold his knees, I pray silently pleading with God for healing and some insight, I look in his face and say “God loves you” and I get a glorious smile back. I do not give money but instead I look intently at his face. I don’t want to forget what Jesus looks like. We part with a handshake and my promise to do something to help.
I need to find an orthopaedic surgeon (I think) who wants to meet Jesus in a concentration camp in Burma. If you’re a medical person and can put me right in what I think I need that would be fine too. But I want to introduce you to my little friends. Two of them at least. One of them looks very like I imagine Jesus to look. If you’re that person please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by a Partners relief team leader .
Last month we shared stories of two Rohingya families living through unimaginable hardship that our relief team had met as they provided emergency relief. Sadly, we heard yesterday that both of Noor Begun’s premature twin babies passed away last week. One died on the 5th and the other on the 8th. Before this, Noor Begun’s husband died on the 4th. This is an immense tragedy and we grieve deeply with them. We also know that Noor Begun’s story is just one of thousands of stories of present suffering for the 150,000 Rohingya in Arakan State. Noor Begun is still living with tuberculosis and has completed two medical treatments for this without any respite from the disease that will now likely take her life.
Our relief partners says our help is very necessary and that they want us to continue to come. We’re praying that our response will continue to be a bit of encouragement, as well as life saving. We’re in the hope business and Noor Begun’s loss sharpens our resolve even more that we must help however we can.
“This is the duty of our generation as we enter the twenty-first century — solidarity with the weak, the persecuted, the lonely, the sick, and those in despair. It is expressed by the desire to give a noble and humanizing meaning to a community in which all members will define themselves not by their own identity but by that of others.” Elie Wiesel
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am sharing this with you. What motivates me to write again is the golden rule. I want to do for children in conflict what I would want done for my own. Simple.
The systematic abuse of Rohingya people in West Burma has gone from bad to worse. Last week the remaining NGO’s who had an MOU with the government were forced to leave the area and fly back to Rangoon. Their buildings, including those belonging to the UN, were destroyed.
The survivors of recent massacres are largely unheard from as there are no observers of their suffering or the outcomes among the survivors. By government mandate, access to the Rohingya is blocked. For this reason there is very little detailed news about what is going on, but the news we get is much worse than anything we have ever heard before.
One of our friends in a large population of refugees sent word yesterday that “…doctors are treating muslim patients very badly now at Sittwe hospital. Most of the patients sent to Sittwe hospital die these days. I am afraid that people’s doubt about rakhine doctors killing muslim patients is true.”
Another friend is trying to help a boy who suffers from diabetes, asthma, and multiple health complications due to sustained denial of adequate food, shelter, and health services. The photos I have show an emaciated boy in the arms of his father, obviously close to death.
We are trying to help him get medical care but where will he get it, even if we can find the money to pay? When he suggested paying a bribe to the police to get him transported to the nearby government hospital, he wrote that it may be the quickest way to end his life, not save it. In his email this morning he wrote: “Also today there was a body returned from Sittwe hospital of a pregnant woman who died while in their care, and the child was lost as well. The injuries on her face suggest very much she was beaten or worse.”
Another friend who lives in the camps wrote yesterday that, “There is no medical care at all for patients. Family members just have to sit and watch the patients dying. It has been more than a week now IDPs are facing food shortage. Many families are starving now.”
Genocide, according the Oxford Dictionaries is “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group:a campaign of genocide”
What I write about today is that. Genocide. The proof is in Burma’s government policy, described in the recent report by Fortify Rights and confirmed by Human Rights Watch, the New York Times, and most of the worlds leading news services; it is in the well documented process of removal of rights and identity of an entire ethnic group; it is in the many violent massacres and riots that have resulted in a massive loss of life.
Why is this not making news headlines? April 7th was the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, where the world community declared: “this will never happen again”.
It’s happening again.
I beg you to join Partners Relief & Development in our efforts to help the survivors and prevent the slaughter of these wonderful people. Please re post the news as it is released and raise your voice with local and federal politicians. Tweet, post, blog, and in every way spread the word.
And please, if you can, join us by giving funds. Our team is working on aid delivery and other survival enhancing actions now. This costs money.
One generous donor has given a $30,000. matching grant as incentive to help the Rohingya. That means the gift of $30.00 that I just donated turns to $60.00 to help the Rohingya people. Just go to this donation page, click one time gift, and in the drop down menu, select “emergency relief.” All funds donated to this crisis in the month of April will be matched.
I just gave $30.00 so the Rohingya children can experience the freedom and fullness that my daughters have every day. Please join me.
Partners Relief & Development has a team member in Bangladesh right now who is meeting victims of the recent violence against Rohingya people in West Burma. Today he met Aisha,a survivor from yet another destroyed village. This posting describes how his village was attacked and burned down, and how members of his village were lost, killed or taken away, including his two year old daughter.
Aisha heard the military vehicles and then saw large army trucks full of soldiers and extremists who were armed with guns and clubs. They drove into Killadong Majarpara, his village in West Burma and home to 2,500 other Rohingya Muslims. It was 11:00 pm on the 22nd of January. Knowing the multiple and brutal attacks so far, he quickly found his way out of the village to look for a safe place to hide.
While he was running, the mob of soldiers and extremists beat and killed a number of his fellow villagers. Four bodies were found with gunshot wounds and 12 more are missing. The news he heard so far is that 700 women and children were taken in large trucks to a “prison.”
Finding a place in a nearby village he sent for his wife and 7 children. After they were reunited on the 23rd, they and 8 other families paid a boat owner to take them from the shores of Burma, to the Southern-most tip of Bangladesh. Once they were on board, Aisha took inventory. He found his mother, father, wife, and 5 of his children. He counted again and, frantically, a third time. His precious two-year-old daughter was not in the boat. He had no idea where she was.
The boat owner wouldn’t return because of the danger it would put him and the 8 other families in. Aisha sat sobbing on the floor today describing these events to our team leader. He recounted his ordeal, especially the trauma he continues to experience because he had to leave his two-year-old daughter behind.
They were fortunate to make it to the other shore and get away undetected by Bengali authorities, whose policy is to immediately deport them back across the thin strip of ocean that divides Burma from a peninsula of Bangladesh.
He begged for a place to stay in an unregistered camp of refugees numbering at least 100,000 souls outside of Cox’s bazar. With no food, clothes, blankets, or any other life-essential provision, they settled into their square footage of misery. A kind neighbor gave them a piece of plastic to keep the rain off of them.
Our team leader met Aisha today and heard his story. He ended with a description of his village being burned to the ground last night. “How do you know it was your village?” our team leader asked. Aisha replied that he talked to his brother who is still trapped on the Burma side of the border and he confirmed it. “We could see it from here too,” he said. “It’s only 28 kilometers away and it lit the sky.”
Our team leader then asked him if he had any news of his two-year-old daughter. Looking down at the floor, he just said “no.”
Our team leader gave Aisha enough money to get blankets for his family, for his mom and dad, and to buy cooking pots and the basics they will need to survive. He prayed for this Muslim leader. He asked God to bring peace to his country so he can go home, and that, somehow, peace can come to his heart so he can be comforted.
For those of you who support our work with the displaced people of Burma, thank you. Aisha is one of the thousands of people this month who can say they encountered true compassion this month; that a small faith inspired group reached out to them, embracing tremendous risk to find ways to help them and strive for justice.
It is your support that makes our work with victims of war possible. I am deeply grateful for you and offer this story as a reminder to pray, share this story, and give as you feel moved by the same spirit that moves us.
In Bloomberg Businessweek today, it is reported that Burma’s opium production has increased this year by 26%. They say that the reason for the increase is desperation among poor people. UNODC’s Myanmar Country Manager Jason Eligh is quoted saying, “Opium farmers are not bad people, they are poor people. Money made from poppy cultivation is an essential part of family income.”
Roughly 192,000 households in Myanmar now work in opium production. “Villagers threatened with food insecurity and poverty need sustainable economic alternatives,” says Eligh, “or they will continue, out of desperation, to grow opium as a cash crop.”
Another reason the articles on my RSS feed this morning give for the rise in production is a rise in demand. They credit “organized crime” for being the culprits who both represent demand and supply the illicit poppie mash by purchasing it for 500 dollars per dry kilogram – a huge incentive to people who can’t keep food on the dinner table, send their children to school, and have lost their possibility to provide for themselves.
Question: who is “organized crime?”
If you answered the Burma Army or the regime itself, you are a smart cookie. Here’s how it goes:
The Burma Army has a policy of self-sufficiency. Each General has to “live off the land.” In Burma that means live off the produce and on the muscle of villagers and tribal people. And the compensation the villagers get for this exchange is their homes burned down, churches desecrated, and their men forced to porter for the regime; they carry their own produce to fortified compounds for the thieves (I mean soldiers) to consume it. Then they kill you after they make you watch them take turns on your wife.
This is life under the black boots; life where the police and military are the criminals and control everything including the judicial system.
There is no private property in Burma. So the farmers who have worked the land for the last thousand years actually only “own” their land based on community arrangement. The central government, so called elected officials, have absolute legal control of the land and the contents of it.
When an energy company eyes a particular river that has not been developed for hydro generation in Kachin or Shan state and offer the “government” to buy this land and develop it, chipping in a few percent of produced electricity to power homes in Burma, they sell it, leaving the villagers in a lurch.
Then they force the people who live there to relocate to a place they have prepared for them. How nice of them, right? Wrong. Many of the villagers see no alternative but to accept the relocation “offer” the soldiers have made. And guess what industry often awaits them at the relocation site? You got it: opium.
Or golf. Yes, you can also be relocated to Shan State to construct a golf course for the criminals (Generals and parliamentarians) who run the opium trade.
It takes decades to cultivate land for rice farming, because it’s all done by hand. Irrigation canals need to be carved out of rocky terrain with primitive tools to draw water from one valley to another. Fertile valleys able to support the growth of hungry communities are where they lived for generations. What I have seen and heard is that relocation sites have neither the water to restart life, nor the good soil needed to sustain it.
The ones who wait it out often relocate after construction has already begun, because of abuse, and the glaring fact that they are standing against an unbeatable foe. Those who hold out until the very end retreat only as the water rises, flooding their precious farms forever.
With gold, tin, jade, and molybdenum: same story. Oil and natural gas: ditto. Poor you who were born where natural resources lay waiting to be gathered, and where your rights as a human being were never recognized.
Another report I received from the Trans National Institute describes the “reform” process in Burma in terms you may appreciate:
“…after over 30 months of the Thein Sein government, political transition continues to be military-dominated and top-down, with essentially the same ruling elite in political and economic authority as under the former State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) regime. Hopes remain that, through political negotiation, democratic reforms will be achieved which lead to just and inclusive solutions. But as the countdown to the 2015 general election begins, concerns are growing that essential reforms will not be delivered.”
My terms are less sophisticated: lies, continued violence, and cunning deception. Thein Sein is a war criminal and his government are using foreign direct investment and development (charity and diplomatic) funds to kill children in Burma. The entire platform of hope is built on broken promises.
How many people have to suffer and die before the promises start coming to pass?
While the diplomatic community twirl that question through the noodles of bureaucracy, Partners Relief & Development will keep starting schools, development projects, clinics, and feeding the masses of displaced people who lack shelter, rice to eat, and sanitation. We will do this because we were asked to by Jesus who himself offered these words as his manifesto:“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free” (Luke 4:18)
I took this photo on May 16th as Cyclone Mahasen was blowing towards Sittwe, Burma, earlier this year. I was there with my friend, Bruce, helping to evacuate people to higher ground. As the rain poured and the people stood shivering in the wind and rain chilled air, I felt overwhelmed by the misery surrounding me:
140,000 refugees whose homes were burned down, loved ones raped, killed, or abused. Thousands of them hadn’t eaten in days, 5000 of them we were trying to help hadn’t fed their children in 6 days. Many were sleeping in grass huts on a floor of wet mud.
Miserable and desperate, like a chapter out of Dante’s Divine Comedy. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
They weren’t afraid of the cyclone, they were afraid of the police, and they wanted to feed their children.
The police beat them, burned down their homes, incited a city wide riot against them, prevented the delivery of food to help them survive, denied their citizenship, stole their farm lands, and desecrated their places of worship. Welcome to Burma where this is happening today.
Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need. Prov 21:13
When Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to the civil rights movement, things in the USA, especially in the South, got very tense. Many church leaders in the South, largely white middle class and intelligent people, were advising him to bide his time and wait for justice to come instead of making people uncomfortable and endangering lives by sit ins, peaceful protest, marches for peace, and civil disobedience. His actions were carefully crafted to display to the whole world just how unjust the laws and culture of segregation was. Here’s how he answered the pleas to wait:
For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
When he was put in jail for 6 days in Birmingham Alabama, for inciting civil unrest, he wrote a letter to the clergy and to those who were supposedly on the side of justice but wanting to preserve the so called peace. When I read his sharp and well-reasoned words, the similarities of his struggle and that of the ethnic minorities in Burma struck me again. Especially now as things appear to be getting better, when in fact things have never been worse for so many (millions of) people in the ethnic states. Just take a look at how the Kachin, Rohigya, Karen, and Chin are doing while the Generals and officials of the Thein Sein regime swim in an influx of direct foreign investment.
When I, or members of my team help the victims of violence and oppression, we have to break “laws.” We have to
cross borders illegally and help people that the world’s hegemony of power say don’t even exist. To that challenge, King Jr.’s logic was motivating for me too:
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
My wife and two staff members were detained and interrogated for a day in a neighboring country to Burma, then asked to leave the country and followed until they got on a plane bound for Thailand. Their crime: visiting and helping refugees whose villages had been recently destroyed. So again, returning to my question from yesterday: are we supposed to “keep quiet” about this stuff like we are being told by some of our peers and so many of the major powers at work in Burma today?
“On 2 September 2013, 200 Burma Army soldiers arrived at Nhka Ga village, forcing KIA troops stationed there to decamp. Mr. Lahkyeng Hkaw Tup and Yung Hka Hkyen, both from Nhka Ga village, were tortured and killed by Burma Army troops from IB 137. Reverend Ram Me and 10 villagers were arrested and tortured after being questioned by Burma Army troops. John Seng Awng, son of Nhka Ga Village, was tied up and badly tortured. Burma Army soldiers raped his wife, 29-year-old Nhtung Hkai Nang Htu, right in front of him. They have one child.” FBR
John Seng Awng and his wife matter. They matter enough to sacrifice some of my comfort and freedom so they might have some too. No member of the human family should have to suffer like that, especially under an approved world power that the west does business with as Burma is today. These people need help. We will give them that. They want their stories told and justice to prevail, we will speak for them. Please, I beg you to join us.
At the risk of making this into an epistle, I’ll quote one more piercing work of reason that King Jr. included in his missive.
A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.
So I close another blog episode with a deeper than ever determination to find creative ways to be a true “neighbor” to the people of Burma; to feed the hungry people who are so due to systemic oppression and violence, and to tell their story with as much passion and clarity as I can.
“How long will you hand down unjust decisions
by favoring the wicked?
“Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
deliver them from the grasp of evil people.