This was written by my Mom recently. I asked to put it up on my blog as it speaks better than anything I can write.
Does Anyone Care?
They are huddling in the torrential rains with no shelter, exposed to missing limbs and lost lives from jungles full of landmines.....as little children. They are seeing sights of torture and killing, losing father and mother…..as innocent children. This people, persecuted for over 60 years, they are fleeing, running, hungry, sick, dying…..children.
This is the story of the Karen children—each story is different, yet the same.
Does anyone care?
Along the border of Thailand and Burma, there are towering mountains rising above the Moei River, seemingly endless jungles, and small Karen villages dotted here and there. Along the river are leaf-roofed bamboo huts in small settlements—inhabited by peaceable Karen refugees. There are relatively few Thai residents in these parts of Thailand.
This is in the province of Tak, Tha Song Yang district. Last June (2009), sounds of shelling, machine guns, and landmine explosions reverberated from mountain to mountain. Within a couple of weeks, the SPDC (Burmese Army), together with the DKBA, succeeded in causing up to 5,000 displaced villagers to seek refuge in the only safe place they knew of—Thailand. This is the history of the Karen for the past 60 years—running for their lives; running in fear from soldiers who are instructed (not merely allowed) to rape, kill, and steal; pursued by a government who said ten years ago, “In ten years you will only find a Karen in a museum.”
At this time last year, there was a small school in Burma just across the river from Mae Salit Luang, Thailand. It provided a home and an education for about 120 boarding students. These were children who otherwise would have no hope for a brighter future. They came from varied backgrounds. Some came from caring parents who were unable to provide either food for the empty stomachs of their growing bodies, nor education for their developing brains. Others came who had been abandoned, orphaned, or rescued from an abusive situation. But they all had one thing in common—their young lives had already encountered suffering, hardship, and privation. And they all were in danger of being deceived into seeking a “brighter future” in the cement jungles of Bangkok.
This school is now in ruins. An American family received the children as they evacuated across the river and provided a safe place for the students and their teachers on Thai soil. Recently property was purchased for a home and vocational learning center for these children. The children love this place. It is a lime orchard with mango, banana, lychee, papaya, and other fruit trees. A clear, flowing creek meanders through the property, with pools where the children love to swim. The work/study program has already resulted in beautiful vegetable gardens that the teachers and children are growing together. Although the structures are very primitive, measures are being taken to improve that situation. But for children who are used to seeking shelter in the jungle, at best living in a leaf-roofed bamboo hut, and living with no latrines or sanitation, this is a good place.
Does anyone care?
The children are still being pursued—not by the SPDC, but by misguided NGO and government policy-makers and soldiers under orders. They are still living in fear—fear of the unknown, fear of being sent back into a land mined war zone, fear of having no chance for an education and having to spend the rest of their youth herding buffalo, fear of foraging for food and firewood in heavily land mined jungles, fear of dying from this area’s killer—hemorrhagic cerebral malaria—because of no access to medicine or hospital.
The Thai government is planning to send these children back into Burma; we are told it might be tomorrow, maybe next week. Children from another school, who evacuated at the same time, have already been shipped back, several times returning to what they know as a place of safety and promise, only to be shipped back again.
Our children at this school are family—many of them have attended this school for its 7 years of operation—studying, playing, singing, working, and praying together. The evacuation was the third time the school has had to relocate due to persecution. Must it happen again?
Does ANYONE care?
Where are the children’s rights that we talk about, where are the children’s advocates, who see what the children’s desires are?
How can anyone send children back to landmines, hunger, and fear, especially after they have tasted something else?
Where are the voices, voices to appeal to the Thai government on behalf of little children?
This letter is written as I am keeping a watchful eye on a small girl. She is sick, and we are treating her, with the love and care, medicines and treatment, needed. We are ready at any moment, should she turn for the worse, to take her to the hospital. As I am writing, I am very aware of the fact that many of our students would have died in Burma through this last year had they been sent back to where medical care is unavailable or too expensive for these destitute people.
Does anyone care about the children?
We have a foundation we are under. We have a place where the children want to be, and where they feel safe. We feed them and care for them, educating them to be honest and industrious. We want them to learn about the love of God, and receive academic learning. We are not asking for help in caring for these children. We are not asking the Thai government to cover any expenses. By the grace of God, this last year we paid for all their hospital bills, and for hundreds of villagers’ medical needs and surgeries. We provided rice, food, baby formula, and medicines for the destitute and hungry in addition to the school. A skilled nurse was available to care for the children when sick. We are not asking for a handout. We are only asking to be able to keep the children in a safe, loving environment, where they can enjoy the labor of their hands in field and garden. This is a place where they are safe from child trafficking and the lure of the cities, and free to play together in the orchard and jungle without fear from enemies and landmines.
It has been suggested that we send the children to the refugee camp. Crowded, smoky, dusty, and dirty as it is, maybe many of them would end up somewhere else unmentionable…
Does anyone care? Are there voices somewhere for these children?
Do YOU care?
If you care, what will you DO?
As a postscript to the above: The "crisis" is over for now. The Thai soldiers have not come due to all the protests, but please keep the situation in your prayers. -Maria