|Displaced children at GLC program Karen State
Tho Htoo is 11 years old but looks like he’s 9, small and thin but bright-eyed. He’s in second grade. I interviewed him because his house had been burned down two months before and I wanted to hear his story in his own words; one week after this interview, his family packed and ran again as the Burma Army again sent patrols toward his village.
Dah Wah is 19 and is in first grade. Both of her parents died of fever when she was 5 years old. She lived with her aunt and uncle in a village that had to run from Burma Army attacks sometimes as many as 10 times a year. The rest of her time was spent helping her family find food. She had no time for school. Now she lives in her township headquarters and the Karen National Union (KNU-Karen pro-democracy resistance) supports her schooling.
|Over 500 children came to one program, December 2009
These are two of the nearly 3000 students from over 50 schools who came to Good Life Club programs in northern Karen State in December and January. Out of 54 schools, 3 were high schools and 10 were middle schools. 41 of the schools were primary schools. This means in 41 villages out of 54, children have few options for schooling after primary school – for most, education stops after 6th grade. School, such as it is, is interrupted by Burma Army attacks, by untreated illness, by hunger and the struggle to find food. This is not just education at risk – this is a people’s hope for the future at risk.
|Good Life Club pushups in the rain, teams play with children, January 2010
And yet hopelessness is not what we find and we are greeted everywhere with smiles, with joy and often with gifts. I think of Psalm 23, where the psalmist says that “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemy” – and I realize that He has. Here is a feast of good things: food, fellowship, sharing, and the enemy is only hours away. It is good: the joy is genuine, the fun is real, sometimes it seems as if the day is perfect. And this goodness is absolutely not canceled out by the presence of the enemy, by the desperate side of existence. There is no irony here. Quite the opposite: the joy, and the faith and courage that sustain it, are the heart of the resistance and are what has allowed the people here to not lose hope, to not quit, after 60 years of war.
We know, of course, that there is another enemy. The line between good and evil doesn’t run between nations or ethnic groups or armies or religions, but right through the heart of every person: we have an enemy in our own heart. This enemy is also trying to take over a country, trying to twist and taint and destroy the good in us. There is a fight on. But, I believe, God still prepares a table for us, even in the enemy’s presence. He lays it with good things, He gives us good gifts. Even in our own embattled hearts and lives, He gives us good things to do and the strength to do them. And they are no less good because of the battle, no less good because of the ground the enemy occupies, because of past defeats. They are, in fact, the heart and soul of our resistance. It is a mystery, but a joyful one, that the table God has laid for us is also the heart of our resistance to the enemy. And so I’m encouraged to keep up the fight, even though I may fail every day, every hour. I know the fight is on – and I know the battle is the Lord’s.
Thank you for being in this with us.
God bless you,
A Good Life Club leader and Free Burma Ranger
|GLC team members dig a trash pit for the village, January 2010
|FBR medic teaches health and nutrition to children at GLC program. December 2009