Saying Farewell to a Ranger: Lai Mweh15 February 2014 Karen State, Burma
On the night of 1 February 2014, we lost a member of Free Burma
Rangers (FBR). More importantly – we lost a friend. Lai Mweh drowned
while fishing in a river near the training camp. He was a 20-year-old
medic attending the Jungle School of Medicine – Kawthoolei (JSMK).
He had survived the Burma Army torching his home several times –
not an unusual story for this part of Karen State, Burma. In between
running for his life, he had doggedly pursued what education was
available in the jungle. Considering the circumstances, getting
through the seventh grade was a big deal. And yet Lai Mweh wanted
to do more to help his people. So last year he came to JSMK hoping
to become a medic for the FBR. He soon ran into difficulties. Trying
to master a real medical course with a seventh grade education was
a challenge and he failed the test on basic foundational material at
the end of the first three months. But that only seemed to make him
try harder. He did not complain, and was known for his smile and
willingness to work hard. As a new ranger student in training he had a
smile and strong answer every time we asked during a tough physical session: ”Easy way or hard way?”
“Hard way!” he would shout and smile; he was irrepressible. In the field on missions he was always up front as a medic, helping others and also doing any job that was needed. After his initial struggle with his studies, when the final exam came, he passed with no problem and was excited for his future as a medic. He died just days after graduation. He was humble, helpful and always cheerful. He has helped others and his actions convict and inspire. We are all very sad at his loss. We will miss him.
Several of his leaders wanted to share how he has touched their lives, and we would like to share these stories with you, our dear friends and supporters. May the light that Lai Mweh brought to people’s lives be remembered for many years to come, and may he rest in peace.
FAREWELL GOOD FRIEND
Late last night we lost a young colleague and a friend. Lai Mweh, a graduating student at the Jungle School of Medicine Kawthoolei (JSMK), had gone fishing in our swift river in the jungle. He and a friend caught several fish and I imagine with visions of a feast, the friend left to build a fire. Upon returning, however, the friend could not find Lai Mweh. He called a couple other students to help look. They finally found his shoes and eventually found him trapped underwater between the current and an overhang deep in the river. Not breathing. No pulse. They tried CPR on site and brought him quickly to the clinic. There, we continued resuscitation efforts for another 40 minutes. Not a spark of life was left in what minutes ago had been a warm glowing fire.
Lai Mweh was around 20 years old. He had survived the Burma Army torching his home several times. Not an unusual story for this part of Karen state, Burma. Nevertheless, in between running for his life, he doggedly pursued what education was available in the jungle. Considering the circumstances, getting thru the seventh grade was a big deal.
And yet Lai Mweh wanted to do more to help his people. So last year he came to JSMK hoping to become a medic for the Free Burma Rangers (FBR). He soon ran into difficulties. Trying to master a real medical course with a seventh grade education was certainly a challenge. Especially the math. He failed the test at the end of the first three months covering basic foundational material. But that only seemed to make him try harder. Students at JSMK do not get a free ride in any sense of the word. Besides attending lectures, they take care of patients, cut fire wood, as well as carry rice, medicine and supplies over the mountain. And they do it all year round, rain or shine. Lai Mweh did not complain. He was known for his smile and willingness to work hard. Just one week ago, Lai Mweh passed his final exams. Not just barely but solidly. When I reviewed his results with him, I told him, he had really surprised me. He just sat there and smiled. Graduation was in a few days. Lai Mweh would serve his people as an FBR medic. In fact, the JSMK staff had asked him to return for another year to help teach our next crop of hopeful young students. But in a tragic moment, that symphony would remain forever unfinished.
Tradition here dictates a wake be held for those who have died. So, many of the students stayed awake all last night with Lai Mweh’s body. Talking, snoozing, playing cards, listening to music, singing. This morning the boys were out early. Someone fired up the chainsaw to cut wood for his casket, “Box” as they called it. The girls gathered flowers from the jungle around us and made colourful wreaths.
The heart of JSMK is based on giving students real clinical experiences while they learn. So the school runs both a clinic and a small hospital. One of our current patients in the hospital is a four year old little waif of a girl with severe asthma. Despite the heart rending struggles of the night, she still needed her breathing treatments. When the junior staff member on duty went to give the little girl her nebulizer treatment on Sunday morning, she didn’t want to wake up. She seemed in no acute distress. Her vital signs were normal. She wasn’t breathing fast. No fever. She rolled around a little and moaned … It seemed she just wanted to sleep a bit more. All things considering, many of us would probably have obliged her. However this staff member noted something a bit odd … though the morning was cold, the girl was sweaty. And that little observation probably saved her life. He sent for another senior medic and I. We went over everything again. Other than a little fast pulse, her vital signs were ok. No fever. No rashes. No signs of meningitis. Negative malaria check. I looked for any signs of a krait snake bite (its venom contains a neurotoxin which can cause paralysis). Then I checked a blood sugar ….40!!! She was hypoglycemic. Her brain wasn’t working because it had no fuel. So we quickly started an IV and pushed in some dextrose. With great relief we watched her slowly come back to life. She opened her eyes. Then she started looking around. She was still quiet as a little mouse, but her brain was back online.
Still carrying a jumbled mix of emotions from nearly missing the hypoglycemia , I headed up the hill to attend our little church service which had just started. I got to the place near where we tried to pump life back into Lai Mweh last night. And I paused. Behind me were the sounds of the wood planer being used to make Lai Mweh’s final resting box. Off in the distance to my right, a jungle bird singing. And up the hill, from the church wafted voices singing the first hymn of the service. The language was Karen but the tune was old and somewhere in my sleep deprived brain I recognized it …
“Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.”
“Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.”
“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”
I looked up the word “Ebenezer” after the service. It has to do with a monument the Old Testament prophet Samuel set up saying; “Thus far The Lord has helped us.” Our weaknesses here in the jungle at this little medical school, clinic and hospital are ridiculously raw. We are small and many times helpless against the onslaught of suffering that comes to us. Nevertheless, over the last few years God has used us to help many people.
And His strength is our real strength.
FBR Medical Director
I just want to tell you the bad news that happen to us here. One of our FBR Medic at JSMK student this year, named is Lai Mweh – from Luthaw. He leaves us last night around 10:00 pm. What happen to him is that he went fishing and got stuck in the rock. His friend took him out but we can not save his life. We need your to prayer for him to God and that God will accept him in his kingdom. All of us very painful here, he is a very good guy and he pass the exam very well.
God bless you and we will keep praying for you.
A Senior FBR Medic
The loss of Lay Myah one of our medics loss came as a surprise to us. The sad news was relayed to us while on a relief mission. For Lai Mweh to die by drowning, and for us to be alive after intense attack is a mystery and reminds me that none of us have control over the day we will go. It also reminded me to live for God and others and not myself. Lai Mweh lived much of his life for others and we all loved him.
When he was a new ranger student in training I remember his smile and strong answer every time we asked during a tough physical session -“Easy way or hard way”, ‘Hard way!’ he would shout and smile; he was irrepressible. In the field on missions he was always up front as a medic, helping others and also doing any job that was needed. He was humble, helpful and always cheerful. I want to be more like him. He was helped others and his actions convict and inspires. We are all very sad at his loss and grateful for our medical team on site who did their best to try to save him.
Please pray for his family, his team mates and our medical team during this time of great loss. We will do our best to help his family and to remember him.
May God bless you all,