Homecoming to an Unknown Home
26 April 2019
Karenni State, Burma
The newly trained Karenni Rangers all live in a refugee camp. The majority of them were born in the camp and have lived their whole lives in the camp. They are Karenni, and speak Karenni, but have never spent any length of time living in Karenni State. In March and April they went on their first FBR mission, and it was also the first time any of them had spent time in the land of their roots.
Walking for three days through the jungle, the team made their way into their homeland. They linked up with three Jungle School of Medicine-Kawthoolei (JSMK) medics from Karen State and together conducted the first FBR mission into villages surrounding the Shaw Daw Township in northern Karenni State.
Throughout their five village programs, the rangers reconnected to their people. The Good Life Club (GLC) program is usually for children; however, on this mission, every program had twice as many adults at the program as kids. The first program the team conducted left the village roaring with laughter. “We have never seen anything like this before,” the village leader said.
There was awe and amazement in the eyes of all the villagers as they watched the rangers – their own young people – sing songs, dance, teach health care, perform dramas, and make everyone feel loved. They had the community center where the program was being held swaying on its supports as the whole village danced, sang, and clapped. Everyone was buzzing after the program, smiling ear to ear. It was the first time they had ever met the Free Burma Rangers, but they wanted them to come back again soon.
“We walked from the camp to remind you that you’re not forgotten about. That we love you. That we’re here with you,” the ranger program leader would tell each village they came into.
The medics treated 206 patients at the five different programs and donated medicine to the Karenni mobile clinic. Over 800 people attended the five different GLC programs.
Four months ago the Burma Army began construction of a “temporary” base north of Shaw Daw Township. The team performed a recon of this base and interviewed some surrounding villagers.
“We are afraid. We don’t trust them,” the village leader said.
When the Burma Army started building the base, they faced opposition from the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and villagers but ignored the opposition saying they needed a place to rest troops during the four-month temporary ceasefire. The Burma Army said they would disable the base starting April 1. But, on April 3 when the team performed their recon, there was no sign that the base would be disabled. Signs of digging, for bunkers and fighting positions, were seen by the team, and the shelters didn’t seem to be temporary.
With the temporary ceasefire ending next week, villagers are afraid of what might come. Many threats are being tossed around in rumors.
“The Burma Army said they would declare war on any armed group not laying down its weapons,” said one villager.
“We’re building bunkers to get ready,” another villager said.
It was a strange homecoming for this ranger team. Many of their families fled from this area of Karenni State. Many of them have aunts, uncles, and grandparents still living there. It was a homecoming to a home they didn’t really know, but one they love. This was the first mission on their own for this newly trained Karenni team, but it won’t be their last. As much as it was good for the villagers to connect to the Free Burma Rangers, it was also good for the team to connect to these villagers.