Rangers Visit and Encourage New IDPs in Karen State
2 March 2020
Karen State, Burma
In Mu Traw District, northern Karen State, 367 villagers fled into the jungle on Feb. 5. The 51 families from Wa Kaw Hta and Ta Ko Der villages fled from Burma Army mortars fired into and near their village. The Burma Army is trying to force road construction along the unimproved Muthe road and the Busakee trail. The Burma Army fires mortar barrages, crew serve machine guns and small arms to displace villagers from the area. FBR teams have gone to provide help, hope, and love and to report on the situation.
Every year in the spring I plan a trip to Jungle School of Medicine Kawthoolei (JSMK) and our FBR training camp to do some type of construction project. I am not an engineer but during these two weeks in the spring each year I get to pretend to be one.
Last year we built a brick lab/dental/eye clinic building at JSMK. The year before that we built a new suspension bridge over the river and we spent the two previous years installing electrical wiring and solar systems. This year was no different.
The plan was to level the posts from our clinic and remove the part eaten by termites and put them on solid cement foundation, lifting and digging out the clinic a post at a time until everything was level again. We also traveled to a nearby village to install a solar system for friends of ours. Everything was running smoothly and we were actually moving ahead of schedule. I met with some of our staff and asked what else I could help them with and they asked if I could build some doors and tables to use around JSMK. While all of this work was going on at our training camp, internally displaced people (IDPs) were living in the jungle.
Two days after I arrived at JSMK, team members came back from a mission to help IDPs from two villages (51 households / 367 people) who had fled and were hiding in the jungle. They had gone to be with them and encourage the people as well as bring back information and photos for reporting. I wrote up their report in English and sent it all to the FBR reporting team to put it out as a web report. I ordered medicine and tarps from our logistics team so we could go back and help the IDPs with physical needs. The FBR team had done a great job and I was proud of them for being so quick and getting such detailed information. All in all, everyone had done their part and FBR was doing everything it could to help these IDPs. I went back to building doors and tables for our camp, but something kept eating at me.
I wanted to be with the IDPs and let them know that they are not forgotten. I wanted to pray with them. I had no other reason to go. The medicine and tarps we had ordered would take at least a week or two to get there. Our team had already done a great job getting information to report on this accurately. Still, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I also wanted to go. I spoke with my wife and shyly brought up that I felt like I should go. I knew it would mean she would have to care for our two children alone while I was away, and she might not be thrilled with that idea. Instead, she answered, “Yeah. I was kind of wondering when you were going to decide to go.” She already knew.
So, our seven-member team came together and traveled by motorbike over some of the worst roads and goat trails Burma has to offer. It was a 50-mile journey to spend one night with the IDPs, and then we returned as that is all that time allowed us. We felt is was enough. We scrounged together what money we could and managed to come up with enough to give each family 500 baht, which is about $15. It wasn’t much, but it was something. The medics carried enough medicine to treat patients they met along the way, and one ranger packed to stay for two weeks so he could keep us updated to any changes in the situation.
The mission was basic: to be with the people. I wish it could have been much longer. I wish we could have provided more material help. I wish I could have said more to the IDPs and that we could have put on a big GLC program to help the kids laugh and sing and forget about their problems for a moment. We slept in the jungle with security right next to where the IDPs were hiding. We could hear a heavy machine gun firing in the middle of the night, but thankfully no mortars fell.
We spoke to the 51 households that fled. We told them we were reporting on their plight, we were sending help, and that what the Burma Army was doing is wrong. We treated a few serious patients. We gave some money to an old grandpa and grandma who had both had strokes. The man began crying when we gave him the $15. We traveled with some other Karen leaders who encouraged the IDPs as well. We prayed with all our faith that the Burma Army would stop and these people could all go home and start their rice crops for the year. We shook hands and then we travelled the 50 miles again back to FBR’s camp. It was a good mission. People were encouraged. They were all smiles after seeing us. Even though all we had to offer was a few words, hours, and dollars, it was enough and the people were grateful for it.
There are always reasons that I can talk myself out of doing something. I might think a project might not get finished, I won’t have enough to offer, or that I have already done all that I can. But, if I was an IDP in that situation, if my wife and kids were sleeping in the dirt and hiding in the jungle from Burma Army mortars and machine gun rounds, I would want someone to come and let me know that I am not forgotten.
I didn’t join FBR to build tables and doors. I can let myself get too focused on what I am doing that I don’t want to drop everything and completely change direction and plans and schedules. But I am a Ranger. We are Rangers. And we go where the need is the greatest.
God Bless You,