Land of Green Mountains and Generous People20 January 2016 Karen and Karenni States, Burma
Mission to Northern Papun (Muthraw) District, Karen State, Burma
Following the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) training the students travel with the instructors on a mission to bring help, hope, and love to the people in Burma. After graduation all 27 teams travel together and hold one large Good Life Club program and clinic at the village of Tha Dah Der. Upon finishing the program, the teams divided into three groups and went on missions in three different areas of Karen State. One group headed west to Hsaw Hti Township of Kler Lu Htoo District. The second headed south to Dwe Lo Township of Muthraw District. The last group went north into Luthaw Township of Muthraw District and also into southern Karenni State. This report is from this last group while in Luthaw Township.
Luthaw Township Mission Excerpt:
At 4:00am the rangers assemble and get ready to head out on the mission. For most of these rangers, it this will be their first mission providing help, hope, and love to the people of Burma. We head out across the rice fields and then over mountains and through the jungle. At first light our team is crossing a road controlled by the Burma Army. Karen soldiers check the road for mines and provide security in the chance that the Burma Army would be patrolling down the road while we are crossing. Even though there is an official ceasefire that was recently signed, there is little trust that the Burma Army would not shoot at villagers crossing the road. As recently as November 2015, the Burma Army had shot at villagers trying to cross this same road. The Burma Army shot and killed two people, one in February and one in March 2015, while close to Burma Army roads in this area. That is why the Karen soldiers still take the same precautions in securing the road crossing as they have done for years.
A few days later the rangers are conducting their first Good Life Club program together. They sing, put on skits, teach about hygiene, and play games with the kids. These rangers really put their whole heart into giving these kids their best. During one of the dramas, we hear the concussion from a large explosion on the other side of the mountain. Many of the kids and rangers look over their shoulder to where the sound came from before turning back around and enjoying the rest of the drama. Later the local security informs us that the explosion was set by the Burma Army to intimidate the villagers. The Burma Army is continuing to build a new road past where the Karen National Union (KNU) has said they are allowed to. However with the new ceasefire the Karen cannot fight them or destroy their bulldozers for fear of being accused of violating the ceasefire agreement. So the Burma Army continues to build more and bigger roads and send additional arms and ammunition to their camps overlooking Karen agricultural areas.
Several days after this, the FBR teams have arrived at another village to participate in their Christmas program. The villagers generously open their homes to us and invite us to join in their Christmas feast and games. The rangers have a lot of fun joining in with the villagers in their tournaments and races. Our group consists of Karen, Karenni, Arakan, and Kachin rangers, so it is always interesting for the villagers to interact with people from all over Burma. It also gives hope to the Karen villagers and makes them feel they are not alone in the struggle for freedom and justice in Burma. The rangers have another GLC program for the kids and the medics simultaneously set up a clinic to treat anyone who is sick. In the evening the village church holds a Christmas prayer service, followed by a concert that lasts deep into the night.
The Karen live in a beautiful land of green mountains. They are warm and generous people who open their homes to one another. They are humble and very capable people. Their villages are simple and usually without electricity or running water. However the Karen have so much joy that they love to share with others. However, if you ask a villager about the recent ceasefire signed between the Burma Army and the KNU, the most common answer seems to be that they do not trust the Burma Army. Since the ceasefire process began, the Burma Army has used the opportunity to rebuild and fortify their camps and send more arms and rations to their camps. They have made no effort to withdraw troops from positions blocking agriculture areas or to create confidence among the villagers. The leaders and villagers worry that if the Burma Army decides to attack again, now that they are much better armed and fortified, it would be even more difficult to stop them. Villagers have tried to farm some of the areas closer to Burma Army camps but, they have to take turns providing security while others farm to be able to alert each other if they need to run and hide should the Burma Army come.
Even through all the worry over the new ceasefire and the lack of confidence local people have that the Burma Army will keep its word, the Karen remain steadfast. The leaders here work to create a better life for their citizens by establishing schools and clinics, and by building roads and providing infrastructure. The Karen keep going on with their lives, full of cheer and generosity towards others – no matter what the future holds. For the Christian Karen, they will say that their strength comes from God and that is ultimately where their trust is.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and May God Bless You,