Tonight I went to the Friends’ church of Fairbanks annual fundraiser for Partners. It was a great event.
This is the story I shared:
Emily Paw was three. She wore a bracelet and two ankle bracelets. Her hair had small curls. I took a dress out from my bag and handed it to her. It had belonged to Kristin. Now Emily Paw put it on quickly, stood up and smiled. She twirled around for some seconds enjoying the attention she got. In her mind she was nothing less than a princess. While the adults kept talking she kept dancing, stopping only to pick up one more candy that was in a bag on the low table.
Her dad had died a month ago. He had been young, only 24. His little girl and his beautiful wife of 23 were his biggest treasures. When the Burma Army surrounded their village, made an army camp close by and started enforcing unlivable rules on the villagers, life became miserable. Their little village that had been a paradise before the soldiers arrived now felt more like a prison.
No leaving the village after dark, they said. No leaving the village to go to the rice fields, they continued. Land mines were placed on the trails so that the villagers who broke the rules would suffer severely. We need people to work on our camp, they demanded. We need some of you to carry our equipment. We need some of you to be mine sweepers. We need some of you to clear land for us. The villagers were now not just prisoners, they became the army’s slaves as well.
Emily Paw’s family was hungry all the time. They were not allowed to leave the village, so how were they supposed to find food? One night her dad snuck outside, hoping it would not be noticed. He went to hunt for an animal. They needed some meat to eat.
When he had shot an animal he snuck back on the trail. He smiled as he thought of his little girl’s joy when she was given a warm, nice meal to eat.
He never made it home. The soldiers had noticed that he was gone, they went to find him and met him on the trail. Without mercy they tortured him, killed him and left him on the trail where the villagers found him the next day. His dead body was meant as a warning.
Emily Paw’s mom was telling me the story. She spoke quietly and without much emotion. But Emily heard the name of her dad mentioned as she danced by in her new dress. “Daddy?” she asked. “Where is Daddy. I really miss him?”
Our vision in Partners is Free, full lives for the children of Burma. Some people wonder if that is all. Don’t you want to do more than just help the children? They wonder. There are so many other needs.
But how can the children in Burma experience free, full lives?
They must be able to live in a country not controlled by a brutal army who commit the most heinous crimes with impunity. That is why we want to focus more on advocacy in Partners. We are the advocates for the children who have lost their parents, their homes, their right to go to school , their right to get medicine when they are sick, their right to play in the forest without stepping on land mines, the right to worship the God they believe in without discrimination, the right to dream, the right to plan, the right to preserve their own culture and heritage.
They must be able to eat when they are hungry. That is why Partners focuses on bringing rice and other food supplies to the people in hiding. It is also why we focus more and more on development. We train the people in the villages in agriculture and aqua culture so that they can be self-sustained, and increase their crops. We show them how to grow new vegetables, fruits and herbs in order to enrich their diet. Everything we do can be reproduced without our help.
They must be able to get treatment when they are sick. That is why Partners spends so much of our money and resources on buying medicines that get sent to Burma with relief teams. This is why we spend so much time, energy and resources training medics that can go to the villages and to the displaced populations to treat the sick. This is why we train village leaders in basic community health. This is why we teach women how to help deliver babies. This is why we bring people with severe sicknesses to Thailand for professional care.
They must be able to go to school. This is why we support thousands of teachers that teach in small, local village schools in Karen State, Karenni State and Shan State. Children should be able to go to school in their own community instead of being sent away to go to school in refugee camps or towns far away. Children will be tomorrow’s leaders. By building and supporting schools we build a nation.
They must be able to feel safe, loved and cared for even when they have been orphaned or sent away by parents who, for whatever reason, is not able to care for them. This is why we support orphanages and children homes.
They must be able to play and have fun. This is why we spend money on sport equipment, art supplies and music instruments. For a little while they can experience the carless you of childhood, and develop their skills and talents in sport, music or art.
Their soul must be cared for. This is why we have developed child trauma care, and train leaders in how to minister to children who have been traumatized.This is also why we want to do soul and trauma care for the adults. How can they help the children when their own wounds are open?
They need to know that they are loved and not forgotten, by God, by us and by the world. This is why we always remind them of that.
Free, full lives for the children of Burma. Is it a vision too narrow? No, I don’t think so. But can it happen? I think it can. It may just take a while.