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Posts tagged ‘Karen people’

The sad nation of bread and jam and other lessons

My new little friend whose name, she says, is Carrot, looks at me with a concerned face. She is eight years old and is trying to learn about the world she is living in. “So, in your country, what do you eat every day,” she asks. “Different things, like bread and potatoes,” I reply. This is when she starts feeling very sorry for me: “Oh, yes, I have heard that in your country you just eat bread and jam. It is a shame that you don’t have anything else to eat.” I want to defend myself and add: “Well, we also eat fish.” She is not impressed. “It must be hard for your people. You are never really full, are you? You should all move to our village where you could eat all the rice you want and feel really full.”

Carrot showing off her Play Doh sculpture.

Carrot showing off her Play Doh sculpture.

She and her friends are sitting on the porch of the house where we are staying stringing beads and making necklaces, rings and bracelets for themselves and for the members of our team. Carrot speaks up again: “Why don’t you have any green beads. These are only pink and purple ones.” “We are going to use green beans for something else later,” I explain. “And why do you want green anyway?” “Because green is the color of everything growing in the nature. That’s why,” she says and settles for the boring pinks and purples that have no meaning whatsoever.

After a while she has thought of a new question for me. “How long will it take you to get back to your country then?” “Two whole days,” I say, not including that this is just the flight home, not the two days it takes to drive to her village on the border of Burma. “Two days! That means you won’t get home until Thursday. Me, I have never been that far away from home. The furthest I have been is over there. See that village over there? That is the furthest I have been.”

As we keep stringing the beads there are other themes discussed as well. One of them is the two copulating dogs we saw on our way back from taking a bath in the river. “Did you see the two dogs we passed?” Carrot asks. I feel a little embarrassed to discuss what we had observed. Somehow I feel that teaching about reproduction is not part of my job description. I have to admit I passed the dogs quickly without looking too closely. For the children, however, it is just part of living in a village surrounded by animals. “Did you see those two dogs?” Asks Carrot. “Well, yes, I did happen to see them,” I reply and want to change the theme. “You know what it means, don’t you?” My little friend asks in a way that makes me understand she is checking how much we have learned about the cycle of life in our bread-eating country. I act ignorant. “OK, it means that in not too long we are going to have dog babies here in the village,” she patiently explains to me while she ties the ends of her necklace together. Then she tells me that she unfortunately has to leave the team and me now as she has other commitments. She needs to go home and take a bath and eat her dinner.

As I watch her leave I am confident that I have just met one of tomorrow’s leaders. I am so glad that it is girls like her that Partners help educate.

And here is Carrot's friend. I just had to add this picture because it is beautiful.

And here is Carrot’s friend. I just had to add this picture because it is beautiful.

First they lost their two-year-old son, now they may lose their baby

Po Chis SonIn November Po Chi experienced something no father should have to experience: His two-year-old son drowned in a tragic accident. He was his only child.

Po Chi works for Partners,  he is the manager on our development farm. On the farm he helps develop sustainable solutions for farmers in Burma. To grow their own food, cheaply and organically is the goal. For thousands of families in Burma, that will make the difference between life and death.

Po Chi and his wife took the loss of their only son very hard, understandably. I cannot imagine losing a child. I can’t even think about the pain. Their only comfort was that they would get a new child soon. Po Chi’s wife was six months pregnant when the accident happened.

The growing belly, the soft kicks they could both feel from the unborn baby gave them hope and a reason to not give in to the nagging grief. Soon they would be able to hold the new baby in their arms. Soon they would again be able to feel small arms around their neck. Soon they would be able to tickle, play and giggle. The unborn baby gave them a reason to live on.

Then the contractions started. It was not time yet. But they would not stop.

Seven weeks early the new baby made its entry. They were not ready. The baby was not ready for this world. At least it may  seem that way. In addition to being premature, he also has some other health complications. Right now he is struggling between life and death. He has a 50% chance to survive, says the doctor. That is 50% positive, but 100% uncertain.

Little baby boy weighs only 1.9 kg (4 pounds). He is getting a surgery right now as I am writing. My thoughts and prayers go to the parents. We don’t know if the mother can handle losing one more child, says our staff member, Matt. The pain is too much right now. The dad has been able to see the situation in a bigger perspective and said:

“It’s always easier to look back on trials and see God was at work all along… but I’m committing my son into His hands, and I believe that if he lives that God will use him for His glory.”

As I post this blog, I want to ask you to pray for this baby if you believe in prayer. And if you don’t, send whatever good thoughts you are able to produce his way. You can also consider giving towards their medical expenses.

I promise you, as soon as I know anything, I will let you know how things go.If you would like to help financially, please consider giving to our Patient Care Program that helps children just like Po Chi’s son get access to the health care they need here


What does Naw Mary have in common with Florence Nightingale?

One of the things I have been made aware of in my life as an aid worker is how so many aid workers are good at doing stuff, but not so good at listening. I am afraid that I have been one such worker many times. As I am getting older, and hopefully wiser, I am learning that good aid workers, and good aid organizations, are the ones who are not out to just fulfill their own agenda. They are the ones who come as servants, with a heart willing to learn and to listen. See, just because we come from the richer part of the world, the part of the world with the most stuff, doesn’t mean that we are the smarter ones. The key to good aid work is to listen to the people we are trying to help. And better yet, to get them to do the work that they are more capable of doing than we are.

Today I have been reading through pages upon pages of reports on Partners’ work. It has recharged me. And it has made me sure of one thing: We are in the right place.

I read the testimony of one of the Karen women who have been trained by our staff and who is now teaching her villagers how to have better hygiene and how to take better care of themselves. I was moved, and hope you will be too:

Another Karen woman that I met. This is not Naw Mary.

Another Karen woman that I met. 

“I love my role as a village health worker! Before, we had a lot of sickness in my village. I used to think it was because we didn’t have medicine or a doctor. Now I know that it was because we lacked knowledge. I teach my neighbors about hand washing with soap, using a toilet, nutrition and iron tablets. In the beginning, they didn’t know anything about anemia. They thought that their fatigue was because they had to work so hard on the farm. At first only a few people would take my iron tablets. But after some time, those people started to shine and seemed energetic all the time. Later, more people started to take iron tablets. I can see that my neighbors believe me now, because they are paying attention to cleanliness. I built the first toilet in my village, now I’m bringing you a request for eleven more.”

Naw Mary was trained by Partners staff, and look at what she is doing! She is building toilets for her village! She is one of 50 such health workers we have trained in just one part of Burma last year. You think it is a good investment? Of course it is! The goal of the Village Health Program is to equip local people to meet their self-identified health needs, and to educate them on additional opportunities to improve the community’s health. If that is not good development work, I don’t know what is.

I am so proud to be a part of Partners Relief & Development, and think you should also join our team. It is easy. Just click here!


When do I hear my neighbor sing?

Book Cover sizedI have been working on translating my book, Picking Flowers on Dusty Roads, into Norwegian. It is a long, and boring task.

Since I am in the mood of the book, I have decided to share a few paragraphs here. Perhaps you will like it and want to get the whole book. Nothing would please me more!

mother and children

“It’s no secret that we in the West are masters at spending our lives running for the wrong reasons. We’ve entangled ourselves in a net of expectations and commitments that’t harder for us to get out of than it is for a fly to get out of the spider’s web. We all know that we need to stop before the spider eats us alive—sucking all the juices out of us until we’re dead.”

“I was sitting in a Karen village watching life unfold. I was an outsider and was able to observe without really taking part. The challenges of survival were more complex and involved than I probably understood. Only a few kilometers away the Burma Army loomed, carrying with them the threat of death. Minutes earlier I had talked to a villager who had shared the burden of not having enough to eat and not knowing if they’d survive the year with so little rice. The children were poorly dressed, and many had runny noses and coughs. And yet I saw joy and heard laughter. I felt a sense of peace that maybe was divine.

I always heard singing and it came from everywhere. Not exactly Elf-like, but honest and unpretentious songs that I imagined were about love and bravery. Men who were working the fields or walking through the jungle, women who were doing the laundry by the river, or carrying their babies up the hills, and children who were just running about, being kids, sang. I have never heard as much singing as I have in the presence of the Karen. I wondered, When did I last hear my neighbor sing, or my colleagues as they came to work on Monday morning? We have a reason to belt it out. We live in a free country, we have pantries full of food, microwaves, and walk-in closets, but the song coming from us often lack tunes.

On this evening I heard the singing coming from simple huts on the hills while I stood outside watching the myriads of stars dancing on the dark sky. There were no other sounds than the sounds of the jungle and the little piggy-snores coming from three piglets that were huddling together in a ditch in front of one of the houses.”

If you want to read more, you will have to get the book. You can do that here. If you rather buy it on Amazon, it is available there as well. Here is the link.

Playing it fair, or remaining a bully

Life should be a little more fair for people like her.

Having had kids for a while, I have learned some things. One of them is that you have to play fair. There are rules to all games, and if somebody breaks them, he or she cannot be trusted. And kids don’t want to play with the ones who don’t play by the rules. I think this is pretty straight forward. 

Unless you live in Burma. 

Like so many you too may think that things are moving forward at the pace of success in Burma now. The reports I have been getting the last few days are anything but good. In some ways it is worse now than ever.

Because while villages are starving in Karen State because their rice crops have failed again, nobody knows. (We have received requests to help with food/rice for 3620 starving people)

While thousands of Kachin refugees who had to flee to China due to the heavy fighting in their villages are forced back to their villages where the fighting still continues, nobody seems to take notice. Read more here. (Again, Partners staff is there doing what we can to help. We have been able to provide food and shelter among much more.)

While soldiers are shooting at civilians in Karen and Shan State, although there supposedly is a ceasefire agreement in place, the media is suspiciously quiet.(This has been communicated with us by the Free Burma Rangers, but the report is still not available online)

While young girls are forced into prostitution because their families’ land has been confiscated by big international companies governments just continue their investments to “help develop” Burma.(Again, there are no official news about this, so you just will have to trust me and our staff who have been in the areas and seen the situation for themselves. They have interviewed and documented.)

While thousands are killed and forced to flee in Arakan state, the government of Burma is sadly passive, and the world don’t seem to care about a people who has nowhere to go. Read the report that my friend, Matt, wrote here.

You think I am just making this up? I wish that was the case, but I am not. This is all happening right now, as we speak. While countries are excitedly moving into Burma to get their piece of the cake. Follow the links I have given you, and comment, share and spread the word. 

Also, pray for and give to Partners who is trying to do our best to help in this mess. 

Got to go now. I need to figure out what more I can do…


Human rights and the color of your eyes.

Today I took a look at Kristin’s comments about human rights and ethics. She said some things that were plain cute. Not everything was right, but it gave me some insights.

Kristin and dad

“Ethics is when you treat the dark people worse than the light ones (I think she got the words mixed up here and explained discrimination instead.)

We need to think that all people are of equal worth and we need to think before we act.

Socrates, he is helping a little in the UN.

Human Rights means that all should get what they want.

An example is that if one is popular and one is not, they are still of equal value.

The Declaration of Human Rights is: They meet every year and talk about new rules they can put in the book.

To discriminate means that for example somebody has blue eyes and somebody has brown. And then the ones with blue eyes are not allowed to come to Norway.”

So these are Kristin’s thoughts. Certainly they are very simplified, but I thought about this: If one is popular and the other is not should not determine their value. In Burma this is still not true. It still seems like the ethnic minorities are the unpopular ones, and the ones who are not considered of equal value. This is wrong in the mind of a ten-year old, and it is wrong in my mind.

Says I. I have brown eyes and hopefully I can therefore live peacefully in Norway.


Mothers carry the world

As we celebrate Mother’s Day in many parts of the world today, our thoughts and prayers turn to the thousands of moms who have been displaced from their homes in Burma, struggling to care for their babes every day in IDP and refugee camps. We honor these moms and say a special prayer for each one! To help their plight, give at Partners website


Thoughts around scones

Today I got up, made some scones for my family (I had forgotten to buy bread yesterday, and in this country one does not eat breakfast if one has no bread.)

So I made if from flour I had in my shelves, some dark and some white. I put it in my oven when the temperature was right and waited for the timer to go off. We ate them fresh and warm with butter, cheese and marmalade.

There is still more food in my fridge.

I am planning on eating lunch, dinner and probably a snack too.

There is even food in my freezer if I need some more.

And it is likely I will go to the store today because we are out of yogurt and green apples.

Now I am by my desk doing my work (which can be compared to racket ball. My job is the ball, bouncing all over the place, and to many it looks like it is bouncing randomly too. But there is a plan and there is a strategy. Only thing is I may be the only one who knows what it it. Well, enough of that.)

So here at my desk I read about children in Burma being malnourished and sick. I read about charities who have dropped their support to the ethnic areas of Burma, because, presumably, there is peace now. The thing is that just because peace agreements have been signed, it does not mean that people all of a sudden have food. Also, even if  nobody is shooting you in your village, there are still no schools. It may be that the soldiers in the area will not rape the young girls (truth is, though, that in many places they still are), but there are still no medical facilities.

Kachin State. Photo by Leah, Partners Relief & Development

And then, don’t forget: In many places the same violence is still going on. The thing is that it is so far away that the news media and the investment-hungry companies don’t see it. In Kachin State, for example.

So, today, while drinking my coffee and enjoying my life in freedom and abundance, I want to send a note of thanks to my friends at Partners Relief & Development who still work as hard as ever to give food, medicine, education, love, hope and dignity to the people of Burma. And I was wondering: Perhaps you would want to join us? If you still have some food in your fridge you are richer than the kids I read about today. So why not share? Watch this movie and then make up your mind!

Have a happy weekend. :-)

When the sarong of perfection falls off

Kristin and I taking a bath in Burma.

Some of  you may have read my latest book, Picking Flowers on Dusty Roads, already. But if you haven’t, I thought I may give you a taste, just to tempt your appetite for more. Here are a few paragraphs from page 103:

“Obviously, we are from different worlds: the Western world with all its trinkets, and the jungle world with all its jungle gadgets. It’s only natural that we behave like clumsy amateurs in a world that is not our own. I can keep wishing that they could see me in my element, with my hair a different style than the mop-look I have been forced to adopt during these weeks. But I can also decide to give up my pride and let go.

I have no problem being totally honest and sincere while I’m just uttering my silent prayers to the only One whom I believe knows me just the way I am while here. Often it goes like this: ‘Help me, help me, help me.’ ‘Please, please.’ ‘Say something, will you?’ My prayers aren’t any more eloquent or impressive than the clumsy climbing moves I’ve had to make as I crawled up steep hills to get here. But they’re all I have. I can’t make them any better. If I did, I’d be a liar. Maybe I have come here to learn not to be too impressed by myself, but instead to see that I am weak and dependent. In the convenience of my own world, I often don’t see this, because I can do so much, and the rest I can fake. It’s a humbling feeling, but also freeing. In a way it is like the sarong has fallen off and here I am in my imperfection. You can take it or leave it, but this really is who I am.”

If you want to read more, then that is possible. You will just have to buy the book! You can get it at Partners or at Amazon.

Hope, the thing you find outside yourself

I have been trying to write an article about hope for a while. Gaiam, a company that we have worked a lot with, asked me to write something for their blog. I was flattered and happy. Now I had an excuse to write something just for fun, during my work hours.

I looked up some quotes on hope. Many of them I had read before. I searched some articles about hope, and learned some. I asked myself what I hope for.

My hopes ranged from: “Time to organize the laundry room” to “Greater influence in the development of the democracy in Burma.” If I am going to be totally honest, I must say that most of the things I hope for are things I hope for my family and myself. To hope for peace on earth sounds noble, but, honestly, I hope for things much more selfish way more often.

I have realized that living in a rich country and being among the rich few in the world (I don’t consider myself rich by any means. I compare me to my neighbors, and they have a lot more than me. The fact, however, is that compared to most of the people on the planet, I am very rich. I don’t live in a cardboard box, for starters) makes it hard to hope for much except that which is pictured in the glossy clothing or home furnishing catalogues. Everything has been given to me already, and what I don’t have isn’t essential for my survival. (I would like a new pair of shoes, but will I die if I don’t get any? I would love it if we could have two cars instead of one, but are our lives in danger with just one car?) Hope is not what keeps us alive.

I don’t think I have a great answer to the Hope question. This is what I ended up writing for Gaiam:

Over the years of working with refugees from Burma I have often wondered what their most important possession is. We have even made lists of the things that they bring with them as they flee the attacks of soldiers: A machete, cooking pot, tarp, a lighter, rice and salt. All those things are essential for survival in the jungle. The same with medicine and warm blankets. These are possessions that give life.

People on the run from their homes try to make sure that all these items are in the baskets on their backs and know that they will depend on them in the days to come. But often the attacks have been so sudden that they have not had the time to gather the basic essentials before fleeing. My organization, Partners Relief & Development, will first and foremost try to get help to people who have fled with nothing.

But there is something more important still: Hope. Over and over I have talked to people who have lost everything many times. They have seen loved ones killed. They have held their sick children in their arms when there was no medicine to even lower the fever. They have lived in the jungle, eating only what they can find. And yet they have smiled. They have not given up. They have made it back to their destroyed villages to rebuild them—again. What makes them do this?

I think that along with a huge portion of resilience and courage, these people are able to continue their lives because they have hope. They hope for peace. They hope for a better future for their children. They hope for a chance to continue to live in their villages again. It is when their hope is taken away that they truly have lost everything. I have met people who have lost this last part of themselves— their hope. These are the people who stop caring about getting out of bed in the morning, who stop taking showers, who stop trying to look nice and make their environment the best it can be. The ones who lose their hope are indeed lost.

But for the ones who can hold on to it have a reason to continue living, no matter how harsh life is.

How easy it is to hope when things are going our way! When all the stars align in our favor and the circumstances are our friends. “I hope for nice weather, “we will say, or: “I hope I can find a nice outfit for the right price.” “I hope I can go on a vacation.” It is easy to hope for a bright future, for good health, and for prosperity in all the areas of life when the circumstances are in our favor.

But how about if you lost everything? How easy would it be to keep the flame of hope burning then?

From the displaced people of Burma I have learned that it is then one needs hope more than ever. Hope becomes the medicine that helps us survive.

I think we all need to hope for something, and that something needs to be outside ourselves.



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