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Posts tagged ‘Kachin people’

Feeling as insignificant as fly poop

business mtngI was sitting in a office belonging to the biggest corporation in Norway. In front of me, across a big table were two well-dressed men. Everything about them matched. Their shoes, their suits, the color of their shirts, the hairdos and even their fingernails were statements of perfection, class and power. Before entering the office I had walked through the corporation’s headquarter, and it appeared more like a small kingdom to me. Once inside its walls it seemed like you became a loyal, faithful and devoted citizen of the kingdom. All the people spoke highly of the company they served, and if what they said was true, it was a flawless company. The company’s only aim and mission was to make the world better, safer, happier and healthier. That they worked here was only because their life ambitions were the same as the company’s. They would die pursuing the dream of a perfect world. You do understand, don’t you, that the company was an oil company.

“So what do you want from us?” they asked. It seemed like the question was genuine. It had been easy to answer the question: What do you want? when I practiced it at home before the meeting. I wanted them to give us money. Money to help children. Money to build schools. Money to train medics and to help the sick. Money to develop new methods to improve food production. But sitting there, across the big table, in the glass office, with the expensive suits and the high tech reception that was 100% digitized, I suddenly felt so small and stupid. Why would they give us money? We were like a speck of fly excrement on the top of their polished shoes.

And when I asked, the answer was as expected: “We don’t give money to groups like yours. We do of course give money to charity, but then we give to the ones who really matter, like the UN for example.” They went on to tell me why they couldn’t give money to any of the Partners projects. They also said that just because they were interested in oil drilling in Burma they weren’t directly or indirectly responsible for human rights abuses. And hearing what they said, I didn’t disagree. Even idealistic aid workers like me see the need for businesses to develop in order for a country to prosper. I just wished they had chosen a different business than oil drilling, and a different area than the ocean outside Rakhine state where currently the worst kinds of human rights abuses are taking place.

The honest truth is that there are times when I wish that my job was selling a product that promised beauty, long life and prosperity. It is so hard always promoting life-saving products, such as food, to starving, poor and oppressed people. There are times when I wish I did work for one of those large charities, the ones who claim to only be spending 10% on admin, but who still manage to find money to pay for ads that cost thousands of dollars every month, who still have a list of employees that is longer than our list of donors, and the ones who end up getting the sponsorships from large corporations who feel that giving to the big charities is the safest thing.

girl in Mae Ra MuuBut then I think like this: I know that we are not insignificant. Not for the 911 kids that get a home to live in because of Partners. Not to the hundreds of people who received eye glasses and to the thousands who received medical care. Not to the 71 farmers who got training in agriculture and who learned how they can produce food for their families and communities. Not for the hungry Rohingya people who received 94.9 tons of rice. Not for the 10,000 Kachin who have access to community care. Not to the thousands who have received food and blankets. Not to the almost 100,000 children who are allowed to go to school. To them we are not small and insignificant. To them we are a life-source. To them our help makes the difference between life and death.

boy w hat for winter warmth

Some times I wish that the corporations, agencies and other groups that say No when we ask for support would be able to see the children’s smiles when they get their rations of food, their new shoes, the opportunity to go to school, or the news that they can still live with their parents instead of moving to a refugee camp to study. Some times I wish they had understood that for the price of one of their high-tech computer systems, we could develop land and grow food to feed hundreds of people, we could train community health workers and birth attendants. We could pay teachers and buy school books. I wish it was a little easier to make the world better for the people who need a better world. And, who knows, it may change soon. Next time I meet the men with the suits they may be asking me how they can help. Miracles do happen still.



I don’t have much to say today

As the world is getting dark and the house is quiet except from the sound of my key board, I feel like this has been one of these days that I most likely won’t remember for long. Nothing out of the ordinary happened today. (Except the fact that my husband went to a wedding in Latvia, my oldest daughter called and said she had ascended the tallest mountain in the region yesterday, my middle daughter needed my help to sign a contract so she can move into a studio apartment closer to her high school in a few weeks, and my youngest had fever and a bad cough all day. I made crackers and roasted sweet potatoes and went for a run. So, in other words, a very ordinary day for the Gumaers.)

What to write about in my sporadic blog, I wondered while I was snacking on the sweet potatoes.

I don’t want to write about something sad. I don’t want to comment on the world’s status right now because it is just going to depress us all. Let me just say this: Have human beings totally lost their marbles? Has the world ever been in a sadder state than now? I don’t know the answer. If you do, let me know.

So I decided to share the coolest thing about this day. I got to watch a video that made me smile and swell with pride. It is a video worth watching if you think that nothing matters. If you think life sucks and if you ever give a few dollars away it is for sure going to be spent on weapons or administration. If you watch this video you may become a better and happier person.

If you don’t, feel free to contact me and ask for your money back.

Happy watching!

This is the link

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 10.54.59 PM


New life in many forms

New life is a miracle every time.

If you Google new life, you will, in less than a second, get six billion five hundred thousand sites. I am serious. Try it! That is almost one new life for every citizen in the world on Google. Not surprisingly, most sites are either churches or other places related to new life in Jesus. Some also write about new life in a new place, or new life after they almost died. I guess, since it is mentioned so often, new life is something many of us are longing for.

These days I am thinking about and observing new life daily. It comes with the season. Some weeks ago, Kristin and I planted seeds in small pots. Now they are sprouting and will be nutritions vegetables or colorful flowers. From the seeds come new life. On the road to the grocery store we pass a couple of farms where little lambs tumble on the meadows like cotton balls. Spring brings new life. In crude nests by the ocean close to our houses the geese have put their eggs, and now they are watching over them with their own lives on the line. Soon balls of fur will follow the adult geese out into the ocean, decorating it with new life.

Yesterday I got photos from Partners farm in Thailand. A cute little calf was born. She is a girl and has big ears and kind eyes. I was so happy to see those photos of new life being brought forth at our farm, confirming that with the life at the farm, new life will also be given to hundreds of people.

I heard a story today. In Kachin state, where a terrible war has been raging for more than three years Seng K lives with 1700 displaced people in a crowded camp. Life, the way it used to be, is but a memory. He is 57 years old and has worked with Partners for a while now, doing community support network. Mai also lives in the same camp as Seng K. Her husband has been away fighting for the freedom of their people for a long time. Mai had three children already, and now she expected twins.

Mai with her new babies and two of her other kids. Next to her is Seng K, the person who made it possible for Mai to go to the hospital (along with the generous people who gave money)

Mai with her new babies and two of her other kids. Next to her is Seng K, the person who made it possible for Mai to go to the hospital (along with the generous people who gave money)


To deliver twins can be scary under any circumstance. Think about how it would be to deliver, not one, but two babies, in a crowded and primitive clinic in a camp for displaced people. Even the staff at the clinic was pessimistic about the prospect of delivering the twins there. But, a few hours away there was a hospital where she would get proper care. The only problem was: Mai didn’t own a car, and she had no money for transportation. It would cost as much as 15 USD to get her there. That was a lot more money than Mai owned. 

The small community of people who had lost their homes and everything they owned, including family members, heard of Mai. They have no income and no reason to believe they will get an income any time soon.They are struggling to feed their own children. They live in the most basic conditions. And yet they were willing to help Mai! All of them gave a little bit of money, and soon they had the 15 USD she needed. Off she went, and the delivered two healthy babies. New life in the midst of death and sadness. What a reason that is to be hopeful!

Mai’s life is as hard, if not harder, than before. Now she needs to provide for five children, not just three. But even though it is hard, she knows this: She is surrounded by people who cares about her and her children. She has experienced that firsthand. My prayer is that the twins will grow up with a new life for Kachin state.

Happy spring!







Some people are allowed to lie


A young mom and an infant in a refugee camp in Kachin State. Unless somebody like me cares an awful lot...

A young mom and an infant in a refugee camp in Kachin State. 

Last month I went to the north of Burma. I went to a state where the Kachin live. They one of the beautiful people of Burma, brave, hospitable and friendly. For three years the Burma Army has brutally attacked their homes, their villages and their land. Their land is full of natural resources. I suspect that is why, although they would never admit it themselves.

The 100,000 Kachin who have lost their homes and everything that is dear to them receive hardly no help at all. This is one of the stories I heard. Read it with tissue paper close by.

boy by Steve

Maru (not his real name) will never forget that Sunday. The sky was heavy with rain, and the fields all around the village was bursting with color. The monsoon season brought new life to the thirsty pastures.

Sundays were days of rest and fellowship. His dad had been to the men’s service early in the morning. Now the women had their own service before they would all gather for one last family service at 11. He heard the sound of his dad’s motorbike approaching. Quickly he got up, got on his sandals and walked over to where his dad was waiting. “Let’s go, “ hid dad smiled. Maru felt happy. It was a good day. After church they would be eating together, his mom, dad, sister and him. Then he could spend the rest of the day playing with his friends. He just hoped the soldiers would not come and bother any of them.

When they got to the church building on the top of the hill they realized they were early. The women were still singing their hymns inside, and they knew it would be a few minutes before they got out. Maru’s dad did not like to wait idly and looked at his son: “I will just go down and check on the fields,” he said and got back on the moped. Maru smiled and nodded. He knew that the fields did not really need to be attended to, but he also knew his dad. He cared for his fields with the same devotion he shoved his family. Hardly a day passed when he was not attending to them. He looked at his dad’s back as he rode proudly on the family’s most priced possession—their blue motorbike. He did not know that it would be the last time he saw his father.

Twenty minutes later his dad was not back for the service. Maru did not want to miss it and went inside anyway. But he thought it was odd that his dad had not come back. He never missed the church services. Maru was sure he had his reasons and soon forgot about it.

He walked home alone. His dad was still not back. “Strange,” thought Maru. Then he figured that his dad may have just gone straight back to their house when he realized he would be too late for the service. He carried his dad’s bag with the worn hymnal and Bible inside.

The Sunday afternoon did not turn out to be what he had envisioned. As soon as he came home he heard the guns. It wasn’t like he hadn’t heard it before. Since the war started more than two years ago, the government troops had been attacking the area frequently. Their goal was to defeat the resistance. Their goal, it seemed to Maru, was to take over their land and make him and his people landless, and —it appeared—freedomless. Several times a month there was fighting. Almost daily soldiers would march through their village. Often they would steal their belongings, kill their animals and even harass the villagers. Regularly the villagers would have to run away and hide during the fighting. It was dangerous for them to be in the area, running the risk of getting killed or captured by the enemy. Maru wished the war would end so they could go back to having school regularly.

When his dad had not come back that night, the family started to worry. Where could he have gone? They did not want to admit it, but they all felt the same nagging fear: Had the worst happened to him?

As the fighting all around them continued, Maru and his sister were forced to stay inside. Their mother kept looking outside for signs of her husband, and for signs of an end to the shooting. But nothing changed. The next morning she could not stand it anymore and walked over to the neighbors and told them her husband was missing. Soon the whole village knew. They all feared the worst, but kept hoping their fears would amount to nothing. When they felt they could do so, some of the village leaders took Maru’s mom to see the army officer. The man was wearing his uniform and it was tight around his waist. Maru’s mom immediately felt fearful upon seeing him. She knew the power he had. With her eyes downcast she told him her husband was missing, and asked if he had seen him.

The officer told them he knew that Maru’s father had been stopped and checked by his battalion, but his soldiers had let him go. It was hard to trust him, but she wanted to. Still, if they had let him go, then where was he now?

The village leaders looked like they had the same thought.

The next morning Maru looked outside when he heard the familiar sound. The sound of his father’s moped. He knew that sound from afar. He associated it with the person he loved the most and who he had longed for the last 48 hours. Could it be that his dad was coming home?

It was his dad’s moped. But his dad was not on it. Instead it was ridden by two of the soldiers. Why were they riding on the moped Maru’s dad used to take him and his sister to school? Maru did not want to think about the answer.

That afternoon the whole village decided to go looking for the man they all knew as a neighbor, friend, relative, community leader and church member. They divided into two groups and walked through the fields. They found his body in the sugarcane field. He was partially buried. When they found the body it was wrapped in plastic. His purple jacket covered his face. He had been dressed in a uniform belonging to the Kachin resistance. His body was covered with bruises, and his leg was broken. When they took his uniform off, the saw a bullet hole on his chest.

The army officer had told them they had let him go. But here was the evidence that he had lied. They had beaten him, tortured him, killed him and dressed him, a simple farmer, in the uniform of the resistance. They had left him to decompose without letting his family or his village know what they had done. Now they had left, and it seemed like their cruel deed was forgotten.

Maru’s father was buried in the village. They never got his moped back. Since July, when this happened, they have had to flee many times. Every time they hide in the jungle. Every time they come back to their village to see possessions stolen or destroyed. Every time they flee their school gets interrupted. Every time they flee they are afraid that what happened to Maru’s dad might happen to them.

Nobody was charged with the crime, and Maru’s people are still not free.

The happiness report

What is happiness for you? This photo was taken by Steve in Kachin state. It is one of our favorite photos.

What is happiness for you? This photo was taken by Steve in Kachin state. It is one of our favorite photos.

Today I was skimming through the happiness report, a report done by the UN. Read the report here. I fully plan to read the whole document when I get the time. I think it is interesting to read about where people are the happiest, and why. I have to ask myself if I am happy from time to time too.

And, many of you know, I have written about happiness on the blog many times before.

Last week I wrote about the Kachin in hiding who told us that they have everything they need. It was shocking to hear that. Especially when I looked around at where they were living. Bullets holes decorated the walls. The toilets reeked. The food left much to be desired.

I met a man and a woman. They travelled for hours to meet us. At first they were shy to talk, but little by little they started sharing. They told us about their brother in law who had been brutally killed by the Burma Army just a few months ago. He had waited for church to start and went to tend his fields in the meantime. That was the last time they saw him alive. Days later they found his tortured and destroyed body hidden in a sugarcane field. A bullet hole went through his chest. He was dressed in a uniform that did not belong to him.

It was hard for them to recall the loss of a relative, a neighbor and a good friend. They knew that it could just as easily have been one of them who was caught that day.

“The Burma Army comes to our village a lot,” they told us. “When they do, we need to pick up whatever we have and run to our hide site. Sometimes we are able to bring blankets. Other times we don’t have time to bring anything.” They told us that they cannot even count how many times they have had to run. Perhaps 20 times in a year. Each time they stay in their hide site from one to three, four days. Depending on the fighting.

“It is hard to run and hide so often,” they said. “We need to put up new shelters every time. It is often cold and rainy. The mosquitos and other bugs are terrible.” They also said that it was impossible for the children to go to school now because their daily routines kept getting interrupted. “We are also not able to produce enough food,” they said. “Since we are always busy running from soldiers, we cannot work our land properly, and this makes it so we cannot get enough harvest.”

They told us their story as if it was a normal story to tell. For their people the story is nothing out of the ordinary. They have all experienced similar fates.

But for me it mattered a lot. It confirmed that I was in the right place. It confirmed that I needed to keep sharing the stories of the people in Burma, be it the Kachin, the Rohingya or any of the other ethnic groups who are currently suffering under a regime who says they have changed, but who actually have not.

What is happiness? For the man and the woman I talked to happiness would be to be allowed to live in peace in their village. It would be to grow their own food, and to keep their animals. It would be to see their children go to school. It would be to have medicine when they or anybody in their family got sick. It would be to live with the absence of fear.

They never mentioned the need for a new purse, for Botox to cover up their wrinkles, or for a car that would run a little faster. They never mentioned remodeling their homes, nor a new diet they were on. They just said they want to live in peace. For them that would be happiness.

What else do we need?

girl in doorSm

The reason for my silence for such a long time is simple. I have been in the land of no Internet. Kind of nice. Kind of isolated. I did not miss email much, but I did miss interacting with all of you in my blog-world.

I was in Burma and spent time with the Kachin. The Kachin are a strong, proud, honest, courageous and wonderful people whose lives have been torn apart by a brutal war that has lasted for more than two years now. Two years of constant attacks by the Burma Army. Two years of oppression and suffering. Two years of freedom completely lost.

I love the Kachin people, and would like nothing more than to see them free to enjoy their beautiful land.

In the days to come I think I want to share with you some of the stories I heard, and what I observed. I learned a lot from the Kachin. I did for example learn to be more content with what I have.

I would ask them: “So what can we do to help you?” They were living in the most miserable camps, with nothing but thin and leaky bamboo huts to sleep in. It was rainy and cold, and they did not have anything waterproof. They ate the same old rice every day, and the rations they received where nowhere close to what they really wanted to eat. They children were sick. Their toilets stank. It was not a very good life. And, yet, when I asked, they replied: “We are actually doing fine. We don’t need anything right now. We have food, shelter and medicine. What else would we need?”

“What else would we need?” they asked while living in one of the poorest places I have ever seen. “We have everything.”

What a stark contrast it was to the life I observe (and live) here. We have so much stuff we have a hard time finding place for it. We have so much food we run the risk of dying from fat. We have such nice houses and clothes and cars. But do we stop whining? Oh, no. Unlike the Kachin refugees, we make sure everybody knows when we have needs and wants. And it seems like the more we have, the less content we get.

It is a strange thing.

This mother and child get food every day thanks to Partners. I like to know that. We do make a difference.

This mother and child get food every day thanks to Partners. I like to know that. We do make a difference.

I learned from the Kachin to be grateful today. To be grateful for what I have. To practice being content in all circumstances. I may not succeed, and if I don’t, I know where to find the Kachin who can help me.


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…


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.🙂

How do you rate your happiness?

Happiness in a refugee camp in Kachin State, Burma. Photo by Leah.

Some weeks ago, while I was in Rangoon, Burma, I had dinner with two people from Kachin State. While feasting on yummy Kachin food, the lady, Grace, talked about her dreams and fears for the future. 

She has grown up in one of the world’s poorest, and most oppressed nations. She is from an ethnic minority that has been discriminated greatly. Now we were talking about the changes coming to the nation and how that will affect the normal people on the grass roots. 

Grace was worried about the greed she saw—in her own people, and in the thousands who are waiting to start investing in the international community.

“You know, I am not so sure that we want to increase our Gross National Product (GNP),” she said. “Are we so sure we will be happier if we are richer?” 

She continued: “I would like it like it is in Bhutan. They don’t have GNP there. They have GNH? Do you know what that stands for? Gross National Happiness.” (I have no idea if this is true or not. I have not bothered to check because I like the idea so much that I will be disappointed if it is not true.)

“And isn’t it so much better to measure people’s happiness instead of how much money they have? Wealth is not always what makes people happy.”

Said she. Who has been poor her whole life, and who now was looking at the prospect of more wealth. She had understood something very valuable. I hope her country listens to her. And that the rest of the world will too.


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