Michael's Dispatches

Tragedy in Thailand

27 March 2013

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Burma neighbors Thailand on the west.  For 65 years, a war against and between ethnic groups in Burma has been on.  The conflicts created many internally displaced refugees, while others have crossed into Thailand.  Thailand has allowed this incursion for humanitarian reasons.

One of the ethnic groups are called Karenni.  I visited some of the Karen (not Karenni but closely related) villages in Burma and Thailand.  The Karen I have met have all been Christian, and their churches are little more than bamboo huts similar to those on Gilligan’s Island.  Some people sleep on mats on the bamboo floors, while others use hammocks.

Their homes are made from bamboo, planks, and thatch.

The Karen are educating their children in foreign languages, mathematics, and the normal topics.  I visited a school while it was in session.  The children were attentive, and again, like something from Gilligan’s island with no air conditioning, no desks, just benches, with pigs and dogs wondering into the classes.  They were getting the job done.  Teachers have no real teaching tools other than a blackboard and some books.  Yet when talking with the kids, it does not seem that their education is lacking.

These people live hard, but they seem to have a collective happy heart.

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Last week, tragedy struck a Karenni refugee village.  A cooking accident burned down the entire village, killing dozens and injuring perhaps one hundred.  The figures are unclear as they were taken to many hospitals, and on the scale of Asia this is little more than a minor footnote that involves people who mostly are ignored.

The Thai Army, police, fire, and humanitarian groups came to assist.  A truck filled rescuers also had a terrible accident resulting in at least one death and many injuries.

The tragedy made a flash in the news and emergency help poured in, but now the refugees, with twice-shattered lives will again fade into oblivion.

A group of mostly American aid workers has worked with the Karenni and other groups for years.  They are based here in Chiang Mai, but spend much time inside of Burma.  The Christian group is called “Free Burma Rangers,” and is headed by a former Green Beret officer.

If you wish to help, please go here, making a note that this is for the Mae Suring refugee camp: http://www.freeburmarangers.org/contact/support/

Many pictures follow, without comment.  The images were sent to me by Free Burma Rangers.  The images speak for themselves.  Some are highly graphic.

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