Thursday, March 31, 2011


We arrived in one of the camps in the evening. One of the camp leaders came to speak with us, a soft-spoken, lean man. When asked what the biggest need was for his village his answer was surprising. He said, “our people here are poor and we don’t have enough to eat, but we will make it. There are some other people, however, that I want to tell you about.” He went on to tell us about 11 villages in the surrounding areas, just over 1000 people. Their rice crops had failed last year, or were destroyed.

These Internally Displaced People (IDP's) come into his camp to ask for food and, he says, "in our camp, we want to help, but we don’t even have enough to feed ourselves.”

A side note, something to keep in mind…  Rice is essential. It is what they survive on. It is not a side dish, slathered with butter and seasonings, or a filler for their is what sustains them. They do not eat three times a day, oftentimes not even two, and now these villages were running out of this staple entirely.

You could feel this man's pain, having to turn people away…

If you have read this blog thus far and are motivated to help these wonderful, deserving people…this is their immediate need…RICE! Please follow this link to find out more…and this link to donate. Your donation will go directly to these 1000 villagers who are facing at least 6 months (until the next rice harvest) of starvation. A generous donor has agreed to match any donations from the U.S., so you can double your money…and help to feed these families.

Oddny (that is who we were traveling with, Oddny Gumaer, co-founder of Partners, she is pretty amazing) asked the camp leader if we could meet some of the newest people in his camp, so that we could hear their stories, find out where they came from and learn more about what the situation was in the jungle of Burma. The next morning, our shelter was full of newcomers who shared with us their stories…

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


There are other stories…

In a nearby village, near the same time and place, a woman was walking on a path carrying her baby and holding the hand of her 5 year old daughter. She ran into soldiers from the Burma Army. She ran. They shot her 5 year old as she scooped her up and tried to carry her, but she was already dead. She had to leave her on the trail in order to keep running. They shot at her and her baby…but she kept running. She made it back to her village with a gunshot wound on her side, but the shot had gone into her baby, he died later.

In another village, just a couple of hours' walk away, the woman in this photo, her family, and the rest of her villagers were hiding in a hide site in the jungle when an attack came. The Burma Army soldiers found them and they ran. Her husband stayed behind so that he could get on the radio and warn the neighboring villages, to give them time to run. As he was sending a message on the radio the soldiers came and shot him. He died heroically, selflessly, to be certain, as did the other woman's husband, but what a tragic death in a senseless war.

I saw pictures of their bodies. I saw pictures of their destroyed villages.

The Burma Army is ruthless. After they have run everyone off or killed them, they burn everything in the village and poke holes into their cooking pots so that there is truly nothing for them to return to. They defecate and urinate in their rice storages, and, oftentimes plant land mines around the perimeter, so that if they try to return, they risk having legs blown up, or worse.

Such evil exists, I kept wondering? It was so hard to believe, but it was so real, sitting there with them on that bamboo floor, listening…feeling their heartache.

They each survived those attacks. Their children survived. But now what. They start over, once again, with nothing. They have been living this life; hungry, fighting for a voice, for freedom to raise their families, for peace…for nearly their entire lives. And they continue to endure.

I am not as strong as these women.

Westerners say "why don't they leave?"

Where would they go? Where can they go? They have no country to call home except for the one they are fighting for their lives in. So they can only survive. Not knowing where they will get food for their children. Not knowing where they will lay their head to rest. Not knowing when or if they will ever know peace.

Why is this going on, you ask? Well, I am afraid I cannot answer that, save evil, perhaps, and tyrannical control. There is no way to justify this internal war between the Burma Army and its own people. It is beyond reason. There are many articles you can find on the internet if you search simply "Burma conflict" but none that will validate this horror. Partners is a great place to start learning about this conflict as they have been actively aiding these people and fighting for human rights for over 15 years. They are also great resource for more information about the conflict.

Please, bear with me, as I tell you other stories, and share other pictures…it is important to understand…we are all interconnected on this planet…and all deserve for our voices to be heard.

And, if these stories or images move you to act…please let me know and I will be happy to tell you how and where to contribute.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Overwhelmed. Part 3.

Just over a year ago, the second week of January in 2010, the Burma Army invaded her village.

She was with her children when she first heard mortar fire, in the distance, coming from a neighboring village.  Soon afterward she began to hear people in her village yelling "Run!"  She didn't know where her husband was, he had been on patrol, looking out for the Burma Army.  She told us she wasn't ready to run, nothing in her home was ready…but she heard people in her village yelling and saw them running….and then she heard him, her husband, yelling also, "Run! Run! Run!"

And so she, and all of the villagers, ran, in different directions, with whatever they could grab and carry on their backs.  Women, children, men...all ran into the jungle to flee the Burma Army who were firing into their village.  She ran with 5 of her children.  She didn't know where her husband was, or one of her daughters, and she was very worried, she told us "she felt very empty," but she ran...and kept running until they couldn't run anymore.

It was quite awhile before they got word, the Burma Army had shot her husband. 

He had been in the jungle when he saw them coming and he tried to fire a shot into the air but his gun had jammed (they are using antiquated WWII weapons, if they have any at all). A neighboring village heard him and sent up the mortar fire to alert the other village. He ran back to his village, grabbed his wife's sewing machine and hid it, to try to save it from the incoming raid, and then ran back for rice. They killed him as he was trying to get to the rice storage. One of his daughters was with him, but they missed her as she ran into the jungle and found her mother.

She survived.  You can see that in her face, she is a survivor.  She has survived attacks like this since she was a little girl, in this nameless, unspoken war...just like her beautiful little daughter who she carried with her to see us. 

She wonders, I am sure, will my daughter live this war?  Will this be her whole life, running, being afraid?  I hope not.  And I hope to give her a voice.

There is more to say...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Overwhelmed. Part Two.

I have been home for over a week now. Ashley and I attempted to cook a Thai dinner last night for our family...and, well, we might need to go back to our Thai cooking school! But, it was fun to be able to share some of our experience, stories and photos with our family.

It is hard, though, to convey what we felt while sitting with those proud, beautiful people, the Karen people, refugees of their homeland. I am still processing our trip and probably will be processing it for quite some time. And, frankly, I am a bit anxious about trying to sum up our experiences...because it has become so important to me... and I want to provide it just the right words...evoke just the right emotions in you, the reader... Today, I've finally figured out that if I don't start writing, no one will ever know...and people should know…so...bear with me as I try to put into adequate words my experience with the Karen people of Burma.

I met this woman in one of the camps we visited. She, and another woman, had traveled days in the jungle in hopes of getting an opportunity to tell us her story. In hopes, I think, of not feeling alone in the world.  I hope I can at least give her that...a the world.

She is nearly my age.  She has 6 children, including the littlest one leaning against her.  She cares for her children the best that she can and they are clearly the focus of her life...she smiled when she talked about them.  She worries about their health, as all moms do, she worries about their education and their future.  She worries about her own future too, I am sure, but her biggest worry is for her children.  She likes to sew.  She made the traditional Karen top she was was beautiful; intricate and colorful.  I felt a connection with this woman.  She was really lovely and strong...and, though we didn't speak each other's language at all, there seemed a moment or two when we both recognized that perhaps, in different circumstances, we might be friends.

She came to tell us her story. She walked through the jungle, with her baby on her back, in flip flops, for five days, so that we could hear her, so that we could validate her…and perhaps that we might give her hope, that she is not alone.

Her story follows next, give me a day or two to find just the right words.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Ashley and I returned safely from our adventure abroad!  While I am still in a bit of recovery mode from jet lag, thus the 2 a.m. blog post, I promise to write soon, and plenty, on the subjects of long flights, eating and learning to cook authentic Thai food, tuk tuks and other adventurous modes of transportation, earthquakes and tsunamis, finding chocolate waffles in Chiang Mai's busy Night Markets, standing in front of ancient Buddhist temples, and, mostly, affectionately, about the culture and situation of the amazing Karen people, and other ethnic tribes, of Burma.

It was an eye opening, awe inspiring, sort of out-of-body experience, to walk amongst these heroic people, the Karen villagers, who are literally fleeing for their lives on a regular basis in the jungles of Burma, their home country.  And to walk with those who are doing such great work helping them was an honor and a privilege we will never forget.  I promise to try to do it justice, to do them justice, by telling their stories, and mine.  Stay tuned.

But first, let me introduce you to this lovely young lady.  We share the same name.  I always knew I had a good name....

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Heading to Thailand!

Those of you close to me, or friends with Ashley, know that she and I are headed to Thailand! We are excited to join with the good people of Partners Relief and Development to shed light on the plight of the refugees of Burma's military regime.
We begin our journey tomorrow, finishing our packing and then heading to Salt Lake to catch our early morning flight out on Saturday morning. Through San Fransisco and then Seoul, Korea, 21 hours or so of sitting on planes, we will arrive in Chiang Mai, weary, to be sure, but eager to meet and help Partners provide awareness and support for the refugees.
We will be traveling north from Chiang Mai on Monday morning, to spend a week at various sites...lucky to be able to travel with Oddny Gumaer, one of the founders of Partners, who will be interviewing refugees, while I hope to be able to provide her some great photographs of their lives.
We will update this blog when we return to the city and also post a link to our Facebook pages, so stay tuned for more information.
In the meanwhile, if you'd like to know more about Partners and their work with the Burmese people, please check out their most recent publication here, Partners World, and keep us all in your prayers.

 (photo by Steve Gumaer)