Hello from Myanmar!
First of all, I thank God for allowing me to be part of JRS in journeying with our brothers and sisters who are forcibly displaced. It is my honor to join this special event of the 40th anniversary of JRS.
But I have mixed feelings. I feel… sad …because seeing many humanitarian organizations including JRS in many countries for many years reflects that there are still sufferings and injustices around the world, calling us to work together for the cause. At the same time, I feel grateful that God gives JRS His blessings through many partners, volunteers, staffs and donors, to accompany refugees and other forcibly displaced persons for 40 years now.
About me and JRS, when I started joining JRS in Thailand way back in 2009, my late mother was worried and didn’t want me to go. She told me that the camp was dangerous and associated with ethnic armed groups. I told her that I would return immediately if I were not happy there. However, the mission of JRS is truly a call for me to do something good for other people who are marginalized. I have been working with JRS for about 11 years now: 7 years with Myanmar refugees in the camps in northern Thailand and 4 years with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) & refugee returnees in Myanmar.
Since then, I am grateful for many remarkable memories with refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), as well as my wonderful colleagues JRS staff and volunteers. They help me know myself more, helped me understand the meaning of “serve” far more than what I originally think of basically as “providing something necessary to the refugees and IDPs, such as food, shelters, clothes, water, health care and education services”.
“To serve”, is indeed inseparable with “to accompany and advocate”. They are all connected.
Working with the partners who are themselves refugees, sharing meals together, celebrating successes together, crying together with some who lost their family members in the big fire in the camp, are some unforgettable memories for me.
May I tell you one example about how serving the refugees or Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is so inspiring to me? Whenever I visit the schools, I always have conversation with students and teachers, listening to their dreams. It was so amazing and uplifting to listen to what they would like to become and why. Students shared that they want to become medical doctors, engineers, economists, designers, scientists, teachers, musicians, etc. I strongly believe that they can become what they dream if given opportunities. However, education in the refugee camps or in some IDP camps or conflict-affected non-government controlled areas inside Myanmar is not recognized and children cannot continue further education opportunities. This always motivates me to find ways, in collaboration with other education stakeholders, to raise this concern to officials from the ministry of education. For me, to serve, is not only to provide service, but to find long-term solutions with other stakeholders including the people we accompany.
Also, there were times that their resilience is truly remarkable. I remember the time when one refugee camp we work in Thailand faced a terrifying fire which caused 37 refugee deaths, about 400 houses burned, including 3 schools we support. The cause of the fire was controversial as intentional blaze and not cooking fire or forest fire as there were witnesses who saw the small planes passing over and dropping something. The feeling of “Loss”, more importantly the loss of the loved ones was so profound.
When we rebuilt the schools that were burned down, we had meetings with camp leaders, parents and teachers. We involved them in choosing the location of the school, developing school designs, and construction plan. With the parents’ labor support, the school was reconstructed successfully and in time. I could see the good results of working together as a community. To serve is to respect them and let them take actions for their own good.
I would like to take this as an opportunity to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to all JRS volunteers and staffs, both the current and the past ones: “thank you so much for your dedicated service and accompaniment along the journey. Deeply appreciated”. With God’s blessings, let’s continue to serve- with joy and compassion- for the cause of our brothers and sisters who are forcibly displaced.
This flower-photo was taken when I went to monitor and support the schools and teachers in conflict affected areas in Kachin State. Each flower, though small and wild, is beautiful…it will bloom in its favorable environment. Thank you.