Category Archives: Landmine Victims

Burma in the News: Landmine Victims Find Solace at Mae La

The choir at Care Villa sing. (Photo: Alex Ellgee/The Irrawaddy)

According to The Irrawaddy (published April 10, 2010):

As the last rays of sun beam through the wooden wall, the choir assembles in the hut. Without delay, the men bellow out the first verse of a Karen song.

One member of the choir tilts his head back, seemingly fully engrossed in the sounds around him while another raises his amputated arm to his ear. The back row breaks off into a harmony filling the room with melancholic songs of freedom and hope for their people.

They have been brought together by a love of music, but this is not your average choir. These men have formed a bond as a result of their near-fatal encounters with landmines.

“In my village, I had never seen a blind man or a person without a limb, so when I lost my sight I felt like such an outsider and lost all hope,” said Has Ka Tarai, who at 15 years of age, is the youngest member of the choir.

When he was 12, Burmese government forces stormed his village, deep in Karen State, burning down all the homes. He and his mother fled to the jungle where they hid for days till they thought it would be safe to return.

As they walked up the hill to the village, Has Ka Tarai recalls being excited to return home. Suddenly he was knocked to the ground; he had hit a landmine with a knife he was playing with.

He says he remembers feeling a pain in his eyes, something he compares to ants eating out his eyeballs. He remembers the sound of his mother shouting and crying. He was blinded and lost much of his hearing.

It has been well documented that the Burmese army often leaves landmines outside villages they raid in order to deter people from returning to their homes. By doing so, they are able to control more territory and leave a psychological scar on the jungle communities who reject their rule.

For two months, Has Ka Tarai’s eyes went untreated until a Free Burma Ranger medic came to the village. Seeing how severe his condition was, the medic took him all the way to Chiang Mai in Thailand. Has Ka Tasrai was told he would never see again.

He didn’t want to go back to his village, fearing for his life. Instead, he was offered a chance to stay at “Care Villa,” a foundation set up in 2000 by the Karen Handicap Welfare Association to look after landmine victims at Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand.

Not only have many of the residents at Care Villa lost limbs, but many have lost their sight as well. Basic daily activities can be extremely difficult for them. Before coming to Care Villa, many of them stayed with friends or family who were unable to help satisfactorily. Many say they fell into heavy depression.

Continue reading the article here

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Filed under Burma in the News, Free Burma Rangers, Internal Displacement, Landmine Victims, Military, Reports, The Karen, The People

In Darkness, Karen Refugees Dread Forced Return to Burma

photo by: Alex Ellgee/ The Irrawaddy
After a sleepless night, families due to be repatriated gather before dawn to discuss their fate.

THA SONG YANG, Thailand (02/05/2010) — Last night, under the light of the stars, I guided myself through the paddy field toward the flickering flames on the top of the hill. Dashing across a dirt path, I narrowly miss a Thai security bike and arrive at the Noh Boe temporary refugee camp.

Immediately, I am whisked into a flimsy bamboo shelter to avoid the Thai soldiers, who the residents say are always circling the camp on patrol. Quickly, someone lights a candle—a precious commodity in a place with no electricity—and various residents tell me of their heartache.

“We can’t stay here but we don’t want to go back,” Saw Naing, a camp teacher, says quietly as we sit on his hut floor.

He explains that all the people in the camp are terrified to go back to Ler Per Her in Karen State because of the landmines that litter the area and the abuse they can expect to receive there from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ally of the Burmese junta.

Read the full article with a photo slideshow via The Irrawaddy

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Filed under Burma in the News, Internal Displacement, Landmine Victims, Military, Perspective, Refugees, Reports, The Karen, The People

Where Once Was Only Darkness…

In a small corner of a border refugee camp sits the Karen Handicap Welfare Association’s (KHWA) “Care Villa”. The on-going war in Eastern Burma produces many casualties, and currently 19 ethnic Karen receive care here, healing the injuries resulting from landmines placed by the Burmese Army in their ethnic minority villages and farmlands. We see innocent villagers, unfairly punished for trying to feed their families. Former soldiers wounded while fighting for their freedom against an oppressive military junta still in power.  And even a small boy of 15, blinded while collecting wood for a fire.

Che Lee (34), a rice farmer, lost his sight and both hands to a landmine in 1997. He lives a simple life that starts early in the morning with prayer. It is his brothers and sisters at the center who make it possible for him to carry out his day. From washing himself and changing his clothes to eating a meal, Che Lee relies on the care given by the center’s assistants and by those, who like him, have had their lives shattered by landmine injuries.

Che Lee spends his days listening to music, singing in the Care Villa choir, and visiting friends throughout the camp with the help of the children leading the way. While Che Lee speaks of his sadness for losing his sight, he finds strength through the members of the center who bring him joy.

“We live together and we eat together, like a family – we are a family. For 5 years I lived at my friends’ house and life was very lonely, but since I have moved to the Care Villa,  my family has grown and we all work together.”

Delivering a “CARE Package” to an much-deserving resident of the “Villa”

WIN Program Coordinator Matt, on the border

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Filed under Landmine Victims, Medical, Photography, The Initiatives

Medical Aid Beyond Borders

Karen farmers return to farm lands where the Burmese Army has placed landmines. Mobile medical clinics and backpack medics are the only care these farmers have in the war zone.

In Eastern Burma, decades of civil war, wide spread human rights abuses and increasing numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) continue to exacerbate the human dilemma for primitive ethnic minorities. With the situation shows no sign of change, there is a dire need to provide health care to those who are the most vulnerable.  This effort will hopefully increase the chances of survival of these people and their rich tribal cultures that have evolved over two millennial.

While the overall health system in Burma is poor beyond imagination, it is ethnic minority farmers and IDPs in Eastern Burma who suffer the most. Public health indicators across Eastern Burma resemble those of countries who are facing widespread humanitarian disasters, such as Sierra Leone, Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Malaria is still the most common cause of death with 12% of the population being infected at any given time.

Due to the non-existence of government health programs and the government’s strategy to drive these ethnics off ancestral lands, these people can only receive health care that is provided by community based organizations (CBOs) and non government organizations (NGOs) willing to venture into the war zone.

Worldwide Impact Now has been working with ethnic Karen CBOs for the past 5 years, supporting them in their efforts to provide medical care to villagers and IDPs across Karen State.  This is in the form of communications equipment, digital cameras, office equipment, transportation, stipends for youth health workers, as well as training on human rights reporting.  The Karen’s health services are the most critical factor in these ethnic minority’s people struggle for survival in the face of an overwhelming Burmese Army of over 400,000 soldiers attacking villagers for decades.   It is a “last stand” situation for these people now as Burmese armed force steadily isolate and strangled remaining hide sites.

Tim Heinemann, Founder
Worldwide Impact Now

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Filed under Landmine Victims, Medical, Military, Photography, Support Programs, The Initiatives, The Karen, The People, WIN