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.
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