Category Archives: Perspective

The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 4

And to conclude…read part one, part two and part three

Rahima came to Mae Sot when all hope was lost for a good life in Burma. Now, after being left by two husbands, she is a single mother of two and spends her days on the streets of Mae Sot collecting glass and plastic to sell for recycling.

“I don’t need a husband. I’ve had enough of all that. I’ve had two husbands already who divorced me because they couldn’t afford me or our children so they left. I am finished with all of that! I just live in a dream where someone will notice me and resettle me to a third country; somewhere my children can be educated and live a good life.”

“Sometimes I think we could find a better life in Bangkok or Malaysia. But then I look down at my children and think that if I can’t even provide them with food and medicine, how could I ever do something like that? Sometimes I think of giving them to an orphanage but I can’t because they are not Thai or Karen. I have no optimism left. I just live each day to survive.”

With the future looking so bleak for Rahima, and millions of other irregular migrants across Asia, it is hard to draw any positives. But as I leave Rahima, I make sure she knows how inspiring it is to see what people are capable of when it comes to the survival of their family. The strength between Rahima and her children that has kept them together against all odds is more impressive than anything most people could hope to achieve, anywhere in the world.

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager

Worldwide Impact Now

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Filed under Internal Displacement, Military, Perspective, Refugees, Reports, The Lifestyles, The People

Burma VJ At The 82nd Annual Academy Awards

This Sunday, amidst the celebrities and bright lights of Hollywood, the oppressed people of Burma will be given a voice on the international stage at the world renowned Oscars ceremony. “Burma VJ”, which tells the story of the 2007 nationwide “Saffron Revolution” protests, has been nominated for the best feature-documentary award along with 4 other nominees. If successful, the Oscar will become the most prestigious of 34 awards given to this unique piece of cinema.

Speaking to Irrawaddy magazine earlier this week, Jan Krogsgaard, the originator and scriptwriter of the film said “If ‘Burma VJ’ receives the Oscar, it will be the first time in history that a whole nation’s population will receive an Oscar…I think even the generals of Burma would like to see this happen, deep inside themselves, and find peace within their own lives.”

Consisting mainly of footage taken by a furtive network of video journalists (VJs), Burma VJ show the events of September 2007, when monk-led protests throughout the nation brought tens of thousands to the streets to call for their human and civil rights and an end to military rule. Once national momentum had peaked, a brutal crackdown by the regime ensued and is estimated to have led to over 6,000 arrests and over 130 deaths. In following months, urban areas went under tighter martial law, leading to the exodus of thousands of activists.

Last year, as the film premiered in London, WIN’s JJ Kim watched it on the Thai-Burma border with Khine Wai Zaw, one of the many young people at the frontline of the uprising. Speaking after the film, the young activist gave a fascinating account of the events and an insightful reflection on what the film means to Burma. To read it in full click here

To visit the film’s official website, watch the trailer and order a copy click here

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The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 2

The story continues for Rahima, an Arakanese refugee mother in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand… Read part one here

“After that we moved across the country to Moulmein [Mon State], Burma where we found some farmland and started over. But when I was ten, it happened again, some soldiers came and ordered us to leave at once. It was horrible, I remember it well, me and my eight brothers and sisters were crying and screaming, while my father was just frozen stiff and speechless.”

Rahima and I, along with her two children – a boy and a girl, both under five and with shaven heads – sit in a small communal home in Mae Sot’s run-down Muslim quarter. The girl wears a long brown vest that just covers her up, while the boy dons a baby’s dress, both covered in dirt. In the next room two older children are being taught English by a local volunteer, while people storm in and out speaking in rapid Bengali and Thai. 19-year-old Rahima, upright on a wooden chair, is wrapped in a once-beautiful but ragged sarong wearing large hoop earrings and her hair in a bun, holding the air of a mature woman.

Keen to talk she tells me of her family’s second move in 2000, this time to the streets of Mattayar near the ancient city of Mandalay. Soon after arrival, they were forced to take shelter in a railway station with around 50 other homeless families. It was then, at age ten, Rahima effectively became an adult, spending her days searching for food and work, or begging on the streets.

“We had no hut or shelter, we just slept in the main hall of the railway station. We got most of our food from begging and tried so hard to find work. Occasionally people gave us rice to do small jobs but most wouldn’t even look at us. We often went for two or three days without food, sometimes longer, and drank water from puddles and streams.”

When I ask about soldiers in Mattayar, Rahima lets out a long moan and shoots a piercing glance straight thorough me with her wide brown eyes. She takes a long pause and then, after breathing deep, begins to talk quietly drawing me in closer to listen carefully.

“It was horrible. They used to come all the time – to see what they could take. We had nothing, just a few rags and some cardboard. If we had food we ate it quickly but if they found any coins, they just took them. They beat the men and used to try and scare us. There was nowhere to go, no one would take us in or protect us. We were children running away from trained soldiers. We didn’t even try to run.”

Rahima becomes uneasy and I consider changing the subject. Then, looking at the ground for the first time, she speaks again, straining to get the words past her swollen throat.

“They would take all the pretty girls first. My elder sister was taken once for four or five days and then just dropped back one morning. She was different after that. It’s very shameful to talk about these things so when she came back she didn’t tell anyone what had happened, although we asked. In my time there, dozens of women were taken. Not one of them ever told of what had happened.”

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager
Worldwide Impact Now

To be  continued…read part one here

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The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 1

“Living in a daydream is the only we can get through this. If I focus like a human being and think about my existence then life is just not possible. I used to spend a lot of time thinking. I used to think, why was I born into this world just to beg from others who were born into my world? That’s how I still feel, which makes it difficult to continue trying to live.” -Rahima, a refugee mother escaped from Burma

It’s early evening in the transient town of Mae Sot, for many a gateway out of Burma to some kind of freedom; for others, another stepping stone along a path of oppression and poverty. Rahima stares at me with eyes full of life, strong but verging on tears. Fully composed she animates a story I’ll never forget; the becomings of a girl, who at younger than 20 years has suffered more than most will in a lifetime, an inspirationally strong mother of two.

“We had a very small house in my native village,” she says, recalling a small rural bamboo settlement in Arakan State, Western Burma. “I don’t remember much because I was younger than five. I just know that some soldiers came and we had to leave or we would have been killed.”

Across Burma, thousands of acres of civilian-owned land are confiscated by the Burmese Army every year, mainly for the development of military bases and infrastructure. Overnight, families lose their entire livelihoods and means for survival, without compensation or assistance, so the regime can keep a tighter fist on the population. In a country without the most basic civil liberties, these people are forced to adapt and start all over again, sometimes miles from their homes.

The story continues for Rahima, a refugee mother in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand…Look for part two in the coming days.

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager
Worldwide Impact Now

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Filed under Internal Displacement, Military, Perspective, Refugees, Reports, The Lifestyles, 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

In Burma, Context Matters

Young boys in their teens are sometimes hard to find here, as the Burmese Army will either kill them, capture them for forced labor or force them to serve in the army. The Burmese Army has the largest child soldier populace in the world estimated at over 70,000.

Thanks for your interest in Burma. Your donations for the present crisis response have been aimed at bypassing corrupt processes that either prevent or diminish aid getting to the people. Unfortunately our friends inside Burma are reporting that children and elderly are dying in remote areas and so our main effort remains focused on them.

Background. We have been working in this region since 2004, and formally as a non-profit organization since 2006. Our focus has been on Leader Development, Skills Training, Support to Education, Health and Welfare, and Human Right Reporting primarily in the eastern mountainous region.

The military dictatorship of Burma / Myanmar has for decades waged a campaign driving non-Burman ethnic groups from ancestral lands owned for over two thousand years. This is a massive land grab for natural resources.  These ethnic groups are unfortunately in the way.

To date over 3000 villages have been burned down or mined and over 500,000 internally displaced people are on the run on any given day inside Burma. With the present natural disaster in the Irrawaddy River delta region, that number is in the millions. It is also important to note that over 800,000 forced laborers unwillingly support the regime under brutal conditions so that leaders may profit from a land rich in natural gas, oil, precious gems, teak wood and hydro power potential.

Most of the world is unaware of the true cost of a gallon of Chevron or Total gasoline coming from this region. The UK Burma Campaign publishes a Dirty List annually to identify businesses that contribute to the regime’s wealth.

As you watch the present crisis unfold, it is important to consider events in the above context or one can be mislead as to what is really going on “in the shadows”. Unfortunately what we are witnessing is a regime that uses weather and time in ways that suit its strategy of driving non-Burman ethnics from their lands. The Irrawaddy River region is the richest agricultural region in Southeast Asia and is largely populated by the Karen ethnic group.

Following blogs will provide you updates on the current crisis response, as well as background information on Worldwide Impact Now.

Tim Heinemann, from the region
Worldwide Impact Now

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WIN’s Thanks for 2008

School girls in Ee Htu Ta refugee camp, Northern Karen State.   Their camp is within mortar range of Burmese armed forces controlling the high ground overlooking this border riverine camp.  Here over 4000 refugees have fled from the war zone in Northern Karen State.  They are exactly who (with your support) we at Worlwide Impact Now seek to protect and empower against an oppressive regime.

With the close of 2008 we would like to express our gratitude for your interest and support for the oppressed people of Burma.

Worldwide Impact Now (WIN) was able to help this year with the on-going humanitarian crisis in Burma recently high lighted in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.  This was made possible because of your care. On behalf of the many refugees assisted, we would like to say “Thanks”.

In 2009 we will resume our focus on Eastern Burma, where the Burmese Army continues its campaign to drive ethnic minorities off ancestral lands rich in natural resources.

In the New Year we look forward to summarizing the specific impacts made this past year, as well as explaining the focus for 2009.

Again, thank you from all of us at WIN for impacts you made possible this year.

Burma Matters…

Tim Heinemann, Founder
Worldwide Impact Now

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Filed under Internal Displacement, Perspective, Refugees, The Initiatives, The Karen, WIN