The story continues for Rahima, an Arakanese refugee mother in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand…read part one and part two
In Burma, soldiers are given total power and often stationed far from home, creating what has been dubbed a “culture of impunity.” Without a strong community to support them, young girls living without homes are among the most vulnerable to abuse. Bad health is also rife on the streets of Burma. While less than 2% of government spending goes to health-care, around 40% is spent strengthening the military, further entrenching the regime’s stranglehold on the nation. Never in her life had Rahima seen a medic or doctor of any kind before she came to Thailand, despite being surrounded by illness.
“We had so many diseases, mainly diarrhea and stomach pains because we had no food. Sometimes we went collecting herbal leaves and boiled them down and drank the broth. That sometimes worked, but most people died. It’s all a blur now, but I’m sure my whole family are dead. My father had a brain stroke, and then my mother died of cancer. Me and my siblings were uncontrollable. We had no food so we came and went and often lost track of each other. One by one, my 8 brothers and sisters just stopped coming back.”
For almost an hour, without tears, Rahima tells me of her childhood, describing the railway station as “worse than anything [she’d] ever heard or learned about hell.” Meanwhile giving her utmost attention to her own two children, both close by her side. Throughout the interview the boy is so sick he has soiled the floor twice, unduly embarrassing his mother.
“My child has had diarrhea for over 20 days now but I have no money. The Thai police wait outside the free clinic [Mae Tao] and arrest foreigners every day. I tell them that we live in Burma and have just come for the clinic but they don’t care, they arrest us and take us to DKBA soldiers on the border.”
The final part of this series will be published in the coming days.
JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager
Worldwide Impact Now
Karen villagers are defended only by a small force of a few thousand irregulars, who face 400,000 regulars from the Burmese Army. Karen soldiers have lost both family members and their community in their long resistance against Burmese oppression. They are in a “last stand” situation as Burmese armed forces try to surround them and finish them off in Northern Karen State.
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