Taking Action Against Atrocities

These days, we witness incredible displays of violence – on TV or our internet media feeds. Images of the Islamic State executing innocent civilians. Boko Haram laying waste to villages in Nigeria. Sectarian violence sweeping through Yemen. Thugs and terrorists gunning down tourists and students in Mali and Nigeria.
The first step to counter such violence is to know about it. Action follows awareness and is the best measure to overcome the risk of being desensitized to the constant flood of such atrocities.
Yet similar episodes of violence persist in eastern and northern Burma – but no action is possible as there is no international awareness.
In northern Burma’s Kachin State, the Burma army clashed with militia fighters 73 times in the first 2 months of the year. They’ve conducted five artillery attacks on various positions. Slightly to the south in Shan State, the Burma army launched 62 assaults. In a stunt borrowed from ISIS, the Burma army arrested 4 men headed to work in a coal mine and burned them to death. More horrific than this, between Feb 14-17, Burma army soldiers massacred 100 or more civilians in a village in the Laukai township of Shan State.
Meanwhile, in eastern Burma, the Burma army did offer and sign a ceasefire with the Karen people. Despite this gesture, it routinely violates the ceasefire at will. On February 17th and again on the 22nd, it launched artillery barrages at Karen villagers working in the fields preparing for planting crops. In late February, a Burma army patrol clashed with a Karen militia force, killing one militiaman.
These episodes follow 60 years of violence and oppression by Burma’s military regime against the country’s ethnic minorities. The storyline is complicated by recent faux events aimed to show reform. The junta turned power over to civilian control – but these civilians are nothing more than generals who put on suits. Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and elected to a minority position in Parliament. Burmese media highlights the release select political prisoners, yet the government still arrests more citizens for nothing more than having an inconvenient opinion. Add to this the regime’s continued repression of the Muslim minority in Rhakine State, the Rohingya, and it becomes clear that while recent events are aimed at creating the image of progress, little progress is being made.
The US and other western nations have rewarded the regime with open arms and support. President Obama visited Burma twice since 2012. The US military has opened up to possible exchanges with Burma’s army. The US Government has lifted its ban in investing in Burma. Likewise, the British have begun similar military and economic engagement.
The people who suffer today are the same ones who have suffered from 6 decades of isolation and atrocities: Burma’s ethnic minorities. In June 2011, the regime broke ceasefire in northern Kachin State – aimed at securing land and resources to turn over to the influx of international development opportunists. The army’s violence displaced an additional 120,000 men, women and children into refugee camps or isolated internally displaced person locations. More than 200 villages have been wiped out.
Throughout the north and east of Burma, the regime has systematically seized and turned land over to international developers. Huge swaths of farm land are gone – sometimes to development and sometimes to the aftermath of development, as when a dam flooded a region and forced 1,500 households from 24 villages to move this past October in order for a new hydroelectric plant supporting Burma’s capital.
Meanwhile, in eastern Burma’s Karen state, access to education, health care and economic livelihood remains precarious. The regime’s clinics are expensive and corrupt. It can cost a Karen family a month’s income to pay for a simple visit to a government clinic. Considering that 72% of a family’s income is dedicated to providing food, medical treatments are a luxury.
Health care is in high demand. Without some form of care, one in 10 Karen children will not celebrate their first birthday. One in 12 mothers will die as a result of childbirth. Malaria, dysentery and pneumonia – all curable and treatable – are the leading causes of death.
To fill this void, community based, ethnic medic teams have struggled to care for their people. Dr Cynthia Maung, who fled Burma in the wake of the 1988 student uprising, operates a free clinic across the border in Thailand. Her Mae Tao clinic now sees 350 patients a day – more than 125,000 each year.
To supplement this clinic, backpack health worker teams travel throughout the isolated conflict zones of eastern and northern Burma – the very places where the Burma army attacks, seizes land, rapes and randomly murders unarmed civilians. The presence of such teams is vital to battling child mortality rates that are 10 times higher than in neighboring Thailand and rival that of Somalia. Last year alone, the backpack medics supported more than 210,000 people, to include more than 100,000 children. They treated over 85,000 patients while delivering more than 4,200 babies. The presence of trained medics decreased the newborn mortality rate by 85%.
Despite such successes of the Mae Tao clinic and its mobile backpack medic teams, many international donors are reducing their support, seeking instead to work with the regime. This unfortunately is leaving more than 500,000 internally displaced persons and millions of villagers without any viable medical care. Sadly, such care is not expensive. A typical backpack team subsists on less than $6,000 a year for the medicines and supplies it needs to care for 2,000 people. $1 secures up to 40 doses of medicine while $5 will buy the anti-malarial treatment needed to cure a pregnant woman of malaria.
If only the print, TV and internet news editors found such positive stories worthy of headlines, maybe more people would take action to help. And, compared to inhumanity evident in other countries, positive, meaningful action is within reach of everyone. The media could play a positive role to galvanize action for positive change.

Rising Cases of Malnutrition Amongst Burmese Refugees Cause For Concern

Just last month the Washington Post reported that cases of malnutrition amongst Rohingya Muslims in many Burmese Refugee camps were, sadly on the rise Many citizens who have been forced to flee are having to live on the most scant and meagre rations imaginable – for some families bags of rice, chick peas and the occasional piece of fish were all they had to sustain them.

It is no surprise therefore, to learn that vitamin deficiencies are on the increase, with aid workers reporting a sharp increase in the numbers of children presenting with malnutrition. It’s estimated that between March and June cases doubled and this has been put down to the fact that many people have suffered worse than ever interruptions to supplies of food, clean drinking water and other necessary supplies.

In people who are already suffering from a multitude of other health concerns, vitamin deficiencies are yet another problem to deal with and at the present time it is not yet known how these issues can be dealt with quickly.

Some residents of the camps have tried to make the best of their lot, by setting up makeshift homes near rivers so they can supplement their other rations with a little fresh fish – however, this is in limited supply and is not immediately accessible to everyone. Fresh fish is one of the best sources of Vitamin D and can go a long way to help refugees who are suffering with their health. Some people have also taken to trying to plant donated seeds, in order to try and grow their own food while they are held. Whilst again, this is a good way forward, the food will not be immediately available and they must wait for plants to grow in order to harvest.

It’s clear that this situation is one that will not be easily resolved in the foreseeable future, for now, all many can do is watch and wait.

Run for Refugees Timing Results

Thanks everyone who participated in this year’s Run for Refugees. It was a great success! We look forward to next year!

Place Time Bib Name
1 18:15 1211 Ellis Robinson
2 18:28 1225 KuKu
3 18:58 1243 Patrick Muhindo
4 19:02 1202 Michael Cahil
5 20:18 714 Owain Rice
6 20:30 1239 Prathusha Boppana
7 20:32 1241 Jack Brown
8 21:31 1230 Barbara Smith
9 21:35 5267 Scott Smith
10 21:54 720 Eric Stritter
11 22:32 728 David Osokow
12 22:35 708 Robert Rice
13 22:48 1234 Travis Waind
14 23:22 1222 Jason Burrow-Sanchez
15 23:30 1252 Cherie Mockli
16 23:56 1212 Steve Lynch
17 0:24 1258 Badal Mouhoumad
18 0:25:17 1237 Name Unknown
19 0:25:35 709 Jeff Belnap
20 0:25:35 1245 Yogesh Gurung
21 0:25:54 713 Catherine Beerman
22 0:26:05 711 Angela Rowland
23 0:26:10 1204 Lay Ta Paw
24 0:26:20 unk Unknown
25 0:27:03 1231 Markus Aedo
26 0:27:12 721 Daniel LeBaron
27 0:27:33 1215 Carrie Mayne
27 0:27:35 743 Lawrence Bartlett
28 0:27:36 738 Elizabeth Hendrix
29 0:27:36 739 Joey Hendrix
30 0:28:11 1244 Dhan Kumar Tamang
31 0:28:29 731 Octavio Jacobo
32 0:29:08 745 Catherine Anderson
33 0:29:12 1209 Dhan Man Tamang
34 0:29:12 1263 Kathryn Schapper
35 0:29:13 1261 Chloe Miller
36 0:29:41 725 Michael Pekarske
37 0:29:44 1235 Heidi Ruster
38 0:29:44 1218 Ali Kasheed ?
39 0:29:48 1221 Jennifer Sanchez
40 0:30:02 733 Kika Chelaru
41 0:30:06 1232 Steve Mockli
42 0:30:07 1221 Jennifer Sanchez
43 0:30:10 1233 Chris Mockli
44 0:30:11 Unk unknown woman
45 0:30:12 734 Rebecca Gardner
46 0:30:41 1224 Anhtuya Guity
47 0:31:19 695 Jeanette Colvin
48 0:31:24 1251 Kun Knettles
49 0:31:29 1250 Steve Knettles
50 0:31:38 1207 Htooluy Paw
51 0:31:38 1206 Law Eh Dah
52 0:31:48 724 Stephanie Caille
53 0:31:48 723 Adrienne Smith
54 0:32:44 1228 Anisa Ali
55 0:32:51 696 Carissa Monroy
56 0:33:07 744 Thomas Haglund
57 0:33:07 1269 Amy Steele
58 0:33:13 727 Krystal Rogers-Nelson
59 0:33:14 748 Janet Rogers
60 0:33:33 1201 Ashley Janssen
61 0:34:00 715 Aimee Mitchell
62 0:34:30 1240 Jenine Wood
63 0:34:35 1270 Laura Miller
64 0:35:27 1242 Gerald Brown
65 0:35:30 741 Randy White
66 0:36:29 719 Justine Heaux
67 0:36:29 5269 Rudy Rosas
68 0:36:49 718 Beth Garstka
69 0:36:49 12xx Unknown Woman
70 0:36:55 746 Ali Perez
71 0:36:58 737 Stacey Hoopes
72 0:37:00 716 Sharah Meservy
73 0:37:48 732 Nancy Mayhall
74 0:38:01 1229 Faruse Ali
75 0:38:09 707 Ali Zalega
76 0:39:17 730 Jenny Billy
77 0:38:39 1267 Mustafa Al Janabi
78 0:39:43 1260 Amina Sheikh
79 0:39:45 1262 Alison Smith
80 0:39:46 1238 Jemima Singoma
81 0:40:22 1205 Pawknwe Eh
82 0:40:32 1268 Brenda Eggett
83 0:41:05 1208 Sheila Brown
84 0:41:05 1210 Matt Brown
85 0:41:25 1217 Anna Person
86 0:41:28 1219 Claire Peterson
87 0:42:35 1203 John Cahill
88 0:44:00 742 Verlee White
89 0:44:00 729 Tammy Putnam
90 0:44:00 701 Michelle Setterberg
91 0:44:00 1226 Richard Brown
92 0:44:00 1227 Pam Jowett

Addicted to the Drug Trade

Not too long ago, the British motoring-entertainment television series, Top Gear, had a two part special where the three main presenters drove across Burma to the border of Thailand. It wasn’t a particularly politically insightful view of Myanmar, but then again, Top Gear is a car show and does not pretend to be an in-depth analysis of the culture and challenges faced by the locals. What this particular Burma special of Top Gear does represent, however, is one of the occasional moments where the West pays some attention to Myanmar. These three presenters of Top Gear praised the beauty of the nation, commented on the oddness of the empty new capital, made nervous mentions of the violent conflicts in the region, and naturally, made many references to the Golden Triangle and drugs.

The Golden Triangle

The sad fact is that this outsider’s view of Burma as one of the world’s major sources of illegal drugs is not far from the truth. According to the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Myanmar continues to be “a major source of opium and exporter of heroin”, and is apparently only second to Afghanistan in this illegal industry. The farming of opium and the export of heroin in particular is a huge industry in Myanmar, although the local drugs trade has also been recently diversifying into the production of methamphetamines. Over the last few years, there have been ongoing efforts to try to control the drugs industry, a process made very problematic by the large area that needs to be policed, the difficulty of controlling the drugs trade in territories where there is ongoing conflict, and the fact that illegal drugs are shipped out to so many different borders.

The Addicts

As difficult an issue as the control of the drug trade is in Myanmar, looking at the problem only from this international perspective is an outsider’s view, and forgets the local human element. The fact of the matter is that the drug trade is killing locals. You cannot be one of the world’s biggest sources of illegal drugs without having addicts in your own nation, and drug addiction is an increasingly costly and socially destructive issue in Burma. On top of that, the increase of heroin addicts has meant an increase of HIV transmitted through improper use of needles. It is not enough to fight the juggernaut of the drug trade in Myanmar, there also needs to be continued support for local communities so that they can help rehabilitate and treat those who suffering from addiction, particularly since it is often the young and the poor who fall prey to heroin.

Looking to the Future

That said, the drugs trade is incredibly difficult to dislodge. According to the last South East Asia Survey of Opium, it is estimated that some 190, 000 households in Myanmar are involved with the cultivation of opium, and very often the drug trade is a source of income for some of the poorest homes in the nation. As the political scientist Tom Kramer has put it bluntly: “The root cause is poverty. Access to health, education – if this is not addressed, you will not solve the problem”. No matter how well funded any policing operations might become, it is deeply unrealistic to expect to sweep aside this industry without giving Burma the chance to set up less damaging replacement industries that will allow workers to make enough money to survive.

The political reality is that the drugs trade can only be minimized when local businesses are set up that provides economic alternatives to the lucrative drug trade. If other nations are serious about reducing the production of drugs in Burma, then they have to become serious about supporting the development of local industries that have the longevity and competitiveness to replace the drug industry. This is not the same thing as bringing in foreign capital to set up business that will benefit international markets alone. Instead, investment needs to be used in direct co-operation with local communities to ensure that the economy is designed, directed, and developed by locals. Any system that ignores local needs is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to grab cheap labor or resources by international corporations for their own profit, rather than for any real long-term benefit for the nation. Assisting Burma in building up their own local industries with an eye to long-term growth and stability is quite simply the best way to help the nation move away from this debilitating dependence on the drug economy.

It will be a long and difficult road, but ultimately, it is down to the international community to work with Myanmar to help them find their own solutions in order to break the nation’s addiction to the illegal drug trade.

BHM is honored to be a Ronald McDonald House Charities Global Grant Recipient

This funding will to provide mobile medical care to 3,200 to 6,400 children in the conflict zones of northern and eastern Burma via 3-6 additional Backpack Medics teams, who provide medical and community health services to children 5 and under.

The Burma regime has isolated the eastern and northern sections of the country, allowing no health care. For 60 years, the regime has launched an aggressive campaign of violence and forced labor on the Karen, Kachin and other minorities in the eastern and northern Burma. The results are horrific: infant, child and maternal mortality rates from malaria, dysentery, malnutrition, pneumonia and other preventable diseases is extraordinarily high. 1 in 7 children dies before the age of 5 where there are no medic teams.

Backpack medic teams of 3-5 trained health workers travel throughout the areas providing medical care and community health services focused on children. 60% of children’s deaths could be prevented with basic medicine (such as penicillin), provided by the backpack medics. The impact where the medics reach is profound: malaria deaths are down by 48% and 42% for dysentery among children 5 and under. Likewise, the maternal mortality rate is reduced by over two-thirds.

Care is provided at two levels. First Village Health Volunteers (VHV) reinforce sanitation and disease prevention practices, are continually present in each village. In addition, traditional birth assistants provide midwifery support to pregnant women and newborns. Second, backpack medic teams visit 9-12 villages/month (2-3 days/village), providing responsive and preventative care. Responsive care includes diagnosing and administering medicines for malaria, dysentery, pneumonia, worms and malnutrition common in infants. Preventative care includes distribution of Vitamin A, de-worming meds, building latrines and sanitary water supplies for villages and school.

The funds will provide medicine kits to 3 to 6 new backpack medic teams urgently needed in Kachin State, where the regime violated an 18-year ceasefire by attacking villages while seizing land. An additional 250,000 Kachin people have fled their homes.

The backpack medic program is unique in that it brings the care and medicine to the infants as their families seek sanctuary in Internally Displaced Person camps or in isolated villages. Currently, the medics serve a population of 205,000 people each year. The medic teams are 100% ethnic minorities from Burma – they are caring for their own.

Read the Ronald McDonald House Charities Global press release to learn more about the other amazing projects being supported.

BHM is honored to be a Ronald McDonald House Charities Global Grant Recipient

This funding will to provide mobile medical care to 3,200 to 6,400 children in the conflict zones of northern and eastern Burma via 3-6 additional Backpack Medics teams, who provide medical and community health services to children 5 and under.

The Burma regime has isolated the eastern and northern sections of the country, allowing no health care. For 60 years, the regime has launched an aggressive campaign of violence and forced labor on the Karen, Kachin and other minorities in the eastern and northern Burma. The results are horrific: infant, child and maternal mortality rates from malaria, dysentery, malnutrition, pneumonia and other preventable diseases is extraordinarily high. 1 in 7 children dies before the age of 5 where there are no medic teams.

Backpack medic teams of 3-5 trained health workers travel throughout the areas providing medical care and community health services focused on children. 60% of children’s deaths could be prevented with basic medicine (such as penicillin), provided by the backpack medics. The impact where the medics reach is profound: malaria deaths are down by 48% and 42% for dysentery among children 5 and under. Likewise, the maternal mortality rate is reduced by over two-thirds.

Care is provided at two levels. First Village Health Volunteers (VHV) reinforce sanitation and disease prevention practices, are continually present in each village. In addition, traditional birth assistants provide midwifery support to pregnant women and newborns. Second, backpack medic teams visit 9-12 villages/month (2-3 days/village), providing responsive and preventative care. Responsive care includes diagnosing and administering medicines for malaria, dysentery, pneumonia, worms and malnutrition common in infants. Preventative care includes distribution of Vitamin A, de-worming meds, building latrines and sanitary water supplies for villages and school.

The funds will provide medicine kits to 3 to 6 new backpack medic teams urgently needed in Kachin State, where the regime violated an 18-year ceasefire by attacking villages while seizing land. An additional 250,000 Kachin people have fled their homes.

The backpack medic program is unique in that it brings the care and medicine to the infants as their families seek sanctuary in Internally Displaced Person camps or in isolated villages. Currently, the medics serve a population of 205,000 people each year. The medic teams are 100% ethnic minorities from Burma – they are caring for their own.

Read the Ronald McDonald House Charities Global press release to learn more about the other amazing projects being supported.

A conduit for change

As conditions in Burma remain desperate for the people living in eastern and northern Burma, Burma Humanitarian Mission has expanded its support to Backpack Medics – the primary source of medical care and community health services in these areas.

For the past 6 decades, the Burma regime has conducted a campaign of oppression and suppression of the ethnic minorities. The minorities – the Karen in the east, the Kachin in the north, Mon in the south – sought to live free and maintain their language, culture and religion. The regime, however, sought to preserve the state of Burma without any changes. The sustained campaign of violence was aimed to prevent the minorities from maintaining their identity.

As a result of the oppression, conditions in eastern Burma have been horrific. In places where there are no Backpack medics:

• 1 in 14 infants die before their first birthday

• 1 in 7 children die before their 5th birthday – 10 times the rate in Thailand

• The maternal mortality rate is 15 times the rate in Thailand

• 1 in 10 suffer from diarrhea and dysentery

• 1 in 5 suffer from malaria

• 1 in 5 from Acute Respiratory Infection (pneumonia)

• 2 in 5 children suffer from acute malnutrition

• 60% of all children’s deaths could have been prevented with basic meds

To counter these trends, the Karen and others formed backpack medic teams to care for their own people. In 1998, 120 medics comprised 32 teams and treated 64,000 people. In 2012, these grew to 95 teams caring for over 200,000 people.

Where the teams operate, deaths from malaria are down by 48%, from dysentery are down by 51%, and infant mortality has been reduced over 3 fold.

In 2012, Burma Humanitarian Mission supported these 8 of the 95 teams with 1 million doses of medicine for more than 23,000 people. During this time, BHM’s supported medics

• Supported 680 births

• Treated 536 patients with dysentery/diarrhea

• Treated 1,119 malaria patients

• Treated over 1,317 patients with acute pneumonia

• Treated 504 patients with severe anemia

• Treated over 500 patients with the measles

• Treated 4 gunshot victims – saving 4 lives

• Treated 2 landmine victims – saving 2 lives

As we moved into 2013, our support has grown. We’ve added support for 2 additional medic teams, growing the population we support to over 28,000 people with 1.2 million doses of medicine. This support will include over 15,000 doses of anti-malarial treatments – vital to saving lives.

We are often asked who are big donors are. The answer is simple: everyone. Over 85% of all donations come from individuals contributing $10 or more. Where $1 provides 40 doses of medicine…or $7 outfits a medic team with the lifesaving drugs needed for 1 day…or $25 buys the penicillin needed for a team for 6 months…there’s no donation too small NOT to make a big difference.

In a society where many people feel isolated or incapable of effecting change, Burma Humanitarian Mission provides a conduit for individuals to have a real positive impact on those who have no hope…but for their generosity.

Connecting Communities

Conditions in Burma continue to be deadly for the ethnic minority groups living in northern and eastern Burma.

During the month of October, the Burma army attacked the Kachin people (in northern Burma) at least 15 times. Among the assaults, the army shelled villages with mortars and artillery. At least one child was killed, 2 more children injured and 1 adult also injured. This violence occurred against a backdrop of ‘lesser’ crimes, such as villagers forced to carry supplies or work for the army (at no pay), to be human shields and the persistent use of rape as a form to intimate villagers.

In November, things have not gotten better. For three days, the Burma army attacked near Makhaw Yan village. The combined artillery and infantry assaults resulted in the death of a 15 year old.

Meanwhile, across Burma as a whole, more than 1,000 individuals remain jailed as political prisoners.

At the same time, major donor nations are stepping back from support to community based organizations who provide grass-roots social, educational and medical services. Australia announced that they will no longer support the Dr Cynthia’s Mae Tao clinic – a fundamental source of medical care for displaced and impoverished minorities from Burma.

Such news reports are overshadowed by reports of Aung San Suu Kyi has departed Burma for a tour of Europe. At the same time, a plethora of international companies are moving into Burma to take advantage of the underdeveloped resources – hyrdro-power, gems, gold, timber and the like.
These are clearly mixed signals about conditions and life in Burma.
In light of such an environment, what do fair-minded, compassionate individuals do? How can they be a positive force of change to make positive things happen?

Get involved with the ‘small’ non-profits like us. These organizations provide a conduit for positive change. Donations, sacrifices from one’s monthly budget, do go directly to those who need the support.

Burma Humanitarian Mission had a volunteer recently who realized the personal value of this process. The individual ran a marathon as part of the Run for Burma team. He ran as a means to raise awareness and funds. He shared afterwards how this opportunity transformed his life:

“Run for Burma not only gave me something to contribute to, but awakened me to issues that I hadn’t followed in the past. And, it brought friends and family closer–merging what I like to do (running) and with something they can do.”

So, what did this runner do when he raised $500? The runner’s efforts will support a medic team for 1 month in Burma. This team will be the sole source of medical and health care for between 2,000 and 2,500 people. Based on past experience, during that month, the team will:
- Deliver 7 babies
- Treat 12 malaria patients
- Treat 14 pneumonia patients

Our lives have lots of inhibitors and frustrations that impede how we seek to change the world around us. Fortunately, there are pockets of opportunities that opens avenues for kindness and compassion to flow.

Reflections on a crisis

Over a decade ago, I traveled to Syria. It’s a beautiful land — rich in antiquities, sweeping landscapes and a powerful sense of mankind’s cultural and religious heritage. Now, the media and the world are fixated on Syria. There’s good reason to be appalled by the random, senseless violence in that land.

The core issue in Syria could be summed up as the people in the government are using its power to refuse the interests and rights of the people, who seek respect for their cultures and lifestyle.

Four thousand miles to the east, a similar drama has been on-going — but it escapes the world’s attention. In Burma’s eastern and northern lands, a people in control of the government use its power to oppress people who seek only to live free with their cultures, languages and lands respected.

Our conundrum with Burma is exacerbated by a regime which told the world it reformed itself – releasing political prisoners, proclaiming a ceasefire and announcing it was open for business. The U.S. and other industrialized nations chose to believe these pronouncements – and released their businesses to invade (I mean invest) in Burma’s fertile, under-developed economy.

Companies are now rushing into the land where Facebook accounts are skyrocketing – further proof that all must be good in Burma. Chevron, General Electric, Visa and Coca-cola are a few of the prominent American businesses now seeking to invest, developing the human and natural resources that are part of the under-performing economy of Burma.

The Burmese apologists ignore other news. In its latest rating, the World Health Organization ranked Burma dead last among nation-state health care systems – a move downward from second worst previously. Burma’s destitute neighbors, such as Laos and Cambodia, spend double what the Burma regime commits to its citizen’s health care.

When asked, Burma’s Ministry of Health Yaw Myint replied that spending money on medical services for the poor was not necessary.

The regime’s health care and other services in major urban areas, like Rangoon and Mandalay, look like the Mayo clinic compared to the desolate medical care available in northern eastern Burma – Kachin and Karen states.

Karen State, home of the Karen people, has seen 60 years of civil war. Isolated by the Burma government – disease, malnutrition and poverty inflict a tragic statistical record. Toss in an occasional land mine for excitement. One in seven children will not see their 5th birthday. One in 12 mothers will die as a result of childbirth.

The reports from Karen State and other areas remain disturbing and disappointing.
Ne Oo lives in a refugee camp in Thailand. He remembers the day the Burma army burnt his village down. The army forced his older brother to work for them and then killed him. He shares that the army requires everyone to pay them “taxes”. “Taxes” is the Burmese ‘politically correct’ way to say the army steals from the villagers.

Meanwhile, further north, the Burma army continues its offensive military campaign against the Kachin, Shan and other minorities. In June 2011, the Burma army broke a 17 year ceasefire and attacked these peoples. Despite presidential decrees announcing numerous ceasefires, the army continues its assault.

Over the past summer, the army has attacked several times each month. As recently as August 28th, it attacked Kachin villages in northern Burma. The army fired mortars, destroying homes. In one incident, it arrested men from the village and forced them to carry supplies to the next skirmish. As the battle wound down, they shot and killed one of the men – a father of six children – in the back as the Burma army retreated.

The next week, on September 3rd, a Burma army unit entered the northern Burma village of Nhka Ga, detained several women and girls, took them into the near-by woods and raped them. The army suspected that the people of Nhka Ga village supported militia forces. The sexual assault was one means to intimidate the village leaders to cease such support. Horrific. Disgusting. Can anyone tell me why a US business would want to work with a government that practices this form of intimidation?

As a result of the renewed military offensive in northern Burma, an additional 100,000 villagers have fled their homes. They join the hundreds of thousands of Karen and others from eastern Burma who have fled over the past decades to find sanctuary in the near-by jungles or across the border in Thailand.

Isolated from any social services or similar support, the Kachin, Karen, Shan and other peoples endure appalling conditions. Malnutrition amplifies the inherent risk of child birth, malaria and dysentery – creating mortality rates up to 50 times higher than those in the U.S.

There is small hope for these people – it comes from within. Backpack medics, traveling with a mix of 3-5 experienced and novice medics, bring rudimentary health services to the people. The typical backpack medic team will serve 2,000 people living in a dozen villages.

Burma Humanitarian Mission supports backpack medic teams – providing them with medicine and associated supplies. Since the violence erupted in northern Burma, BHM has added support for 2 of the new medic teams operating in northern Kachin State. These teams carry larger quantities and types of medicine. The teams need over 36,000 doses of medicine every six months at a cost of $4 a day for all their basic medicine needs and an additional $3 a day to ensure they have the right anti-malarial drugs each day.

Do the 200+ medicines dispensed each day matter? Absolutely. Where the backpack medics operate, the malaria mortality rate has been reduced by 48% while the maternal mortality rate is slashed up to 75%. A young infant’s chance of celebrating her fifth birthday triples. The backpack medics are dedicated and trained. Equipped with the right medicine, they save lives.

As we listen to the cacophony that is called political discourse, we realize there is no consensus on what the US and world should do in Syria. In Burma, you and I have clear options to act and make a difference. Support to community based organizations, like Backpack medics, is a clear way to act with even the most modest resources and make a difference.