Elections and Expectations

Elections give rise to expectations.  For some, elections offer hope for positive change while others fear the outcome will set back their lives and the future they value.   Certainly, in the United States, such emotions are swirling throughout our communities at this time.

We are not unique on how we view the results flowing from elections.  In November of last year, Burma held its first, true nation-wide election in decades.  The National League for Democracy (NLD) competed for and won 75% of the Parliamentary seats, removing the autocratic military regime from its dominant governmental position.

It’s fair to ask what expectations will flow from this historic election – principally for Burma’s ethnic minorities.  Comprised of 135 distinct peoples with unique languages, cultures and traditions, Burma’s ethnic minorities reflect a vibrant element of its society.  How they are treated also reflects the nature and humanity (or inhumanity) of the ruling party.

With the rise of Nobel Laurent Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party, many outside Burma anticipate positive change.  While the NLD’s victory does create powerful momentum, the reality of Burma’s history and the latent power of the military will stifle opportunity, respect and dignity for Burma’s minorities.

For over six decades, the military has led a campaign of isolation and attack against the primary minorities in the east, north and western regions.  It seeks the control of the land and the resident resources: hydro-electrical power, gems, natural resources, timber and drug trade.  The regime has sought a “divide and destroy” approach to its efforts with the minority peoples.

For years, the military has combined an offensive aimed at eliminating the Karen and other groups in the east while also creating a passive regimen of isolation – denying international assistance from reaching remote villages and areas.  The results are horrific:

  • 1 million people displaced from their homes
  • Hundreds of thousands living in refugee camps in Thailand
  • Hundreds of thousands living as undocumented migrants in Thailand – without rights or respect
  • More than 500,000 lived internally displaced inside Burma’s jungles, where, due to the lack of health care:
    • 1 in 10 children do not survive their first year
    • 1 in 12 mothers do not survive childbirth
    • 1 in 10 suffer from diarrhea and dysentery
    • 1 in 5 suffer from malaria
    • 2 in 5 children endure acute malnutrition
    • 60% of all children’s deaths could be cured with basic medicines

In June 2011, the Burma’s junta unilaterally broke a decade’s long ceasefire in Kachin State, expanding its campaign against the minorities.  An additional 250,000 people have fled their homes, seeking sanctuaries in refugee camps or internally displaced person camps of Burma’s jungles.

With Burma’s recent elections, one hope is that such horrific results would become history.  One might expect that the military would become responsive to the country’s civilian leaders and the rule of law.

The reality crushes such expectations.

The reality is that the military is independent of the civilian authorities.  The Chief of Burma’s army appointments the ministers for defense, security, police and home affairs.  In fact, the Army runs all civil service departments at the national and local levels.

And, Burma’s army has not relented in its offensive against the minority peoples.  In the last three months of 2015, it conducted 92 distinct attacks against minority groups in northern Burma.  In western Burma, the army has sustained the concentration camp housing for the country’s Muslim population – imposing starvation and disease on children, women and families.

Despite the cold reality, there are some minor signs of progress.  For instance, the leaders of numerous community-based organizations (CBO)  providing health and education support to their ethnic peoples no longer live  under a death threat from the military.   These organizations, such as Dr Cynthia’s Mae Tao clinic, Backpack Health Worker Teams, Burma Medical Association and others based out of Mae Sot Thailand, have begun a dialogue aimed at merging the nascent health systems into a more effective and available regional network.

For the past 2 decades, the CBOs have forged an impressive record.  Drawing volunteers from the villages they serve, the CBOs have succeeded in providing health care where none exists.  Among other results, they’ve cut malaria mortality in half and reduced child mortality by at least three-quarters.

The CBOs have sought a ‘health convergence’ plan with the Burma authorities.  The plan aims to provide a standard of care that is consistent and available to all peoples.  These dialogues have produced stark differences in approaches and philosophies.

For instance, in the area of training traditional birth assistants (TBA), the regime’s approach reflects the centralized authority of the capital, where decisions emphasize a laborious, slow process and not results.  They advocate a three year training process where the graduates will experience 2-3 births by graduation time.  The CBOs, in contrast, have a proven curriculum that takes 6 months and gives TBA’s hands-on exposure to at least a dozen births.

There are two salient observations that come from this anecdote.

First is that the CBO’s remain a vital part of Burma’s social and support network to the minority peoples.  The Mae Tao clinic and its mobile extension, Backpack Health Worker Teams, will continue to treat over 230,000 patients a year.  They cannot and should not disappear.  These organizations, funded by international non-governmental organizations, will continue to need support for years to come.

Second is the fact that 5 years ago, there was no conversation between the CBOs and Burma’s government agencies.  In fact, the regime would have arrested or shot the CBO representatives if they crossed paths.  The fact that they are having conversations is positive progress.

The Chinese philosopher stated that the “journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”.   Burma’s recent elections represent a step along that path.  But it’s an early step and not the final step toward a Burma society that is free and honors the liberties of all people.

 

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.

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.

Evil in the world

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.

Update on Health Care in Burma

The media often portrays the news from Burma as positive. European and American companies announce decisions to invest in the Burmese economy – offering opportunities for the public and investors alike. Many in Burma call these days the ‘time of transition’.

Missing from the discussion, though, is what has not transpired for the people of Burma – particularly those living in the east and north. Water, food, education and health care – the foundation of a society – remain lacking and stunted. The Burma government is not investing in these basic services.

Two to three years after the Burma government launched its reforms, some key health indicators remain appalling. Malaria continues to stalk the population. Fifty percent of all malaria deaths in Asia are in Burma – in east and northern lands. Access to government health care remains non-existent. For those who can travel to the larger cities, such as Rangoon, they arrive only to find they cannot afford it. The Burmese health care system remains riddled with graft and corruption. Bribes are necessary for quality care and basic access in a timely manner.

Community Based Organizations or CBOs (sometimes called Cross Border Organizations) continue to provide the bulk of the medical, health and community based care in eastern Burma. The Burma army’s continued attacks in Kachin and Shan states has pulled at the CBO’s resources as they are moving backpack medic teams into these areas as well.

Meanwhile, large western donor nations are using the media headlines as rationale to reducing funding for refugees along the Thai-Burma border. The Thai-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) recently announced that food rations will be reduced as the result of decreasing funding from donor nations. A sad commentary that western governments will invest dollars for development, but not to care for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. Worse yet, is that the leaders of the nations cannot perceive the risk they have created.

Burma Humanitarian Mission remains committed to the people of Burma – the Karen, Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Mon and so many other minorities whom the government ignores or attacks. The backpack medics we support are compassionate and committed to their people. Their selflessness is inspiring. As is the support of people from all communities who donate to us, our runners and other projects.

We remain honored to connect two such outstanding elements of our societies.

Please consider a donation today through the Transparent Fish Fund.  This wonderful foundation, which focuses on health and education in Asia, will match your tax-deductible donation dollar for dollar, doubling it’s impact.  BHM’s medical aid programs are currently operating at a loss – we spend more money on medicines and medic training each year than we receive in donations for these programs.  BHM doesn’t have the cash reserves to continue to do this indefinitely.  Unlike large NGOs we don’t receive huge grants, so this matching grant from T-Fish is very important to us.    Yet, we remain committed to the people of Burma who need our help more than ever.   Please help!

On the Border – the violence continues under the radar

We have returned to the Thai Burma border once again. This trips affords us the opportunity to connect with our friends in the Backpack medics. We learn quickly that the postiive news out of Burma is only partially accurate.

On the positive side, many in the eastern Karen state feel it is easier to move around. The Regime is providing travel documents, allowing them to travel within Burma. At the same time, Army units do extract a tax, complicating necessary travel.

What is missing from the reports is the violence that the Burma army continues to inflict in the eastern states, where a ceasefire is more an allegation than a reality.

In Y_____ village of Mantong township, Burmese soldiers raped two women in April. Nearby, in Tangyan township, a number of people were forced to act as guides and/or porters for army units. Three young girls, under the age of 16, were forced to lead a patrol to a new village. The trek lasted overnight and the girls were given no food or shelter. A few days later, a group of 5 villagers were forced to guide and porter for an army unit. To ensure they didn’t escape, the 5 were tied together. As the soldiers camped over night, they ordered the villagers to fetch water.

One young boy reported the tragedy that followed: “When we went to fetch water, my father stepped on a landmine and died. immediately in front of me. My friend’s father also died. There was nothing I could do.”

Death visited those in the east in other forms. Also in April of this year, three soldiers from one of the ethnic group’s militia returned to their village in Namsan township to help with the harvest. Despite the donditions of the ceasefire, the Burma army arrested all three and tortured and killed them.

Faced with this level of violence and the regime’s attitude toward the Karen, Kachin and others, the people of eastern Burma still are confronting violence and instability. The only health care provided to them comes from the backpack medics, who brave the risks to care for their own.

Continued Violence – Continued Need

On Monday, April 22nd, the European Union considered a permanent lifting of sanctions on the Burma regime. Citing promising signs of freedom, European leaders feel the end of restrictions on the regime is warranted.

Yet, just last week, the regime’s army wrecked havoc in Eastern Burma. On April 14th and 15th, the Burma soldiers arrested and beat 15 adult men – beating several until they were unconscious. The soldiers destroyed one man’s vehicle and robbed another. During this same time, an army unit fired 10 mortar rounds into Loi Zay village – injuring a 20 month of boy and an 8 year old boy. Further south, another army unit fired 40 shells into the village of Mong Kay, damaging the school and numerous homes. Apparently, not satisfied with the destruction it caused, the soldiers indiscriminately fired automatic weapons into numerous homes.

As a result, in the first weeks of this month, more than 400 villagers have fled their homes, seeking sanctuary in other villages or the jungle area. They are cut off from their food supplies, meager medical support and schools – not to mention economic livelihood.

Sadly, all this occurs far removed from the media spotlight. It creates a permissive atmosphere for the brutal regime to act with impunity. The EU’s action only reinforces and encourages such activities for their failing to hold the regime accountable.

This reality reinforces why cross border organizations, like BHM’s Backpack Health Worker Teams, remain as critical today as they’ve been for the past 14 years.

Where there is violence, we shall bring compassion and care.

My thanks to those who support us!

Running for a Reason

This past week, the nation’s most popular marathon sold out in record time: 30,000 bibs gone in 2 hours and 27 minutes. Incredible. A lot of runners, however, were frustrated as the registration website crashed on them and they couldn’t get into the race. Countless folks felt cheated out of the chance to run the Marine Corps Marathon. Well, there are still thousands of opportunities to run: charity teams.

Why joint a charity team? I’ve run a dozen marathons. My first 6 marathons…I ran for myself. Lots of pride. Lots of people encouraging me. Then I started running for charity. It changed the marathon. People respected me for taking on the challenge of a marathon. When I asked folks to support my run…they extended a warm degree of admiration…to give meaning to my miles and transform my run into doing something to help others. Whether they gave $10…$100…or nothing but kind words…their support was unlike the casual comments of support when I ran just for me. Then, during my training runs…during the marathon…when it got tough…I recalled those supporting me. I couldn’t and wouldn’t let them down They were now part of the marathon…and my legs were their legs to get to a shared finish line of 26 miles, 285 yards…and helping others. An when it got really really tough, I thought of those I was helping…the pain they endure…how often they were forgotten and had no hope. I kept running…because I and all my supporters had NOT forgotten them.

So, hit up the charity page for the Marine Corps marathon…or your local road race. You’ll find a cause that speaks to your heart. Every one of them is good.

And, if you do have a bib…join a team anyway! Most will extend to you their special perks/benefits.

You don’t have to run the Marine Corps marathon…or any marathon. You can run for charity in any road race….of any length….any where.

Burma Humanitarian Mission has bibs for the Marine Corps marathon. We also have a team in the San Francisco Marahton, Half Marathon and 5k on June 16th and will join the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon in Arizona in January of 2013. Come join us!

Put a reason in your run. You will not be the same…nor those who support you and those you are helping.

See you at the start line…and finish line!