by Sandy Hasenauer
Num Kasha*, 13 years old, was living in an IDP camp in the Kachin state, when her camp was shelled by the Myanmar army. Num Kasha was in the path of the shell; 20 people around her were killed. She survived, but is paralyzed and her back is covered with burns from neck to foot. She and her mother were living in an apartment owned by the Kachin Baptist Church in Mandalay while Num Kasha received medical treatment. Please pray for Num Kasha and her family, that she is healed.
Ding-gai Kasha* has a disabled son, so at age 73 she was still out in the fields watching the cows near her village the day the military attacked. She took her son and fled the village, eventually arriving in Myitkyina at one of the IDP camps. By the time she arrived, she was very sick: she couldn’t stand, see, or hear–she ached all over and struggled with mental confusion. Although she was finally able to walk again several months later, she had no money to go to the hospital. Periodically people give her the equivalent of a dollar or two so that she can buy medicine. “I want you to pray for me,” she asked us. “What I’m suffering, the prayers will help me get well. I can’t eat, and I can’t sleep either.”
Ding-gai Kasha*, aged 68, heard the guns starting near her village and ran to her pastor’s home. Several other families had arrived there at the same time. When the shooting subsided, they decided to return to their homes. But soon the shooting started again, and she saw people running away; others were driving motorcycles and people were jumping on behind them just to get away. She and her family ran. She has 11 children but she doesn’t know where they all are; they were separated as they fled the village. “Please pray for the families,” she asks.
Ding-gai Kasha* fled when her village was attacked by the Burma military. She had no money and didn’t know where to run. The military burned all the bridges leading to her village, so the villagers had to build bamboo rafts to cross the river. They knew they risked being shot, so they hid in the jungles for weeks on end. Many families had young children, and hiding in the jungle was difficult. Young girls were caught by soldiers and raped. Families were separated and they still don’t know where everyone is. Finally, nearly 5 weeks after fleeing her village, she was able to find her way to a newly-founded IDP camp. Ding-gai Kasha shared that their food rations have been cut recently as NGOs pulled out of supporting the IDP camps. Many children won’t go to school because they’re afraid of being separated from their parents; they are afraid of the dark and have nightmares of running from soldiers. Many men won’t stay in the camps because the Burma military has sometimes attacked camps, killing men and boys. “I give thanks to everyone for the help we’ve been given,” Ding-gai Kasha says. “But everything I owned is now gone.” Please pray for the elders who have lost homes of a lifetime, family members, and everything that may have given them some security in old age.
IDP stands for “internally displaced person,”or, to put it in more real terms: “a refugee in your own homeland.” People sometimes become internal refugees due to natural disasters, famine, or deep poverty, but they also become refugees in their own homeland due to civil war or persecution. Many people in the U.S. are familiar with the stories of the Karen and Chin refugees, many of whom have now resettled in the U.S. The Kachin people had been living under a cease fire agreement with the Burma military until 2011, so they had not been in the refugee camps on the Thai-Burma Border in large numbers as with the Karen, nor in Malaysia as with the Chin. However, in 2011 the military broke the cease-fire with the Kachin, beginning a period of armed conflict that continues today. (For current news and events from the Kachin State, visit www.kachinlandnews.com.)
It is now estimated that, due to warfare, over 200 Kachin villages have been destroyed since 2011. There are now over 100,000 Kachins living as refugees in their own homeland.
Because so many Kachins are Baptist, the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) has taken primary responsibility for the IDP camps–many are even on the grounds of Baptist churches. The Kachin Baptist Convention has set up an office and staff addressing the needs of their refugee brothers and sisters; the Kachin Baptist Women’s Ministry includes representation from among the IDPs on their leadership team.
There are over 108 IDP camps spread throughout the Kachin State. There is no budget for the education of children; many of the camps have a disproportionate number of children and elders. Men are either in the Kachin Independence Army, or hiding from the military away from the IDP camps, or out trying to find work elsewhere. Elders were, in many cases, separated from their families and village communities while fleeing and are now living in IDP camps with little means to support themselves. When the camps were first set up in 2011 and 2012, the ones nearer to populated areas received support from international NGOs (non-governmental organizations). However, those NGOs have since pulled back support or pulled out altogether. Former financial allowances have severely decreased or stopped; food rationing is tighter; medical care is less available. The Kachin Baptist Convention is stretched to the limit trying to cover the needs of the IDP camps. Although there are cease fire negotiations going on, the Kachin people do not yet feel it’s safe to return home and, in many cases, they have no homes left to return to.
We visited four camps, all within easy reach of Myitkyina, and so all had received some level of support from NGOs early on. Many camps are beyond the reach of foreigners, located in mountainous regions of the Kachin State and surrounded by bad roads, military battles in the area, land mines, and government control of passage–foreigners aren’t allowed in many areas of the Kachin State. These IDP camps have received little or no support from NGOs because NGOs weren’t allowed into those areas. The KBC is doing what it can. AB Women’s Ministries has given the Kachin Baptist Women’s Department a grant from our Women and Girls Mission Fund to help support their work with the IDP camps in the Kachin State.
While viewing this photo gallery that’s just a very tiny representation of the 100,000 people living in 108 camps, please be in prayer that God’s peace and justice may reign in the Kachin State, in Myanmar, and around the world.
*Names changed for safety. Num Kasha means “little girl” in Kachin; Ding-gai Kasha means “older woman.”
Rev. Sandra DeMott Hasenauer serves as associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries and is on the ABCUSA Burma Refugees Commission. This is her second trip to Myanmar (Burma), the first being in 1998. She has also visited the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, and enjoys the new life of her home church of Lake Avenue Baptist Church in Rochester, New York, as in the last several years it has welcomed over 150 new friends and members originally from Burma.