One Day in Myanmar (Kachin IDP Camps)

By Gail Aita

This is the second of two posts by Gail about her sojourn in Myanmar (Burma) in early 2017. Click here for the first post.

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After spending four weeks at Myanmar Institute of Theology teaching, my husband Paul and I traveled to Kachin State and then to the Chin Hills. Both were adventures in and of themselves. We were greeted at the airport in Myitkyina by both Ja Ing and Ja Nu, two wonderful Kachin women who came to the American Baptist Women’s Ministries’ Conference in Washington, D.C. in 2016. We were then treated to a very fine dinner out with the women representing the Women’s Development Department of Kachin Baptist Convention.

The day started out with a visit to an IDP camp in Myitkyina, Kachin State. It was heart-breaking and uplifting at the same time: Heart-breaking to see the faces of the men, women, and children who have lost all worldly belongings: yet, uplifting because their spirits are filled with God’s love and His grace. Just look at those faces……and remember to pray for their safety, their health and their welfare.

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We listened to their stories, sang with them and prayed with them.

We visited three IDP (IDP = internally displaced persons) camps that Saturday.

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This was the smallest camp we visited. Their electric bill was 70,000 kyats/month (roughly $50 US at the current exchange rate) and they had to collect 2,000 kyats ($1.50) from each family which was, more often than not, difficult to do.

At the last camp, Waing Maw, which is the largest in the greater Myitkyina area, we were told to sit in the back of the van because we had to cross a bridge with a border check and westerners were not supposed to be going to that camp. While we were there, workers were putting up tents donated by the UN because they had just received 350 new refugees, many of whom were “double displaced persons” because the camps they had been in were also destroyed by the Burmese military in the fighting. There were well over 3,000 people at this camp.

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One of the ministries that I have been involved with at home has been teaching some of the Kachin women in the greater Seattle area how to sew, in particular “pillowcase dresses” and “self-binding baby blankets”. I have had help from a number of other American Baptist women in the area.  For two months prior to our leaving for Myanmar, the Kachin women have come to my home and have made 40+ dresses and 15 baby blankets. I also had some dresses made by women from other churches in the area. I had the privilege of being able to deliver those dresses and blankets to the folks in the camps. It was a gift of love from the Kachin women in Kent to those in the camps, and I was blessed to be the delivery person!

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Saturday was a long day filled with mixed feelings: despair and hope, tears of pain and tears of joy, but always an awareness of God’s love and God’s grace. Please continue to pray for the plight Kachin people and for peace in Myanmar.

Gail Aita serves as coordinator of the Western Section for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

For earlier posts about the Kachin IDP camps, click here and here.

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The Journey Begins Again

By Gail Aita

January-March, 2017

One of the reasons Paul and I wanted so much to return to Myanmar this year was to have some sense of closure. We have been going to Myanmar as voluntary missionaries and serving as Special Assistants to Southeast Asia and Japan since 2000. This was our ninth time going to serve and for eight of those trips we have taught at Myanmar Institute of Theology (M.I.T.) as well as the Pwo Karen Seminary in Yangon. We have both turned 70 this past year and have begun to slow down a little. In 2015-2016 Paul had five hospital visits dealing with kidney stones and complications from the surgeries. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time praying that we would be able to once again return to Myanmar, but knew from the outset that it may be our last long-term stay. (However, after having been there, we found ourselves often being asked to come back to teach and saying “If God wants us to return, He will give us the strength to do so!”)

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At M.I.T., the classes included not only English Literature and Poetry, as well as grammar, but also classes at the seminary concerning Ministry with Youth, Partnering Young Adults and the Elderly, Christian Education, and a class on Teaching Those with Special Needs and American Sign Language.  At the Pwo Karen Seminary, the students were most interested in learning English so we did a lot of role playing and singing.

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Unlike previous years, this year Paul and I had the opportunity to visit schools in the Kachin State and in the Chin Hills. We spent a little more than two weeks visiting and teaching at the Kachin Theological College and Seminary (KTCS) in Myitkyina and at the Chin Christian University (CCU) in Hakha.

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At each school, Paul and I both became reacquainted with those who were our former students. What a blessing it is to meet those former students who have gone on to become servants using their God given gifts to teach others.

And as a last note for now, I would like to share about a young teacher at KTCS by the name of Naw Din. Naw Din and his wife have three children of their own including a newborn baby just three weeks old. He and his wife have taken in twenty (yes, 20!) orphan children from the IDP camps. He does not run an orphanage. He and his wife have actually taken them into their home. They feed them, clothe them, send them to school, pray with them and, most of all, love them. They depend solely on the gifts from generous friends.  They are amazing.  I had the joy of spending a day with them, teaching them some English, some sign language, and some songs. We had such fun. I was truly blessed.

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Please pray for all the seminaries and colleges in Myanmar, that they will continue to teach God’s word and produce Christian leaders. Also pray for Naw Din and his loving wife and family as they share God’s love in the Kachin State.

**I would also like to mention that the opportunity to volunteer to teach at seminaries and colleges in Myanmar is a real possibility for anyone who is interested. You can contact International Ministries for more information.

Gail Aita serves as coordinator of the Western Section for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Burma Women’s Voices book series

The “Burma Women’s Voices” series of books is published by ALTSEAN Burma (Alternative Asean Network on Burma), an organization of campaigns, advocacy, and capacity-building for human rights in Burma.

With seven books in the series (I only own six of them), the Burma Women’s Voices books are each a collection of essays and poetry by the women of Burma. The writers represent many ethnic groups, and every socio-economic and educational background. Some are writing from refugee camps or living in other countries, others are writing from within Burma itself. The Thanaka Team is an ad-hoc group of women of different backgrounds who joined together to produce the first volume in 1998; they had no idea at the time that the book would be so strongly received that it would launch additional volumes approximately every two years since.

The Thanaka Team initiated this project for two main purposes: “First, to make more visible the prsence of Burman and non-Burman ethnic women in the struggle against the military regime of Burma. Second, we hope that the book will encourage more women of Burma to voice their experiences and hopes within the wider struggle, in direct protest of the many political, social and economic structures that so often render women of all cultures invisible,” (p. 1, Burma: Voices of Women in the Struggle, published 1998).

Current news from Burma has given some brief glimmers of hope here and there, with changes in the Burma government and well-publicized moves such as releasing a few political prisoners and the establishment of a human rights committee in Burma. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent historical visit Burma gave evidence that Burma is at least appearing as if it wants to be more open to foreign relations. However, at the time of this writing, such public moves are still shadowed by a wealth of human rights abuses and continued oppression. Only a small handful of the total number of political prisoners were actually released; the Burma military continues to send additional troops into the Kachin state and people are still forcibly removed from their homes, beaten, raped, and shot. Refugee camps in the border countries continue to see new families arrive, and countries where there are no camps find more migrants looking for hope and survival. Those slight glimmers of hope are far from realized yet.

Stories such as those in the pages of the Burma Women’s Voices series continue to be current, continue to be true. The hope of Burma that I see is in these pages–strong women, competent women, hopeful women. To quote the Thanaka Team, “The articles…express a deep commitment to securing a future for Burma in which women, young and old, will actively participate. The visions of women from Burma are the foundations on which a new, democratic, and just society must be built,” (p. 1, Voices of Women in the Struggle.)

Burma Women’s Voices Series are available in print or as a PDF download from the ALTSEAN Burma website. (Some earlier volumes are available only in print. All print volumes are $10 USD, free shipping.)

–Sandy