On the outside looking in…
A few weeks ago, Room to Grow received a donation for food for migrant children. Since learning about the severe levels of malnutrition affecting migrant children from Burma in the Mae Sot area, feeding and nutrition have been our top priorities. We drew up a budget and a plan and scheduled Friday November 12th as a day for renting a truck and delivering rice to two programs in the Pho Phra area.
Of course, that was before the DKBA drove the military regime out of Myawaddy, before thousands streamed across the border and thousands were sent back. So when Friday the 12th came around, we still planned to rent a truck and deliver rice, but we thought we’d try and bring as much rice as we could to the new refugees, as well as to boarding houses and migrant children.
Pho Phra is about thirty minutes from Mae Sot in a good truck. It is another thirty minutes or so from there by motorcycle to the border with Burma, where you can look out across the river at the Burmese town of Wah Lay. Wah Lay was reported to be burning on Tuesday night. We have heard rumors of military activity there and rumors of refugees.
On Friday morning, we spent thirty minutes in the office making our plan for the day. We had planned to borrow a truck from a migrant school in town but the headmaster told us it was unsafe for long drives and all the truck rental places in town were booked. Luckily for us, World Education came through, loaning us one of their super sweet four wheel drive trucks for the day.
We picked up the truck and braved the narrow streets of the market to get mats and blankets for people living in hiding close to the border. We dropped them off at a distribution point, then went to the rice store for our first load. Twenty bags of rice (900 kilos) and 67 kilos of yellow beans (lentils) later, we were on our way to our first stop, New Blood School. The students helped us unload pretty quickly.
We had a quick lunch then hit the rice store again for another 25 bags of rice (1125 kilos) and 60 kilos of yellow beans. Then we picked up 100 cans of tinned fish, 350 packages of dried noodles and about 24 litres of cooking oil. The truck was packed.
As we navigated the connecting roads to the highway, we lost a bag of rice off the back of the truck. Nobel and I ran back down the road after it. Luckily it had only a small tear in the top. The two of us grabbed an end each and hauled the 45 kilo bag back to the car. We rearranged all the boxes of noodles and fish in the back and then hauled the bag of rice in and were on our way again.
In Pho Phra, we dropped all our supplies at a distribution point. Then we hopped on motorcycles and drove down to the border area. We walked along the embankments in rice paddies to visit people living in field huts. We stopped to speak to people and hand out toys to children.
The children we met on Friday were quiet and shy. They kept their distance from us, eying us warily. They didn’t smile much. It seems like such a silly thing to be giving out toys in this crazy time of flight and fear. But we have the toys, and most of the children left their homes with very little. Anyways, it was worth it for that moment when a child sees the toy I’m pulling out of my bag and knows its for him or her and breaks out into a huge, glorious, glowing smile. Smiles like that make my day.
Three children I visited reached out and took their beanie babies solemnly, hugging them close. We started walking away and I turned around to watch them. They were running towards their mother in one of the field huts, waving their new toys and laughing with glee. I caught the mother’s eye for a moment and saw her smiling, too.
Moments like that help me get through the moments that are much less happy. After trekking through the fields for a while, we took a rest in a field hut perched in the trees on a slight hill. The hut looked down over the rice paddies to the river which separates Thailand from Burma. We spent a while chewing betel nut, drinking water and talking with the woman there about the last few days.
She told me that for the last three days, she has sat in that field hut looking out towards the river. Her fields are just beyond the banks, she said. She pointed to where her long beans are waiting for her to harvest. She said that all she wants to do is be down there picking her beans. Instead, she spends her day in the hut, looking over at the feilds and watching the government soldiers on the far side of the river, on patrol.
I asked her about her future. “When will you know it is safe for you to go back?” I asked.
She said she will wait until she doesn’t see any soldiers there anymore. She is afraid that the soldiers will take her and force her to carry things for them or work for them. When she thinks it is safe, she tells me she will go harvest her fields, take her things on her back, and find somewhere more safe for her to live. Looking across the river, she knows that home isn’t home for her anymore.
Today we learned that Aung San Su Kyi has been released from house arrest and the eyes of the world, the reporters and so many people, are turning now to Rangoon. While everyone looks there, we wonder what may happen here. While everyone speaks about the Lady, we wonder what will happen to the other 2,000+ political prisoners in the country in jail, in terrible conditions, whose names are far less famous but who also deserve their freedom today. But most of all, my heart is with the woman in the field hut, looking out over the river at an elusive home just out of her reach. May we all find peace someday soon.