In 2003, we took a trip to the refugee camp in Thailand. When we arrived, we began to learn of the situation in Burma and couldn’t help but fall in love with the ethnic minorities that were being persecuted. CBRTN was then founded out of love and compassion to help the ethnic minorities in Burma, Thailand, and Colorado.
Suffering in silence, my heart was dark and full with hate. I held a knife in my hand and I was ready to defeat my enemy. The smell of blood surrounded me. I was a six year old girl running with my family like I needed air because I had only one chance. There was a school, a clinic, houses and a church across the river. If only I could reach the other side. Almost all that was left of my village were the ashes. It was destroyed by fire and bombs from the Burmese army. Dad looked into my eyes. Sadness mixed with faith, and he said, “We have to leave village after village, house after house, but if you make it to Thailand, do not forget who you are and where you came from.” The sounds of crying and guns firing cut me deep inside. I remember how scared I was. How lonely I felt. How numb I had to be. It is too much for me to handle and I cry my heart out as anger turns into tears. We do not know what will happen to us tomorrow or the next day.
The Karen people are suffering genocide. The military regime wants to clear the Karen from Burma. As a child, I was not allowed to study my own language, culture, traditions or literature. They said, in the near future, if you want to see Karen people you would have to go to a museum.
Life in the refugee camp in Thailand was very hard. Our camp was built like a prison, located far from main cities. We were not welcome there and Thai soldiers took advantage of us because we had no legal status or rights. We wanted to return to our home country, but new refugees constantly arrived in the camp. They brought news that the Burmese military was continuing to burn our villages and plant landmines. No one would be able to return. My family spent 7 years in the refugee camp.
My life changed dramatically when I was 13. They told us that we would be moving to the United States. Immigrating to America and adjusting to living in a new culture was a big struggle for me. I felt completely lost. I knew nothing about the English language. I couldn’t even recite the ABCs. My family had to go through the hardships of understanding and interpreting the American language and culture. As time goes by we have adapted to the new culture and life gets easier.
I realize that my parents gave up everything they had and submitted to working constantly in order to give me this opportunity, is what motivates me to strive for success. Since neither my father nor mother were able to go to school, I plan on being the first generation to graduate from college. I know college will bring about new obstacles and challenges but I also know that success never comes to those who take no initiative and become too comfortable.
My long term goal is to go back to Thailand to heal people from pain, and give them hope. My connection with my family and the Karen refugee community in America is continuous even though I have left behind the camp. Although I am away from their everyday struggles, I realize how lucky I am to be in a country where I do not suffer from mass persecution or violence. I can make a wonderful difference for people who have not been quite as fortunate as me.
Video from Partners
There are over 100 ethnic people groups in Burma. There are 10 main ethnic groups: Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Chin , Mon, Bamar, Rakhine, Shan, Rohingya & the Burmese Muslim. The military junta has destroyed over 3,000 of their villages. This leaves countless thousands homeless and fleeing from homes hiding in the mountainous and jungle-forest regions of Burma. They live in constant fear often without food, shelter, or water. Fleeing from persecution, many ethnic minorities have arrived in countries all over the world such as Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, & the United States. They have been spread all over the world and are in dire need of people like you.
Japan invades and occupies Burma with some help from the Japanese-trained Burma Independence Army, which later transforms itself into the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) and resists Japanese rule.
Britain liberates Burma from Japanese occupation with help from the AFPFL, led by Aung San.
Aung San and six members of his interim government assassinated by a nationalist rival of Aung San’s. U Nu, foreign minister in Ba Maw’s government, which ruled Burma during the Japanese occupation, asked to head the AFPFL and the government.
Burma becomes independent with U Nu as prime minister.
U Nu’s party faction wins decisive victory in elections, but his promotion of Buddhism as the state religion and his tolerance of separatism angers the military.
U Nu’s faction ousted by a brutal military coup led by Gen Ne Win, who abolishes the federal system and inaugurates “the Burmese Way to Socialism”.
Protests in August against political oppression and the government mishandling of the economy are brutally suppressed, leaving 3,000 people dead. The current ruling junta seizes power in the aftermath and the National League for Democracy is formed.
The junta declares martial law and changes the country’s name to Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence hero Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947, is held in house arrest for “endangering the state”. Others NLD leaders are arrested.
The NLD wins a landslide victory in an election allowed by the junta, but the results are then ignored by the military government.
Aung Suu Kyi wins the Nobel Peace prize. For her continued efforts to bring peace to Burma despite being under house arrest.
The reclusive Than Shwe becomes the leading general in the regime.
Aung San Suu Kyi is freed from house arrest.
Aung San Suu Kyi put under house arrest again for flouting a travel ban.
Aung San Suu Kyi freed again, but later placed in “protective custody” after a pro-government mob attacked her supporters.
Protests are started for pro-democracy demonstration. Protesters greet Aung San Suu Kyi outside her home, the first sighting of her in public since 2003.
Up to 100,000 people march in Rangoon, the biggest anti-government protest since 1988. Two days later a violent crackdown begins, with troop raiding monasteries and arresting protesters. Some demonstrators and a Japanese journalist are shot dead.
Cyclone Nargis devastates large parts of Burma, killing an estimated 130,000 people. The junta faces severe international criticism after it refuses permission for outside aid agencies to assist the millions of people affected, a stance it later softens slightly.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces plans for engagement with military rulers.
Government announces that long-awaited election laws have been passed, with provisions for an electoral commission hand-picked by the junta. NLD votes to boycott polls. Splinter party – National Democratic Front (NDF) – later gains legal status and plans to compete in polls.
Thein Sein is sworn in as president of a new civilian government. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits, meets Aung San Suu Kyi and holds talks with President Thein Sein. Burmese authorities agree truce deal with the Shan ethnic group and orders military to stop operations against ethnic Kachin.
Government signs ceasfire with rebels of Karen ethnic group. Burma abolishes pre-publication censorship, meaning that reporters no longer have to submit their copy to state censors. The European Union suspends all non-military sanctions against Burma for a year.
The Burmese army launches an attack against the biggest town controlled by Kachin rebels near the Chinese border, breaking a short-lived government ceasefire. The government and rebels reach agreement to disengage and begin political dialogue after Chinese-sponsored talks.