A Reflection on My Experience in Myanmar

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    I had no idea what it would be like in Myanmar working with the Internally Displaced People (IDP’s) in the camps even if I would say 85% of my mission as a consecrated religious has been always working with the poor.

 

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I have seen a lot of worst situations of poverty and I was surprised to discover their differences of need. Every context has its own need in terms of poverty, but if I have only to think of their needs, I will be frustrated and helpless.

I arrived in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar in November 27, 2019 to accompany Sr. Pilar Brufal who had been working with JRS for two years in Myitkyina, Kachin state. While accompanying Sr. Pilar, I worked too with JRS ( Jesuit Refugee Service).particularly in the accompaniment of young teacher participants at the Teachers’ Training center, an education program of JRS Myanmar in collaboration with the Diocesan Commission on Education.

Kachin State is located in the northernmost state of Myanmar with international borders connected to China and India. In April-May 2018, 6,000 civilians were displaced as a result of a clashbetween two sides. Since the resumed fighting, the IDP situations in Kachin became worst because it has been more than 7 years that they have lived in temporary shelters and some of them have even experienced repeat displacements within the State and across the border to China due to intensified clashes in past years.(JRS article)

Even if my work was focused more on accompaniment of teacher participants at the Teachers’ Training Center, in Palana, I had the chance to visit families in the different camps to share with them some techniques on organic farming. My constant encounter with the families in the camp was not easy since I don’t speak their language and, in as much as I wanted to communicate with them, I cannot. I found out that the best thing I could do was treat them as normal people and discovered that the language of smile is what we need at that moment. I realized that smiling and talking to them was surprisingly enjoyable than giving things out for them. The more I listened to their story, the more I could feel a different kind of poverty inside them. I felt that their dignity as human beings had been stripped away.

Listening to their story from the time they escaped from their village because of civil war was a shaky experience for me. I can relate well with their experience as I recalled the time when my family escaped from the war between Muslims and Christians in the late 70’s in Mindanao, to settle in a place where we found and felt peace. Somehow there were those years when we felt displaced also. Their feeling of desperation, hopelessness, and smallness was very easy for me to relate and comprehend. Only God knows why all these happened. The silence in between our sharing echoed the song of Declan Galbraith “Tell me why”. Tell me why does it have to be like this? Tell me why coz I don’t understand“. The same question played in my heart, as I continued listening to their experience of suffering.

I thought for a while...They may need money, food and other material things but deep inside I    can perceive that the most important thing I can offer them is time. Giving time is giving them hope and encouragement to go forward. These people have learned a lot from their experience of suffering and are more sensitive to people like them who suffer. I can sense their strong Faith in God as seen in their character. Their heart is so full of gratitude, and for me, this is one great lesson I learned from my short personal meeting with the Kachin people in the camps. The short encounter with them, for me was significant, because they have taught me how to be grateful even in the midst of affliction. I will never forget this experience of working in Myanmar with the Internally Displaced People (IDP). I really appreciate JRS Myanmar for allowing me to experience such challenging life of people amid suffering and displacement. My gratitude to God is great!

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