[ ‘SHARE’ Sept-Oct 2013 – Myanmar – A Beam after the War Flame ] FOCUS ~ Country Development
Author: Lisa CHAI, Senior Programme Officer
Habakkuk 1: 2- 3
How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. (NIV)
For decades the Myanmar government armed forces and opposing non-state armed groups have engaged in armed conflict. The frequent occurrence and brutality of reported human rights violations by these armed forces caused us to cry out like Prophet Habakkuk. Why do the innocent suffer and perish? We ask God to intervene yet violence and abuses prevail. Over the years CEDAR has supported partners operating in conflict affected areas in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, just to name a few. I am reminded by the book of Habakkuk that in face of conflict situation, we may be perplexed yet God is continuing His work. In the midst of violence and destruction, development is possible.
Currently there are 430,400 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country of Myanmar and conflict in Kachin State alone has displaced 115,000 people. Since a 17-year ceasefire between Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Burmese government broke down in June 2011, many are scattered in over 30 makeshift camps along the border. One Lisu pastor is serving 5,000 IDPs at one camp. The Lisu are peaceful people who do not take up arms, however they are caught between the two fighting forces, and their crops and animals, even people are forced to become supplies for government military forces and the KIA.
This Lisu pastor has previously undergone agricultural training sessions sponsored by CEDAR. Besides his daily administrative duty at the camp, he goes around teaching displaced families how to grow vegetables, how to collect leaves to make compost as fertilizer to improve soil condition, how to make natural pesticide. When I met him in April 2013, he gave his affirmation to do his very best to take care of members from his 20 congregations at the camp. Daily life is surrounded by violence and misery yet the question of injustice and wickedness has not quenched his love and faithfulness to God. Through him CEDAR provided rice, oil, clothing to displaced families. The pastor’s agricultural knowledge and planting activity brings in a sense of hope to a distressed population, good agricultural practices on the soils reduce the stress that the displaced population put on the environment, issues related to camp site management, land rights, water supply have effectively been addressed which in turn reduce conflicts and help maintain peace.
Watch and Wonder God is in control
In order for CEDAR to work in conflict affected areas, identifying key people who are conflict sensitive and committed to bring peace and able to create change is critical. In the past years I have witnessed how God has preserved a group of righteous individuals in a seemingly violent, oppressive place; how He prepared ‘strangers’ to visit, these strangers later became key to the success and development of the programme; how He used the widows and orphans to achieve His plan.
Our local partner Full Moon, founded in 1997, looks after over 200 children and orphans from conflict areas. Full Moon’s vision is to raise the children as Christian leaders who will return to their community after grown up to support development in their area. Some are now teachers, nurses, skilled farmers, mechanics, and community facilitators. In January 2012, the Karen National Union and the Burmese Government signed a ceasefire agreement, officially ending the longest-running civil war in the country (63 years). Full Moon immediately seized this opportunity to explore the possibility of developing post-conflict work. This year I had the joy of visiting 30 Full Moon children in their villages in MonState. These used to be restricted areas. Due to the ceasefire agreement and local partner’s relationships with local community leaders, we can enter these areas where no other NGOs or groups can go in. One highlight is a visit by a local former- armed group leader and his wife who came to thank our partner as their son K once lived at Full Moon. The couple hide in the jungle for many years as guerilla fighters. The leader is actually K’s stepfather. After the death of K’s father, his mother remarried. When K learnt of Full Moon‘s plan to support returnees and conflict affected children, he wants to contribute as he has some medical training. I am amazed how God has prepared these children long ago, through their love, skills and relationships to bring about post conflict development in Mon State. So development is possible. And God has His way to bring that about!
Get prepared to act at appointed time
In past years UN agencies and other INGOs found it frustrating not to have free access into Kachin State to provide assistance to needy populations. Similarly, though ceasefires are reached, INGOs could not get permission to enter sensitive areas in Shan, Karen, Mon. Due to CEDAR’s past strong network with local churches and Christian partners, who are ethnic minority groups from these post- conflict areas, we gain access to these areas to support displaced families to return, recover and restart new lives through addressing their needs on education, water and sanitation, livelihood, environmental protection, and land tenure issues. God has his own appointed time and season, when there is invitation and opportunity to respond to meet the suffering of these people, we must be able to act swiftly and to bring about development according to His timetable.
As ethnic minority grievances run deep, it will take more than reaching ceasefire agreements to maintain peace. Conflict has to do with relationships, with peace and reconciliation, with forgiveness and healing, with hope and potentials. Our Christian faith has much to offer as these are the core values of our belief. In Myanmar there are Christians who are willing to sacrifice their lives to bring peace to the country just like Jesus who acted as our mediator, and gave His life to bring about reconciliation. These individuals need us to stand together with them. Let me end this with an invitation and message from the Peace leader Say Paw who was a former armed group leader but has now made peace with the Burmese Government ‘I really hope there can be support (from CEDAR and NGO groups); we pray a lot for this. Meanwhile, I think through Full Moon network there will be development (in Mon villages). With their connections, I believe we can do a lot for my people.’