Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Burma - Putting a Human Face on the Politics of Poverty

Photos from Pagan, Burma© TR Ryan - October, 2003

Warning, this post is definitely going to be a bit of a departure for me - no pretty pictures of birds or sunsets or favorite travel destinations or quiet nature walks on this beautiful spring day in the red dirt nation where I live. My social conscious has gotten the better of me today and although I may be writing well out of my league and comfort zone -- I do feel that at times we bloggers have a social responsibility to use our much cherished liberties to support those that have none.

As a traveler by trade, I've always felt the added responsibility while out there in this big round world not only to be a good American but to endeavor to be a responsible human being as well. I've always believed that we should cherish the places we call home, embrace the wisdom of our ancestors that came before us and then rise up and become citizens of the world. And part of that equation to my mind is taking the time to get to know my neighbors out there in the temporary places I call home for a week or two. And in doing so...learning to understand and celebrate not only that which makes us different and unique but inherently recognizing our commonalities -- it might be the unusual that delights or frightens us but it is our sameness that will unites us. It is in the spirit of that oneness that I hope you read on.

In October of 2003 I had the opportunity to work for a few weeks in Burma and everywhere I went I met these beautiful, smiling faces - not unlike my own nieces and nephews. And in those big round eyes I saw the hopes and prayers of a fractured nation staring back at me with a longing for a better life. A life that a greedy military regime operating an illegitimate government has robbed from its very own people for nearly 50 years. (And imagine some of you thought 8 years too much to bear).

What I didn't know, until I read Chanpheng's, the scribe of "Mekong River Tributaries", January post is that in addition to all the egregious human rights violations tied to the most brutal and oppressive military dictatorship on earth (torture, rape, genocide, mass killings, religious persecution) this never-elected government has fomented such disparity and poverty between its people that now nearly 400 children die every day in Burma from malnutrition and preventable diseases.

Chanpeng writes, "After the government crackdown on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks in September, things have gotten worse. According to the Unicef State of the Children Report, up to 400 children are dying every day from preventable diseases in Burma, which has a population of about 60 million people, about 1/5 the population of the US. If children were dying at the same rate in the US as in Burma, that would mean 2000 children a day."

If 2000 children a day were dying of starvation in this country would you not be screaming, taking to the streets and demanding change? Look into these eyes - they are not unlike those of your grandchildren, children or relatives. How do we standby and let a handful of men allow a nation to suffer and starve to the point that 400 children die each day? The litany of human rights abuses by the Burmese junta grows longer everyday. Burma, where torture and child labor has become an institution, is known to have the most brutal and oppressive dictatorship that publicly embraces and acknowledges an endless list of violations of basic human rights - don't you wonder for a minute that we might be fighting the wrong war? Tell me again, how do we pick these battles? I remain baffled.

The Burmese military junta has now conscripted 70,000 child soldiers into its war on its own ethnic tribes. Hunger makes for strange bedfellows. I believe that a government that starves its own children in order to force them to serve as killing puppets against their own people should be crucified.

To be continued...but not for all these children.

According to the statistics - one of these kids pictured here has now died from malnutrition or another preventable cause. Three of these children are now soldiers pushed to the front lines of a war against their own people carrying guns and munitions supplied by China.

Can you guess which ones?

Parallel lives:
A matter of chance
And time and space
Of course
That I stand here
And you, there
Never intersecting
Never meeting
On some distant horizon
In some distant future
I have to remind myself
To notice you.
But look at us:
I could be you
And you, me
So close, so alike
So alone
It is a matter of chance
It is all the same
I am you,
You are me

by Sandy Carlson


Beth said...

Thank you for posting this. I've been wondering what is happening in Burma these last few months.

Anonymous said...

It's a big shame what's happening in Burma.
But the world moves in mysterious ways ... in some cases nobody seems to care.
Despite the suffering, some of rhose photos show us lovely children who deserved a better childhood.

joey said...

I am deeply touched by your post and photos. You have a gift with pen and camera ...

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how people can be so cruel to their fellow human beings. To look at these beautiful faces and realize that ruthless killers hold fate in their hands literally makes me cry.

In my opinion, the US only intervenes when OUR interests are threatened. We live in a petrocracy. We fight for oil, not for justice or human rights.

Thank you for the post.

Autumn said...

I read this post earlier this morning but couldn't bring myself to comment due to my heart being in my throat. It is so hard to understand why people do the horrible things they do.
Thank you for bringing attention to this through your eloquent writing and moving pictures.

Lak said...

It seems heartless to say this, but there is only so much that Americans can do.

The monks in Burma had the right idea, but unfortunately civil disobedience only works against civilized governments, not against juntas.

There is already an economic embargo even if Burma's neighbors (India, China, Thailand) flout it in pursuit of goals they think are higher priority (stopping the drug trade, economic growth, limiting spread of HIV, etc.)

Military invasion doesn't work (see: Iraq).

Dancin Fool said...

Hello. A thought provoking post. It always seems to me baffling that so many people can be suffering through out the world. There are so many countries where hundreds and thousands of people die every day, and their deaths should be easily preventable.

What is the answer? There are thousands of charities out there doing amazing work however they barely seem to scratch the surface.

I do not believe that invasion of a country can be the answer either but what is?

A free peoples revolution perhaps? Would the people of the free world really unite to bring about global change?

Or should we rely on legitimate lines of debate and protest?

I would be interested to know your thoughts. It is an issue I give great thought to. I do think 'we' can respond when provoked, necessity being the mother of invention and all, but will it take a total global catastrophe for us to unite and act? Some would say we are already experiencing one.

Bye for now!

Anonymous said...

I can't pick which one of those children died while I was reading your post. I can't bear to think it was any one of them, yet I know in my heart one of them is no longer with us.

Those children could be our children, they ARE our children. I believe we are many but we are one. Inexplicably, we are linked. Despite race and creed we are all the same underneath. Your post reminds us that we all share responsibility for life on this planet. Raising awareness of injustice is the first step in implementing change. Thank you, T.R., this is a very important post.

chanpheng said...

Thanks for your very moving post. I visited Burma in 1986, before everything started. I was impressed at how the people could still smile and invite foreigners into their houses for tea, even when they had so little.

I went back and did a little more research and wrote a longer post following up on the original article and the UNICEF SoWC report. There's a lot of good, but disturbing, information in the report.

Mary said...

TR, thanks for this emotionally moving post. I think the world is baffled. I'm at a loss for a solution. Children should not be dying, here in America or elsewhere in this world. Countries are so preoccupied with their own problems and care enough. It's very sad, indeed.

Jean Warner said...

Bravo. Who will speak for these children if not those of us who are granted the blessing of sharing a few minutes, hours, days with them on "our travels." I sincerely believe God puts us in the path of injustice -- then waits... for a TR to speakout. Now, dear reader, write to President Bush and to your members of Congress. Because this nation CAN do something if it has the will. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained!)

Anonymous said...

Great portrait shots of the children. I do agree with you on Burma. :)

Alex's World! -

Mel said...

I know what you mean. I was born in a 'third world country', grew up watching injustice, hunger, poverty, violence and sadness.

I was fortunate enough to get a good education and later on a set of pretty good jobs (for the region)

With a group of friends, a couple of years ago, we created a group to help kids forced to worked on the streets, often ignored and abused not only on the streets but 'at home'. That has been the best experience so far, kids that are often violent (that's how they 'protect' themselves from others) became kids again, while learning handcrafts, improving their skills, their reading and writing, etc. No matter what, kids are kids, and they deserve love, caring, housing, food, healthcare, etc. They deserve peace and education.

Thank you for that great post, it might not be my country, but pain is just the same.


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