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
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