On January 14th high in the Kachin mountains, along the border with China, are acres of blue tarps erected as makeshift shelters. This morning, frost covered the ground as IDPs started their fires for warmth and went to carry water for cooking. A few people milled around, wrapped in blankets, trying to find some sunlight to stand in for warmth. A work crew of men and women gathered together preparing for morning work. One person from every household contributes to camp work, which includes gathering bamboo for building houses and wood for their fires. This is a cold place to settle for people who’ve just fled their homes – again – to find a place they can live without having their daily lives threatened by air and artillery attacks.
Most of them first fled in 2011, and had settled at Zai Aung Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp. In August 2016, the Burma Army began a concentrated offensive to take Kachin positions that were protecting this and other camps. After five months of courageous resistance by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), these posts finally fell. On the final day of fighting the Burma Army shelled over 5000 times and used attack helicopters and fighter jets. The KIA had to retreat; soon the Burma Army was shelling the IDP camp, and completely overran it in mid-January. With only the belongings that they could carry, the IDPs fled again, to Sha It Yang.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) had prepared Sha It Yang as a place where they could be safe. Yesterday we interviewed a woman from Zai Aung, named La Hpai. She told us her story of fleeing and showed us her few belongings and the single basket they all had to fit into as she fled. She showed us her new “home,” which was just a sheet of plastic draped over some bamboo. She turned and pointed to her son and it was only then that tears filled her eyes. Sobbing, she admitted she is losing hope, for herself and for her son. Her son had been going to high school in Myitkyina, but after fleeing again, she could not afford the school fees anymore. He would not have a chance to graduate, would not have a chance for a better life. This was what she could not endure. She could survive living in a dusty, cold place under a piece of tarp – with the knowledge that her children would not have to. But feeling that her children could not escape – that was hard for this mother.
Our FBR team came to this new IDP camp to provide help, hope, and love to the people. We loaded a big truck with $5,000 worth of food and medicine. The need here makes our efforts seem small. What is a truckload of food for hundreds of people who have twice lost everything, and the enemy comes unchecked? Our medics from Karen State treat as many patients as possible. Last night a baby had severe diarrhea and could not eat or drink. Our medics gave medicine and our rangers prayed with the mother who was distraught, thinking that her baby might not live through the night. This morning the child began to recover and the mother came back to us joyful that her child was healing. For that family we provided help.
Today the primary and middle school students came to the Good Life Club program. As we sing songs, perform skits, and play games with them, we encourage the children that God loves them and that He is with them. Hope is a difficult message to share with the people here; that they have not already lost hope is a testament to their faith and resilience. They’ve been living in makeshift homes for six years as the war drags on and have now been uprooted even from those. Still, we believe the greatest message we can share with them is to put their hope in God. We tell these displaced people that we are here because we also put our hope and trust in God. We could not do this work without His help and love towards us. Maybe, by seeing us here, and knowing that we all serve a living God Who is bigger than all of us, these IDPs will be encouraged. We hope to remind them that though they are isolated in these cold mountains, they are not forgotten, by God or His people.
Now that over 2000 people have fled here, the KIO is working to try to build make-shift homes, secure food and firewood, set up a clinic, provide water and sanitation facilities, and install electricity for lights. Soon more than 2000 IDPs from Magayang will also flee to Sha It Yang, as the Burma Army has taken ground closer and closer to their IDP camp and they no longer feel safe to live there. Please pray with us for these tough resilient people – that their enemy would be stopped and their hope renewed.
Thank You and God Bless You
Kachin Free Burma Ranger team