Friday, December 14, 2007
Another child from Nalico village, or that is where she ended up after running from the Burma Army. She is part of some 25,000 internally displaced people in northern Karen State, Burma, forced to flee their villages because of attacks of the Burma Army. The Burma Army attacks civilians with impunity in areas under the control of the resistance. The resistance Karen National Union still controls parts of Karen State with their Karen National Liberation Army. So where ever the KNU have control Burma's dictators use the Burma Army to suppress those areas. And one of the strategies is to severely oppress the civilian population. This is the reality. It is well documented by many groups and yet little is being done to stop it other than by the resistance groups which are greatly outnumbered. It is not a matter of the resistance leaving the areas, because they would be abandoning their people to the will of the Burma Army, and the areas currently under Burma Army control still suffer oppression by the Burma Army. For the most part the villagers support the KNU and do not want to be under the control of the Burma Army. While this is the short explanation I believe it's accurate. So what can be done? I urge people to find organizations who support the internally displaced people and support their work. There is no one organization, in fact there are many. I urge you to learn more about the situation and to stand with these people in your own way. Maybe volunteer with an organization that is helping or support their work in some way. If I can be of any help let me know. Thank you.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I took this photo in a bamboo clinic in Mone Township. The white stub on the left is the end of a mans leg. The other legs are those of other wounded. The boy in the back was shot a few times by the Burma Army. It's no secret there is a war in Eastern Burma. Almost six decades of fighting and no end in sight. The resistance groups are hoping the SPDC will fall itself, the UN is sweet talking, the NGOs are complaining about donor fatigue, and all the while villagers are taking bullets and losing limbs. Is the heart asleep?
Monday, October 22, 2007
I met this boy in Nalico village, a miserable IDP site that had wonderful people in it. I should rather say he met me, and enjoyed laughing at me and looking at my camera. I met his parents and they asked me to adopt him, to give him a better life... I was hardly in the position to do so and kindly found a way out of it. But I enjoyed his company, gave him what I could and remember him. I hope to see them again.
I've looked at this picture many times, I took it in Mone Township. He's a KNDO soldier, the KNDO is the first Karen army, after the KNU was formed they started the KNLA, but the KNDO still stands and they work together. When ever I see this picture, I remember the feeling I got from him. He didn't need us, he was gonna keep holding on regardless what happened. He was in it for his people. Many depict the Karen as kind of helpless, I even heard CNN call them "ragtag". They are wrong, if that was the case they wouldn't be able to hold back and army of hundreds of thousands with only a few thousand. They have committed men and villagers working together. And I seriously doubt they will give up.
Monday, October 15, 2007
"And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions ." These words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, speak to the heart of this documentary... " Prayer of Peace, Relief & Resistance in Burma's War Zones". At a deeply profound level, it describes Monkey, the man this video follows through the jungle. Monkey is a Karen Pastor and an experienced FBR team leader who ministers to a people in great need. I consider myself blessed to have met such a person, let alone call him my friend. But Solzhenitsyns words also describe the independent film maker who made this movie. His work is beautiful and perhaps more uniquely, it is a gifted portrayal of the truth. In times of war and conflict, truth can be a hard line to find, let alone portray. But I believe this movie does just that with God given skill. I also know that it hasn't come easy. Both filmmaker and Monkey struggled and prayed over every second of this film. And it shows. For me, the last 5 minutes is some of the most inspiring art I have ever seen, anywhere. Watch the movie. If anyone is so moved, I might suggest a donation .. to underwrite more such videos in the future. It could be an investment worth ... even peace. -Dr. Mitch
Friday, October 12, 2007
I filmed “Prayer of Peace” over three months inside Karen State in 2006... but it really began in 2003 when the Free Burma Rangers approached me to help them put together a short film about the situation inside Burma and their part in it. From that time I have helped make a half dozen other films with the Free Burma Rangers. However, in this film I wanted to focus on characters within the situation and felt that if I was going to do this, I would need to shoot it myself. At first I was reluctant because of the dangers of being in the war zones, especially the idea of stepping on land mines. But after a few years I came to care more and more and became better friends with the Free Burma Rangers, especially Monkey, who became the focus of the film. In the end I decided I was going to have to take the risk and effort needed to capture what’s happening in the jungle hidden away from the world. So we have a film about relief workers caring for their people amid a human rights crisis in Karen State, Eastern Burma.
I spent two six-week trips with the Free Burma Rangers as they conducted relief missions in Karen State. I shot without trying to control any of the situations I was in. I never asked anyone to do anything for the camera, except interviews. I tried to keep my camera out of mind of everyone I filmed. I did this by being present, I interacted with subjects as much as possible and considered my work second. I came first to stand with them as a friend, not observer. I believe in their cause and while I didn’t exaggerate any aspect of the oppression of the Burma Army atrocities, you can certainly say I am sympathetic to the Karen. I was not objective in the process, but I believe I was truthful. I did research and painstaking translation to make sure I understood what people really meant and that I presented an honest story to the best of my ability.
After three months inside and over thirty hours of footage I started to edit without knowing exactly where the film would end up. The film is entirely chronological except for the three interviews, meaning that what happens in the film follows exactly how it happened on the trips I went on. Except that I cut in Day Htoo’s, Monkey’s and Saw Maung Hla Htoo’s interviews in different places for deeper understanding. I cut the film chronologically because I felt it would be more truthful. I wanted the film to be more than entertainment or propaganda. And while compressed and crafted, I tried to approach it as honest as I could, and I felt that chronology was key in this. I cut the film first to about one hour and then started working on the script. After I had a rough draft of the script, I had it translated into Karen language. For people to experience Karen State, I felt it should be in Karen, sight and sound. I wanted authenticity. Nothing I wrote in the script came only from me, it is what I learned from the Karen, their faces, heart, land, and also from the Free Burma Rangers. After translation by Pi Boo and others, I asked Monkey to rework the script into his own words, as he would say and feel it himself. This process took more time and discussion than one can imagine, but in the end I was pleased and felt like I didn’t write it at all. The three main interviews of Day Htoo, Monkey and Saw Maung Hla Htoo, each came from one-hour interviews done inside Karen State, all three locations had been attacked or were to be attacked within weeks.
The filming took place over three months and covered hundreds of miles on foot in Karen State, the editing took six months, but really it took several years to make the film. And it’s only 28 minutes long! I feel deeply grateful to the Karen for their hospitality and willingness to allow me to tell their story. It was a great honor to be in their homeland and I truly hope and pray for their freedom. I also am greatly indebted to the Free Burma Rangers for allowing me to work so closely with them. I wish to thank everyone who helped in making this film.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Another still I took inside Karen State. This was in an Internally Displaced Village somewhere in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. These children were looking after each other. I'm not sure where the parents were, probably looking for food. It was a desperate place, and I could leave. If the Burma Army came near they would run to another hiding area... and on and on it goes for them. I'm not sure what other people see but it reminds me these people exist in flesh and blood. They have hopes and want to live in peace... and the Burma Army is making life hell for a lot of people.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Last year I spent three months inside Karen State, Eastern Burma. Since leaving I suffer from what one might call survivors guilt, I'm haunted by memory. There are real people suffering under a dictatorship that would rather they be dead. They are a hunted people and like this boy I took a picture of, growing up knowing only war. I cannot do much about it, but together we can try. I urge you to do something on behalf of the people suffering in Burma. I propose three things: 1. Pray for Burma. 2. Support an organization of your choice that is doing something. Do research, find out who's doing something you can get on board with and help them do it. 3. You are a human with talent, use it some way to help. We're in this together. May God bless and keep you well.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Last night we screened "Prayer of Peace" at the Alliance Française in Chiang Mai. There was a great turn out and I appreciated everyones interest and questions. I hope we did our best to answer what we could. Thank you to everyone who came and shared the experience. I was grateful to help give voice to the villagers suffering in Burma. Thanks again for coming.
Friday, September 14, 2007
This is Day Htoo's older sister and her child, Day Htoo is the nurse in the film. They really look alike. I met her on our second trip through Muthraw District, she and her family were fleeing to the border. Day Htoo was in another area at the time and I was half glad, because for me it was very sad to see. If you look on the surface there are very evident losses and it can get you down. However the longer you spend inside and the more you care about them, you start to get some of their laughter and well being rubbed off on you. They have resolve and resilience. Maybe it's a human trait of grace under pressure, but it must be especially true for the Karen.
This young man came and met us a days walk from where the 600 villagers were hiding in Mone Township. He was internally displaced himself, and the other man in the picture, both living in the jungle with the other 600. He volunteered to come and help carry medicines and aid back to the other villagers. He is the one in front of me near the beginning of the film when we are walking through the dense jungle. That area was full of leaches and he tapped me on the leg once to tell me there was a leach on my leg, I got to it before it could get fixed and draw blood. When you get one before they make you bleed it's a victory. So big thanks to him, and for his willingness to help his fellow villagers. It takes people like this for the Karen to stick it out. The good news is most the Karen I met are like this.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Here's a three minute excerpt from the 28 minute film "Prayer of Peace: Relief & Resistance in Burma's War Zones". This section of the film was the end of the first trip, crossing the Burma Army controlled car road and witnessing hundreds of villagers fleeing to Thailand in Mutraw District on the return trip. Both times I was in that area we met villagers fleeing, at the beginning of the film and here on our return. The man who speaks (Maung Hla Htoo) really deserves a film unto himself. But suffice to say he is a hero. UPDATE: Watch the whole film at http://vimeo.com/channels/prayerofpeace
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
This 28 minute documentary film follows ethnic Karen relief workers as they document and bring aid to internally displaced people suffering under the Burma Army. A first hand account of the oppression and human rights abuses the military dictatorship inflicts with impunity on an ethnic people. The film reveals a people that have maintained their dignity and hope for peace despite the odds. Watch on Vimeo. The film was originally titled "Refugees Within" but changed after the film took shape in editing.
Monday, April 02, 2007
This man guided us to a village that had been burned to the ground by the SPDC (Burma's ruling military dictatorship) the week before. He is wearing a British WWII helmet, it was given to him by a British soldier during the Brits time in Karen State. The Karen fought along side the allies and helped to take Burma back from the Japanese. The Karen believed, partly because the British told them so, they would be rewarded a sovereign Karen State when the war was over. The Brits instead gave the whole of Burma to the Burmans, who sided with the Japanese against the Brits during the war, and the Karen have been left to fight the Burmans since. The SPDC continues to use torture and blistering oppression learned from the Japanese against the Karen and other ethnic populations of Burma.
Monday, March 19, 2007
This is an armband the Burma Army forces Karen civilians to wear in relocation sites. It translates to "against the KNU". The villager this armband was issued to fled the camp and brought this out. Apparently the idea is to force the Karen people to give up their allegiance to the Karen National Union. This depicts clearly the mentality and technique the Burma Army uses alongside attacks on villages, forced labor, torture, rape, murder...
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
These are people we met in passing. IDPs on the side of the trail, basically hanging out at what was once a store. In this picture Gideon is sharing a picture he took of them on his digital camera. I often felt that we could bring little to the situation, to these people who have lost most everything except dignity. In the end I decide for myself that it's worth it enough for moments like this. You share what you have at the moment. You care enough to take a picture. You work towards goals that are likely to be unfulfilled in our lifetime. And on the way you make friends.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
This picture was taken in Nalico (forgive the spelling) in Mon Township. I would say one of the most desperate places I have ever been. Besides children it's the elderly who bear the brunt of war. But despite the situation she was extremely kind and less distressed than this picture seems.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Today I went to the hospital and didn't find Lah Poh Say or his father. The hospital didn't inform me because I am not family. But I found out the results for the biopsy were positive for cancer. The agency that he was being cared for by said his prognosis for recovery was 50-60%. And that with such a prognosis there were too many other children with better prognoses ahead of him, so he was sent away. The only other option they gave him was to stay in a refugee camp and hope to go to a third country. The father told the agency he will return to his home, wife and other children, and Lah Poh Say will go with him. I can understand this because his family is so far away and for him to go back to get them and then return to the camp, and not wanting to be in a refugee camp to begin with... I told the doctors that I would like to get in touch with Saw Tah Dee, the father of Lah Poh Say, before he returns and tell him that we were willing to help with the costs, although I don't know how. They said he would need one year treatment of chemo-therapy in a stable environment, maybe five thousand dollars. So if Lah Poh Say's father will agree we would like to bring him back to Chiang Mai for the treatment at McKean Hospital, the 100 year old leprosy hospital that now treats other marginalized patients similar to Lah Poh Say. Please pray we can make this happen and this boy will survive.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
This is a Burma Army soldier in a lookout carrying a Burmese K-4 rifle. He is in a new camp with about forty other soldiers near the area where the Burma Army shot the nine year old girl earlier this year. Could be the same soldier. We were on a ridge nearby and took this shot, glad he didn't see us.
Friday, January 19, 2007
If you travel through areas that are not under attack and ones that are, you can better understand the need for freedom in Karen State. In the areas that are still relatively safe from attacks, (although this is becoming extinct because of Burma Army camp expansion) there is still a sense that life is good. Children play, people farm and life has normalcy. It makes you wonder why someone would want to take it away from them. And in the areas that are under attack there are few signs of peoples natural way of life. Farms are left unplanted and homes and schools are empty or burnt down. These children are now living within thirty minutes of a new Burma Army camp and their way of life is getting ready to change for the worse. How many people do you know who know their children's lives will get worse?
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
It is definately the children who lose the most. This child is four or five and cannot walk or talk due to cerebral malaria. If the child had been able to get treatment it could have been avoided. The SPDC policies of attacking and displacing villagers in order to control the Karen homeland is genocide. This is what it looks like. The child was sent to Thailand for treatment.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
This is Lah Poh Say (translates to Bright Little Moon) and his father Saw Taw Dee. We met them on the frontline in Mon Township. Because we could do nothing to help him in the jungle we asked if they could come with us back to Thailand for treatment of the boys tumor. So they walked with us for over a week and then onto a camp for transfer to a hospital. I was deeply impressed by the father's care and patience with the boy. The boy was very uncomfortable and irritable and the father was more patient and caring that I have ever seen anyone for and extended amount of time. He carried the boy probably 150 miles. Yesterday I found them in a Chiang Mai hospital. We were happy to see eachother. His condition is being investigated and after tests it will be determined if operation is possible. Cancer has not yet been ruled out and is considered likely. Please pray for Lah Poh Say and his father. Thank you.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
This mother had to flee the Burma Army and while doing so went into labor and had this baby on the trail. When we met the baby he was two months old. A harsh start. They are from Northern Mon Township. The problem is large and overwhelming, but this is who pays the heaviest price and their struggles are painfully real.
Monday, January 01, 2007
The writing is from Amos 12:4 "be prepared to meet your God". This scripture and the song being taught to the students are especially applicable for where they were. This is from a boarding school only 30 minutes from a new Burma Army camp. We could see the hill the camp was on from the grounds of the school soccer field. They had recently just returned from having to run from soldiers and it seemed likely to happen again. I heard a few days ago the Burma Army had sent mortars into the grounds of the school. Most have fled now. The man teaching the song is a KNU leader, he was in the area to meet with villagers under attack and he stopped in the school to talk with students and teach them some songs, this one happened to be in English. A true servant leader. He also helped coordinate several medi-vacs for patients we met along the way that were critical. When I meet people like him and the students alike I am part confused why the don't give up and also humbled by their faith and deep commitment.