Burma is a fractured land. Many ethnic peoples dwell along its eastern border, neighboring Thailand. The constant turmoil has uprooted thousands of people, often Karen and Karenni families. The Burmese army closes in on small villages, burning them to the ground. The villagers are forced to flee their homes, or risk becoming impressed into the Burmese army. When that happens, they may be compelled to carry weapons for the army—weapons that will be used to destroy those dwelling in the next village.
The first refugees my family worked with were Karen refugees from Thailand refugee camps. Recently I read an excellent book by Mitali Perkins about the conflicts in Burma, entitled Bamboo People. The plot revolves around Chiko, a young man dreaming of becoming a teacher. When Chiko sees an announcement in the Burmese papers to make his application in person, he decides the time has come. He arrives at the address to take his teaching exam, only to be forced into a bus by Burmese soldiers. In a matter of minutes, he is taken to the depths of the jungle to begin three years of forced service in the army.
On his arrival to the camp, the indoctrination begins at once. Chiko is told the Karenni tribe wants to tear Burma apart. In order to save his country, he is ordered to fight the Karenni. These orders come from the same military force that arrested his father, a doctor, for using his healing gifts for an “enemy of the state”. Alone in the mountainous jungles, stripped of all he has except for two photographs and his broken glasses, Chiko has to find his way through this new life.
Bamboo People is a powerful story of a young man facing monumental challenges. Chiko is surrounded by young recruits who don’t want to kill the tribal people any more than he does. The Burmese soldiers drive them hard, through jungles full of hidden mines. In these life-changing times Chiko learns lessons of courage and friendship that prove to be crucial for his survival, and for that of the Burmese youth with him. In the jungle he encounters a Karenni refugee, Tu Reh. whose life-giving decisions impact Chiko for the rest of his life.
Bamboo People tells a story that needs to be heard. It’s a story of hope and of truth, vividly written. This post is dedicated to the people of Burma. For more information, Mitali Perkins has great resources at her website: http://www.bamboopeople.org