Kachin IDP Youths Share War Hardships With NLD Patron

By Yen Saning 15 January 2016

RANGOON — Three Kachin youths living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) outside Myitkyina met National League for Democracy patron Tin Oo and the NLD’s Education Network on Friday at party headquarters in Rangoon, where the trio shared their familiarity with the hardships of war.

“We don’t want war. We don’t want fighting between us,” a tearful Lu Htoi told Tin Oo as the 15-year-old recounted her experiences at the Shwe Zet IDP camp outside the Kachin State capital.

Lu Htoi, an eighth grade student, expounded on the economic toll that the conflict has taken on her family.

“People living as war refugees have difficulties. I feel small living at others’ village and attending others’ school. As our parents do not have money, they could not give us pocket money to buy snacks. When we told our parents, they felt sad,” she said, adding that day jobs could earn her parents between 3,500 kyats to 4,000 kyats, the equivalent of about US$3.

“It’s not enough for family food and pocket money for children.”

Zau Kham, also 15 but from the Mai Na IDP camp, said the Kachin conflict forced his family to leave farmlands behind, trading that life for one in which even finding firewood can be a struggle.

“Even if there was no war, if we could go back to our village, we are worried about landmines buried nearby our village,” he said.

Schooling, too, is a challenge.

There is a school for fifth to eighth graders at the Mai Na camp, but the space is not enough for all students, requiring them to break their collective education down into staggered shifts.

“In the rainy season, as our school is in lowlands, it floods. We have to study in standing water.”

Tin Oo told the IDPs that the incoming government, led by NLD chairwoman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, would make peace its top priority.

“If there is no peace, we can’t do anything, neither projects nor development work,” he added.

Acknowledging the suffering of civilians caught up in the conflict, not just children but also the elderly and sick, Tin Oo described economic self-interest among the warring parties as one of the biggest barriers to peace.

About 2,400 IDPs have been living for more than four years at the Mai Na and Shwe Zet IDP camps. The three young envoys for the camps travelled to Rangoon for the Wa Madai Pan Chyang (Black Orchids) exhibition in Rangoon, a showcase of photos taken by Kachin IDP youths.

The photos and accompanying texts were the result of a 10-day photography and storytelling workshop organized by the Insightout! Project for the past two years, at the two camps and Mai Ja Yang’s Unlung Boarding School for IDPs.

Jeanne Marie Hallacy, director of the film “This Kind of Love,” was involved in the project and described it as more than a typical exhibition.

“This event, the black orchids story and photo exhibition, is the combination of these workshops and it’s not an exhibition but an event, because these youth ambassadors are here to speak on behalf of everyone in their schools, their families, villagers,” she said.

“So, in this time, when the government is convening talks about how to keep sustainable peace in Myanmar, in Naypyidaw, they are here as a way to highlight the fact that there are still tens of thousands of displaced persons in Myanmar who are waiting for an opportunity to have a peaceful return home.”

The exhibition of 57 photos, taken by young Kachin IDPs aged 11 to 16 years old, portray daily life in these conflict-affected communities, and will launch at 6 pm on Saturday at the Pansodan Scene art gallery in downtown Rangoon.

Pansodan Scene is located at 144 Pansodan Street, 2nd Floor, near the corner with Mahabandoola Street in Kyauktada Township.