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Two vibrant women, one aged 85 and the other 84 share stories of how the children of
Daphne Tun Baw (85) tells her story.
I was born in Thaton, Mon Division,
All from the cities evacuated to the hills. We teachers continued to do mission work - Sunday School from nursery to the elders, choir and Bible recitation. Every month we went to different villages to have Christian Endeavor and Women’s Meetings. One headman led 15 villages, twelve Christian and three Buddhist. We had no money but didn’t feel hunger. The people gave us food because we taught their children.
When the war ended four years later, I returned to my birthplace and taught at the
I followed my auntie and set up a school in
After a week he went to a village where his father had a farm and hired men to clear the land to build a house so I could teach there and he could farm. After just one hour of work he vomited blood. He had tuberculosis and needed hospital treatment. It was dangerous for him to go to
I got a job as a clerk in the Customs Department in
From 1963 to 1974 he was invited by Dr Gordon Seagrave, a medical doctor and surgeon from the
During those ten years he worked hard. His tuberculosis was cured, but he developed diabetes and high blood pressure. In April 1974 he went to Meiktila for a meeting of the Upper Burma Karen Association, and got very sick on the way back. He went to a monks’ hospital in Pyinmana where the nurses had been his church members, trained by Dr Seagrave. The nurses wanted to send a message to me, but he didn’t agree; it was a two day journey by train for me to come. He died the day I received the message. When I reached Pyinmana the supervisor opened the grave to show me his body. He seemed to be sleeping. He was 51 years old. The doctor apologized, but I told him, ‘It’s not your fault. It is God’s will.’
My two sons, then 14 and 17, went to
I officially retired from teaching in 1983, but continued for three more years. My younger son came to ask me to teach in the Karen camp to help the children. ‘You helped the Burmese Government for 40 years. Now it’s time to help the Karens,’ he said. So in 1985 I took a plane to Tavoy, rode by car for a day, walked two more days across the mountains, then rode another whole day by boat to reach the Karen camp at Methame.
I started teaching in high school right away, but got sick with malaria the next month. The camp was in a mountain jungle. I worked with the ‘revolution children’ from 1985 to 1997. In 1997 the Burmese Army occupied the area and destroyed our camp and villages. We had to flee to the Thai border, to a village called Pu Mong.
A Thai military commander from the 9th Division came to the village with some soldiers informing us that all of us had to return. Our Karen elders and church leaders told him, ‘We can’t go back. The Burmese soldiers will kill us.’ The commander said, ‘They promised they won’t kill you.’ But our leaders said, ‘Don’t believe them. They say one thing, but act differently!’ The commander got angry and said there was no place for us to stay, unless we wanted to stay in the sea.
When I saw how angry he got, I felt I needed to speak. I looked at the commander and told him without an interpreter, in English: ‘Colonel, I am very happy to go back to my land, but I can’t go back now. It is war time and nobody can protect us. We never believe the Burmese. They say one thing, but they never do as they say. We fought the Burmese until now. Our forefathers had to fight all the time to defend our lives and basic rights. As we consider our future, we need to escape and stay in a neighboring country for a while. We considered staying in
He became quiet, then replied, ‘You can stay as long as you wish. You can stay until the war is ended.’
Then I added, ‘I want to open a school . . . it’s not fair to let the children be sad and unhappy.’
‘All right,’ he said. “You can open a school and teach what you think is good.’ So I went to a store and took the empty cardboard boxes to use as blackboards. I made stands with bamboo and used these as desks. I used plastic for roofing and as mats to sit on. Someone from the United Nations visited. A few days later, ten teachers from
After that we moved to Tham Hin Refugee Camp where the NGOs and COERR (Church Organizations for Emergency Relief for Refugees) provided what we needed for the school.
In February 2000 I got very sick and was brought to a Thai hospital for surgery. Because I was so weak, they had to give me intravenous fluids. My Thai doctor visited me every day after duty and would bring me milk and eggs from his home. A new doctor substituted for him on Sunday and asked me, ‘Pee Wee,’ (my nickname, because I am so small), are you a Christian? I saw copies of the Guide Post, Daily Bread and Home Chat by your bed.’ When I told him I was a Christian, he said that on Christmas Day the Pastor told him he could pray for anything he wished. So he and his companions prayed for me. I had successful surgery.
While there, the patients learned I could speak English, but not
Daphne ‘Pee Wee’ recovered and returned to teach in the camp. Last October Daphne was granted a visa to visit her younger son, his wife and four children who had been granted refugee status in the
Sister Mary Robert Perrillat is an Ursuline Sister currently based in
She met Daphne shortly after the refugee camps opened along the Thai-Myanmar border near Ratchaburi in 1997. Thousands of Karenni refugees fled to the border at that time because they were literally driven out of their home and lands at gunpoint when the Unocal oil pipeline was being installed there. Since then she has become a ‘Mother of the Karenni’ and a great friend of Daphne. Both have a deep love of children and compassion for the oppressed. Both have a fierce commitment to justice, deep faith, and patience that keeps them active in serving the many needs of refugee children and their families through these past eight years.
Sr Mary Robert works with the Diocese of Ratchaburi’s ‘Border Ministries’ program, which provides medical and emergency health services to the refugees in the camps. She also works with undocumented Karenni people who have come to the Thai villages in search of work – and to escape the fighting that threatens their lives even inside the refugee camps.
Although the great majority of the Karenni are Baptist, this is no barrier to providing services or fostering relationships. Medical missions are coordinated by a joint group which includes a Catholic priest and local leaders. The site is often a Baptist, Catholic or other denomination’s grounds. Catholic Sisters and lay volunteers usually accompany the monthly clinics.
Sister’s keeps her cellphone close by, in case there is an emergency call. She is ever ready to get into her pick-up truck and bring someone to hospital or to supply whatever emergency help is needed. And who can say how much she has helped Daphne provide needed educational tools for the children?
When Daphne was leaving for the
Sr Mary Robert Perrilat, OSU
Our Lady of Perpetual st1:place w:st="on">
Ms Daphne Tun Baw