Hi. I’m Jeanna.
Late January 2013, I moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand to volunteer with Partners Relief and Development. Their vision: bring full, free lives to the children of Burma. Their hope: reconciled communities living in peace. Their programming: vast. I spend half my days doing what I can for the weaving program; helping women support themselves using traditional craft. & the other half – training five young ethnic Shan women the ins & outs of community work.
This blog is a means to share my stories with friends & family. The photos are my own (unless otherwise stated), the words too.
Despite loving my parents dearly & caring about their hearts / stress levels – volunteering seems to have become my career. & my savings account takes the hit. If you’d like to support my volunteer trip financially please visit my support page. More importantly, if you find a way to send cheese &/or craft beer. You’ll be my forever friend.
I left the midwest in the midst of winter, too many sweaters were packed.
The long version (there’s a longer one too, I’ll spare you):
In 2010, I became an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Karen Organization of Minnesota. The AmeriCorps program is similar to the PeaceCorps, but local! The Karen (ka-REN) knocked my little world up. side. down.
The Karen are from a small country called Burma. In 1948 Burma gained independence and that same year a civil war began– it’s still going on. Making it the longest civil war in the world’s history. In 1962, the military took over, forcibly changing the country’s name to Myanmar and their mission: eliminate all ethnic groups.
They do this by burning entire villages, cutting off access to food, water and medicine, systematic rape, kidnapping, land grabbing, forced labor, child soldiers and torture. They’ve even started using air-warfare.
Lately, Burma has started getting attention in our media – some political prisoners were released, a general election was had and a few ceasefire agreements were signed. The reality is, fighting hasn’t stopped and the military still controls the country’s money, resources, land, media and people.
Many ethnic people of Burma no longer remember a time of freedom. Some are able to make the long, dangerous journey across the border into Thailand, where if they qualify, can live in a refugee camp (refugee: a person who is outside their country of origin because they have suffered persecution on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion).
Over 100,000 people from Burma live in refugee camps. It’s like being a bird in a cage. You cannot leave. You cannot work. You wait. You worry. After extensive interviews and medical checks some families/ individuals can apply to be resettled in a third county like the United States. That’s where my past work has been, in resettlement.
Working alongside the Karen in St. Paul – I learned the true meaning of faith, generosity, kindness, empathy, service and humor. Their resilience and hope astounded and inspired me, but I also know they worry. They worry for their friends and family who are still hungry, waiting and running.
Some people make it to Thailand, but for various reasons aren’t accepted as a ‘refugee’. Unsafe in Burma and unwelcome in Thailand, these individuals are stuck on the border and deemed ‘stateless persons’, and with this title their rights are immediately stripped.
Others are still inside Burma, but unable to live in their homes. They are called IDP (internally displaced people). There are 100,000+ IDPs. If you’re a child IDP you have a 1 in 5 chance of living. Food, education and healthcare are scarce.
During my time with KOM I had the honor of meeting the founders of Partners and again my world was flipped. Their ability to match their words with their actions, make genuine connections with those in need and go where no one else goes – floored me. In 2011 Partners provided food for over 1,500 people in IDP camps, supported and equipped 8 clinics that each serve 3,000-5,000 people yearly, provided shelter for over 200 unparented children, started up water and solar projects that help no less than 3,500 IDPs & more.
So when my time at KOM to an end, Partners / Thailand was a natural progression. The support, encouragement and love I receive from the Karen community in Minnesota – fuels me daily. & here I am. In Thailand. Doing what I can, for the people of Burma. Thank you, for following along.
If you have more questions about Burma, the Karen, Partners, my past or upcoming work – please do not hesitant to ask. I’d love to talk to you more about this journey and the experiences that have brought me here. If you’re totally enamored – you can check out my previous blog jeanna12.blogspot.com dating back to my 2008 trip to Rwanda: the initial travel-bug-bite.
ThxThxThx, Ta Blut Doh Ma, Shukran, Kob Kun Kaa, Tee Bwi