BY RUTH CORLETT, in Thailand
This story was told on the Global Day of Prayer for Burma (March 14) by Stu Corlett, from Partners Relief and Development NZ, sent out from Upper Hutt Baptist Church. He spoke at his international church in Thailand:
My 10-year-old son and I were out having some father-son bonding time at the BB gun shooting range in Chiang Mai, playing a strategy game against another team. My son and I were on the same team, and as I stood up in front of him ready to run for cover to the next hiding place, I shouted: “Cover me – I’m going in!” (in true action hero style).However, in the panic of the moment, rather than protecting me from the “enemy” he instead shot me in the back of the head at close range. I had the lump to prove it for days!
The moral of this story? Ten-year-olds are not meant to carry guns!
So why is it that a country close to us, Burma, has the largest number of child soldiers in the world, estimated at 70,000 – kids kidnapped from their homes, stolen on the way home from the rice fields, kids programmed to become killers of their own people. Something is seriously wrong.
Here’s another true story about one of the community health workers who Partners Relief and Development trained this last year. His name is Sai Ting. He was a child soldier from the age of 9. His parents were both killed in Shan State Northeast Burma.
However, last year he was given the opportunity to do six months training in a Shan IDP (displaced persons) camp to become a community health worker, even though he couldn’t read and write in his own language. The love shown to him during the course brought healing to him. Now he is a health worker bringing healing to his own people.
On April 20, Partners and Free Burma Rangers released a Human Rights Report called Displaced Childhoods in New Zealand, to bring greater awareness about the lives of displaced people in Burma like Sai Ting.
Leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff, endorsed this report and intends tabling it in Parliament, with the support of a cross-party group of Parliamentarians for Burma.
We in New Zealand have a unique opportunity to take these facts and stories about Burma to people of influence in our communities – church leaders, politicians, leaders of groups working in Burma. Through presenting statistical data prepared by international lawyers, we can ask the New Zealand government to follow the lead of the British and Australian governments and recommend the United Nations refers the Burma regime to the International War Crimes Tribunal.
We can be a voice for the voiceless, or even better than that – a voice with the voiceless, taking time to get to know the Burmese refugees in our churches and communities, to hear their stories, to advocate on their behalf.
Many resettled Burmese refugees who are Christian gravitate to Baptist churches in their area (such as Lower Hutt Baptist Church), because the Baptist Church is one of the strongest denominations in Burma. These resilient people are definitely part of our wider Christian community that we have a responsibility to love and care for.
As the mother of a 10-year-old I strongly believe that 10-year-olds shouldn’t carry guns (not the kind with real bullets in them anyway!)
Children have the right to play, to go to school, to be fed and nurtured within a loving family, not forced to become killers of their own people. Child soldiers too have the right to be freed from this lifestyle, to be able to go to school, to live in a safe place, to train in professions such as community health care, where they are given the opportunity to help their own people.
We met Sai Ting again recently on a family visit to the IDP camp where he works, while we were there to celebrate the opening of the new training medical clinic that Partners has built (part one of three stages). As the skies opened in a heavy tropical downpour, Sai Ting, followed by Stu, ran outside and enjoyed a lively rain bath. It was so great to see him enjoying life again to make up for the childhood he missed.
Please pray with us for change in Burma. This year is the lead-up to so-called free elections, a farce when Aung San Suu Kyi and her Democratic Party have been barred from the elections.
Our mission is free, full lives for the children of Burma. Our vision is reconciled communities living in peace.