Looking at some of the suffering in Burma and other parts of the world, our western way of wanting to fix it falls short. We are not in control, as the following forward from a friend working in Burma/Thailand so eloquently points out. A great reminder that supporting the communities who are doing the work that us outsiders can’t do is the best way to be part of the solution.
Forwarded by a friend working in Burma/Thailand….
“To many people who have come to know me over the years I’m a walking conundrum; alternately the ultimate cynic – relentlessly pointing out that as a species we haven’t managed to evolve over the last 5,000 years and are probably not worth saving, to the hopeless optimist – willing to put everything on the line to prove that a few good people can change the world. Oddly, I think it’s this split personality that helps me function in Burma. In the most of the world, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line; in Burma this could not be further from the truth. What’s occurring right now in Burma cannot be understood by using conventional wisdom as Burma has never been a part of convention. Burma lives in a world of it own. As westerners we want western solutions for Burma. We want planes to fly in supplies to save people who we know could be saved. We live in a world where we can replace bad hearts with good hearts, clone organs, and do bone marrow transplants. We think putting men on the moon is old school. Flying in a plane load of life saving supplies should be child’s play. In Burma making a phone call is difficult. Only seven percent of the country’s 52 million people have electricity. For Burma’s excessively paranoid generals we might just as well ask them if we can fly in a plane load of anthrax as one of aid. To them, this act might save lives but it would poison the culture, and while it may be a culture of fear and defeat, they unfortunately see it as their culture to defend. To make a difference in Burma we have no choice but to deal with what is, not what we as westerners think should be.
I detest the current regime. I can’t for the life of me comprehend their cruelty. This is the side of humanity that makes me want to throw up my hands in utter despair and quit, but I can’t because quitting is what allows governments like this to continue. I am so proud right now to be working with a group of people who haven’t quit Burma. A group that spans the globe, a group that is organizing in the face of utter despair and effectively getting help to cyclone victims in ways that could get many of them arrested if they were ever found out. What is in Burma is that international aid is failing; goods sent in to help disaster victims are being co-opted by the government. The military, once stuck with the problem of how to feed and clothe their 400,000 soldiers now has enough rice stores to feed them for years to come. Likewise with medicine.
However, what is also happening in Burma is that internal aid is working. Granted that it lacks the fairy tale effect of a white horse riding in complete with knight in shining armor, or wizards with magic wands that can turn the horrible truth into a happy ending, but in a very real way, in a very empowering way, Burma’s people are saving themselves – despite the generals. Supported by those who refuse to quit, a quiet revolt is taking place. A strong grassroots movement is evolving to bring goods to those in need. It travels many routes and is crossing continents and cultures – some routes are above ground – small convoys of concerned citizens with used clothing and humble donations, businessmen with enough clout and connections to get permission to transport small quantities of relief – many adopting a village and rallying friends to sustain support – and some routes go underground – traveling through bank accounts and well established black market trades long used by insurgents and smugglers. Even many military officials, appalled by the suffering they face each day, are denying orders and secretly transporting aid.
I was really amazed when the Saffron Revolution was so easily quashed. I was saddened to see the despondent faces of those I passed everyday on the street afterward, people who had had the opportunity to support their most revered and had failed to do so. Defeat went well beyond the monks and deep into the heart of the entire country. But this time is different. Perhaps because of that defeat, perhaps because the general’s decisions to refuse lifesaving aid is just more callous than anyone can accept, I’m seeing strength and unification among people who otherwise may have continued to remain passive. I really don’t know if this will come to fruition, if this will be the catalyst that actually unites an active resistance movement and that that movement will grow. I don’t know if the temptation of controlling a well fed army will serve as the tipping point for internal conflict in the military, but what I do know is that in the face of it all, my faith in humanity is once again being restored. So long as we don’t give up, there is hope for those cyclone victims still surviving. So long as we don’t give up there is still hope that Burma will change for the better, and in our lifetime. So long as we don’t give up, others won’t give up. My thanks really goes out to all those of you who continue to lend support, to all of you who understand that the gap between what should be and what is is currently too wide to jump in Burma, that even planes can’t cross it, but that this is not a reason to stop helping. What should be may never come to Burma, but what is is still worth saving. Many thanks …”
2 thoughts on “Dealing with what is, not what we wish was….”
Thanks so much for posting this. Having travelled to Burma and knowing people who live there–it truly is a different world. That is one good thing that can come out of this tragedy—that more of the rest of the world will know about Burma and what is happening there.
Count me as a new reader of your blog(linked through Eugene Cho through Tyler Braun)
I saw this on the Sojourners’ blog and was grateful to know that the victims are finding creative ways to help themselves in this crisis of nature and of authority.