Sunday, May 23, 2010

40 People in 40 Days

I was happy to make a new friend who doesn’t work for Compasio, so I have some contact with the outside world in Mae Sot :) Her name is Katie, she’s from Australia, and she works at Mae Tao Clinic.

Mae Tao Clinic is a non-profit clinic providing medical care to people who can’t afford it. They see many people who walk across the border from Burma, and we’ve taken people from the garbage dump there to receive treatment. Katie gave me a tour of the clinic recently, and I was amazed what a large campus it was. The buildings sprawled across a huge piece of land, and there was a separate building for each department of medicine or patient type. What I saw was astounding.

There was a room for abandoned babies, because it wasn’t uncommon for a mother to give birth and take off without her baby. There was an area for people who were terminally ill or highly contagious, and they lay on mats across the bare cement floor. We saw people recovering from surgery in the 100+ degree heat, and rooms filled with rows of beds, just like you’d see in war movies. Katie pointed out a man who now lives at the clinic, because he has nowhere else to go. People in his town threw acid on him, and he now had trouble with his vision and with using his arms.

We also visited the prosthetic workshop for all the amputee patients. As we watched a couple men molding and altering legs and feet, a man waited with one leg on a bench and another man walked by on crutches to try out his new leg. I noticed the white board behind us, and saw that it tracked the patient activity and gave a description of each recent case. The two boards covering the wall were full, so I was shocked to see the dates next to the names. The chart only went back 40 days, and there were already 40 names on it. Each name had a designation of “leg” or “foot” next to it, along with a diagnosis. A couple said, “disease”, but the overwhelming verdict was “landmine”. These men had come across landmines in Burma, planted by the military, and had lost a limb. Sometimes it’s an accident, because there are landmines are all over, and other times it’s because they’ve been coerced into the position of “human minesweeper”. Because the military doesn’t know for certain what areas are treated with landmines, they’ll take men, women and children from their villages – from their families – and will make them walk ahead to trigger any landmines in their path.

The injustice is sickening.

But, I couldn’t help but notice how there was an order to the chaos, people were being treated, and people were healing. It made me thankful that Compasio has a place like this to take the people we care for from the street or from the garbage dump, and that we have relationships with workers and nurses there.

I grow more and more firm in this every day: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” -Psalm 27:13

Saturday, May 1, 2010

After 1,200 Curves on Death Highway...

The day started with a lizard falling on me from the ceiling as I was turning on my light at 5:30am. A co-worker picked me up at 6am with two other women from different NGO's in town, and we began our journey. Travelling the 3 hour stretch of road on "Death Highway" through the mountains was both breathtaking and physically painful. South of Mae Sot and right on the border of Burma, we arrived in Umphang. My vomit tally was up to 5: four on the road and once in the car.

Our first stop in Umphang was to see Nana, an incredible Karen woman around 50 years old. For years, she operated a clinic inside the border of Burma until the Burmese military soldiers raided it in October 2008. She had four nearly grown children at the time, and decided she could take in more. She opened her home to kids from Burma who would now get a safe home and a better education. She currently hash 40 kids. Her house is large, and it's surrounded by pigs, chickens and catfish. Her family recently received a micro-loan to start a large farming project, and we took a trek down the road to see the progress. Out of only a handful of farmers, two of them are missing a foot. One was blown off by playing with a shotgun as a child, and the other was the victim of a landmine in Burma.

Next was a visit to the H2O orphanage to visit a family who needed our help. We were invited into their small hut on stilts, and I wondered if the floor made of woven bamboo could hold all of us. ToeToe held TuTu, his 15 year old daughter. in his lap as he explained how they need help caring for her disability. She suffered brain damage following complications from meningitis as a baby, and the mother had been home with her every day since. There are no wheelchairs or handicap access in their remote village, they also have a 6 year old daughter (WaWa) to care for, the father worked nearly around the clock to support his family, and the strain was increasing. Traces of a lively spirit still flickered in his eyes, but despair was taking over. He spoke with such concern for his daughter and her quality of life, and wanted to receive training from a physical therapist on how he could best care for her. We had already decided to employ him if he wanted to move to Mae Sot, but they didn't want to move WaWa from the new school she loved. We told him we could provide food and housing for him to come to Mae Sot with TuTu for a week or two, and that we could arrange for them to meet with a good doctor. We are also exploring what long-term engagement in their lives could look like, which has led to some very exciting ideas. My co-worker said to ToeToe before we left regarding our effort on their behalf, "I can't promise you anything", and he responded, "Can you promise a little?" The thought of being there when we share how we can work with them, and to see some hope restored, is almost enough to make me brave the intensely sickening drive again.

I took a tablet of dramomine and thankfully slept for most of the drive back. After a shower and a brief nap, I was off to a going-away/birthday party for someone from another NGO. I met a guy there who completed the package of this impactful day. He is 20 years old, and escaped to Thailand from Burma a few years ago. He went to school, and then lived in the Umphiam refugee camp with his parents for one year. We actually drove by it earlier that day, so I had the image of hundreds of tiny huts lining the hills along the highway fresh in my mind. He currently works for an NGO, and he just received a scholarship to attend university in Sweden. But, he has no passport or documentation to be in Thailand, so he's unable to leave the country. He said it's easier to get paperwork in Malaysia, and would like to give that a try. Without realizing how silly this question was, I asked if he'd go ahead and buy a ticket to go to Malaysia. He laughed. "No, I can't buy a ticket. I would have to be trafficked". He has contacts in his refugee camp who can assist him in trafficking himself, which would put him at all manner of risk. It struck me how different out lives are, and how extreme the challenges are that he'll face. I realized the value of a US passport and the ability to freely go anywhere in the world. To not be "illegal" and to not have allow myself to be trafficked in order to have opportunities for education and work. I asked him if he ever wanted to go to America, and he gave an emphatic "no". I was taken aback by his response, but he explained, "I will never be able to go to America. I can't even think about that".

I went to bed with a healing stomach, a full head, and a racing heart.