For one Kachin IDP, hope undimmed by hard­ship

Bauk Nu Aung has seen her share of dif­fi­cul­ties in re­cent years, but she tells The Myan­mar Times she re­mains de­ter­mined to do her part to bring peace to war-torn Kachin State

The Myanmar Times - - News - EI EI TOE LWIN eieitoel­win@mm­times.com

“IF I were a bird, I would fly from this cage,” said the young woman. But es­cape has, for years, not been pos­si­ble.

Bauk Nu Aung, 18, is a vic­tim of the con­flict in Kachin State, which ig­nited in 2011 and has dis­placed tens of thou­sands in the years since. She has been liv­ing in the Maina camp for in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons (IDPs) for more than three years.

“Some­times I feel deeply hurt, hav­ing to live in such poor con­di­tions. I don’t want to spend my life in this camp,” she said.

Maina, in Waing­maw town­ship, Kachin State, is one of the largest IDP camps in the state, with more than 2000 peo­ple. There are about 30 other camps in Waing­maw and My­itky­ina town­ships.

According to the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of Au­gust there were 172 IDP camps spread across Kachin and north­ern Shan states, hous­ing nearly 98,000 peo­ple.

In the face of th­ese stag­ger­ing num­bers, it can be dif­fi­cult at times to re­mem­ber that each IDP has a story, very many of them tales of woe.

Bauk Nu Aung’s en­tire fam­ily lives in a 60-square-foot room, with walls of bam­boo mat­ting and a roof of gal­vanised iron. There is more bam­boo mat­ting on the floor.

“There are seven of us squeezed in here,” she said. “I still feel un­com­fort­able when I have to shower and change in front of the oth­ers, in­clud­ing my fa­ther. But I have no choice,” she said.

Bauk Nu Aung has straight hair and is wear­ing a T-shirt with a Kachin logo and a tra­di­tional Kachin longyi when she sits down with The Myan­mar Times. She sports no ac­ces­sories but for a small watch. Be­fore she was forced from her home in In Wont Kaung village, she never had to worry about food, cloth­ing or an ed­u­ca­tion. Her par­ents earned a com­fort­able liv­ing trad­ing spices like curry pow­der, gin­ger and pep­pers, and owned land and cat­tle.

All of that changed in 2012, when the village was burned down dur­ing fight­ing be­tween the Tat­madaw and the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army (KIA). The lat­ter was one of sev­eral eth­nic armed groups that opted not to sign last year’s na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment. It was the col­lapse of its own bi­lat­eral cease­fire agree­ment with the govern­ment in 2011 that pre­cip­i­tated the tri­als of Bauk Nu Aung and many other dis­placed civil­ians.

‘An IDP my­self ’

At first, Bauk Nu Aung stayed in a hos­tel founded by the Kachin Bap­tist Con­ven­tion (KBC) while at­tend­ing eighth grade in Waing­maw town­ship. When IDPs started ar­riv­ing at the hos­tel in large num­bers, she says she would hear them crying ev­ery night.

“I helped them as much as I could with money my par­ents sent me. I never thought I would be an IDP one day my­self. But then my par­ents turned up, be­cause they could not stay in their village,” she said.

At that time, her mother was pregnant. Her par­ents were able to rent a house in Sadone for K50,000 (US$39) a month.

“But we couldn’t pay that any more af­ter my fa­ther was un­able to work. When the money ran out, we moved to a rel­a­tive’s house, but couldn’t stay there for very long. When my youngest brother was born, we moved to the KBC hos­tel with the other IDPs. I cried ev­ery night,” Bauk Nu Aung said.

At the hos­tel, she could con­tinue to study as a ninth grader with sup­port from UN agen­cies and other donors. But her fam­ily needed more money to sur­vive, so af­ter com­plet­ing ninth grade she had to get a job. Most young peo­ple moved to the Chi­nese bor­der to work.

“My mum wouldn’t let me leave the camp. But she agreed to go with my grand­mother to work in a poppy field,” said Bauk Nu Aung.

But the fields were lo­cated very far from the town. Bauk Nu Aung took the bus to Shin Kyeik IDP camp be­fore walk­ing the whole night to get to the poppy field.

“There are lots of poppy fields, mostly owned by Chi­nese and Lisu,” she said.

She would cut the skin from the ripen­ing pods of pop­pies with a sharp blade to start the flow of resin. Be­ing new to the work, she would of­ten face crit­i­cal scold­ings from the owner.

“The boss didn’t pay me much be­cause of my lack of ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said.

Later, she moved to an­other poppy plan­ta­tion owned by an eth­nic Lisu. With her greater ex­pe­ri­ence, she could earn 60 yuan ($8.80) a day.

“Most of the work­ers were heroin ad­dicts,” said Bauk Nu Aung. Af­ter a month, she could no longer stand the en­vi­ron­ment and re­turned to her fam­ily.

“I gave all my earn­ings, K100,000, to my mum and de­cided never to go back to those fields,” she said.

Then she was in­formed by of­fi­cials from KBC that the IDP fam­i­lies had to move to Maina camp.

“We got here in June 2013,” she said, just in time for the start of the school year. Bauk Nu Aung had not de­cided then whether she could at­tend. Her par­ents had no money. Like most fam­i­lies, hers would strug­gle to af­ford the costs of their chil­dren ma­tric­u­lat­ing.

“My fa­ther wanted me to con­tinue to study, but my mother didn’t. Fi­nally my fa­ther de­cided to send me to a board­ing school in My­itky­ina be­cause he trusted me to pass the exam,” she said, adding, “My fa­ther is my hero.”

While at school, she got K1000 a week in pocket money and used equip­ment pro­vided by donors. “The other stu­dents called me ‘Red Cross’ be­cause of all the Red Cross stick­ers on my back­pack,” she said.

De­spite ev­ery­thing, she passed ma­tric­u­la­tion in 2014 and is now a third-year stu­dent at My­itky­ina Univer­sity, study­ing math­e­mat­ics. IDP stu­dents are very rare be­cause they can­not af­ford the fees, even as donors have been scal­ing back their aid to the camps since the begin­ning of this year. Bauk Nu Aung tried to sup­ple­ment her in­come by giv­ing pri­vate tu­tor­ing at night.

“But some­times I would have to ask the univer­sity if I could pay later be­cause I didn’t have enough money,” she said.

Un­daunted am­bi­tions

So far, she has kept hold of her aspi­ra­tions in the face of all the prob­lems.

“I want to be a tu­tor, shar­ing knowl­edge with oth­ers,” she said. But con­di­tions are hard: Some young peo­ple lose the will to study, while other boys pre­fer to spend their days play­ing games or get­ting high. For some girls and their par­ents, life as a bride in China is con­sid­ered the best po­ten­tial fu­ture.

“Drug use is the great chal­lenge among young peo­ple in Kachin State. I want to warn them away from drugs, but I’m afraid they would at­tack me. Their par­ents can’t con­trol them,” Bauk Nu Aung said.

Her other dream is to help bring gen­uine peace to her Kachin home­land.

She got the idea when she took part in a peace aware­ness train­ing pro­gram of­fered by the Nau Shawng Ed­u­ca­tion Net­work, a lo­cal aid group sup­ported by the Euro­pean Union.

“I un­der­stood the role of cit­i­zens in the peace process and how I could sup­port the process through the train­ing,” she said.

As a tal­ented trainee, Bauk Nu Aung got the chance to study in the Philip­pines ear­lier this year, as one of 10 del­e­gates to the fel­low South­east Asian na­tion. “I learned a lot from the trip about how peo­ple of dif­fer­ent re­li­gions and eth­nic­i­ties can live to­gether in peace and har­mony. They told me war doesn’t make Mus­lims or Chris­tians cry. It makes ev­ery­body cry,” she said.

She is aware of re­cent moves to re­vive the 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence. “But on the ground, fight­ing is still go­ing on,” she said. “We Kachin alone can­not bring peace. We have to work with the Ba­mar, Shan, Rakhine and oth­ers to get gen­uine peace,” she said.

“Ev­ery­body just wants to go home. But I don’t know when I will be able to es­cape.”

‘They told me war doesn’t make Mus­lims or Chris­tians cry. It makes ev­ery­body cry.’

Bauk Nu Aung Kachin IDP

Photo: Ei Ei Toe Lwin

Bauk Nu Aung was dis­placed in 2013 and lives at the Maina camp for in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons in Waing­maw town­ship, Kachin State.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.