Saturday June 20th was World Refugee Day.
Did you know?
Maybe you saw a social media post but for most of us, I suspect it wasn’t a holiday that registered. Before my trip to Thailand, I would not have been aware that such a day exists.
But not now. Now I’ve seen refugees; I’ve hugged them, listened to them and cried with them. I’ve smiled at their children, whose faces light up with the same smile as every other child in the world. You can’t see where they live (and why), what they eat (and don’t eat), what they have (and don’t have) and turn away unaffected. You can’t listen to their stories, even through translators, and not feel connected as one human on the planet to another.
You can’t look a refugee in the eyes and come away the same.
We can’t all do everything and we shouldn’t all do the same thing but we can all do some things. I intentionally say “things” because I believe that most of us can do more than what we do. I have realized that I can’t go everywhere I’m invited, because when I see injustice, poverty and pain, I want to fix it. I want to give whatever I have to make things better, but I can’t do that for everyone everywhere. It’s a hard truth for me, and yet that’s why the world needs ALL of us!
So one of the places I’m picking to stick, to say “I am with you” is with the Burmese refugees and those working for their freedom and health. I still know very little in the big scheme of things, but I know more than I did a year or a month ago. I know more than most of the world’s population, which has been tragically proven in the last few months as we’ve watched the atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Burma. I want to learn more.
And so I’m going back.
I’m going back to say “I see you. I hear you. Your life matters. How can I help?”
I’m going back to use the gifts, knowledge and strengths that are uniquely mine in whatever ways they might bring peace, health and education to people who are literally dying for lack of those. I don’t have time or space to go into the extreme lack of each of those and how that combination of missing factors contributes to minutes and years of a life that most of us have no reference for. If you are reading this, chances are you know me, so please trust me when I say I’ve been there, I’ve seen it and there is great and continuous oppression, abuse and poverty among the many Burmese ethnic groups living in Thailand and Burma. They need our support.
Here’s the thing: I have always suspected that inherently, as humans walking around on this planet, we want to help. We have an internal drive that makes us care about others and how we can help those less fortunate. We get distracted by busyness or lack of money or time, or the belief that what we do or don’t do doesn’t matter and the days go by and that drive gets pushed deeper.
But I know you want to help because you told me with your actions.
I’ve had the privilege in the last year to have my eyes opened to many places that need our help and support. One of them allows me to provide pediatric care to a greatly underserved group of children. This opportunity to care for these families has been one of my favorite things that has come of this post-military life. Last week on a whim, I asked you to help meet some needs for this population. Here’s what you did:
I asked for a book, and YOU SENT ME 12! Not only does one mother get to benefit, but now the entire group gets to! I asked for a $250 donation for an unnamed medical need, and FOUR OF YOU WROTE WITHIN ONE HOUR asking to fill the need anonymously. Last Christmas, YOU GAVE ABUNDANTLY- over and above the needs- to give to families you didn’t even know during the holiday season.
I believe that drive to give and help is always trying to find a way to get out, an avenue of release so to speak and I’d like to suggest today- LET IT OUT! It doesn’t matter so much WHAT you do. Do SOMETHING! Do anything!
Watch a movie with your kids and have an honest discussion. (Maybe “The Good Lie” is a place to start if age-appropriate.) Take a donation to your local women’s shelter, food bank or prison. Attend a local meeting for human trafficking awareness, or better yet host one. Write a blog post, take a trip, join an advocacy group, say a prayer. Start a book club and discuss these topics- in ours we just read “Escape from Camp 14”. I highly recommend it as a place to start these discussions. I also just finished “Little Daughter” which is a biography of a Karen (Burmese) refugee. It is a great place to get an idea of just what life is like for a “real” refugee.
If you would like to help, but aren’t sure where to start, maybe you could come to a party at my house!
When we head back to Thailand, we’ll be doing medical teaching, English teaching and relationship building. There is great need for education and also for supplies– durable, weather-resistant, portable equipment and electronic aids. There is need for money– for salaries of the medics who work 24-7 to take care of their people, for food and basic living expenses. There is need for prayer– for safety, peace, healing and education. There is need for advocacy– for people to talk about the atrocities in Burma- in big/public spaces and in small spaces in your world.
If you are interested in helping in any of these ways- and each is as important as the other- I’d love to invite you to stop by my house on Sunday July 5th from 1-5. Come show support and learn more about refugees from Burma and oppressed Burmese ethic groups and how you can help. I’ll have mango sticky rice and Thai iced tea and we’ll be out in the sunshine, so come over and enjoy the afternoon or just stop by for a minute. (If you are near in heart but far in miles and want to help- let me know and we can make it happen!)
If you’d like to just stop by and catch up as summer rolls on, I’d love to see you with absolutely no obligations!
If you have questions or would just like to sign a card that says: “We are with you” I’ll personally deliver that card to people who will appreciate it.
If you’d like to just ask questions or learn more, I’d love for us to learn together.
If you’d like to help support with donations or supplies, I can help you make that happen, and get personal feedback to you.
If relationships are important to you and you’d like to personally support someone working in dire healthcare conditions, there are so many opportunities for that.
If you’d like to provide lifesaving medical equipment or education materials for remote village group education we are in need of things to make that easier. Here are a few of the specific things I’m hoping to take back with me in July. I can’t buy/supply them all, but together, who knows, we just might be able to!
1. Newborn Isolette for warming and phototherapy:
The infant and maternal mortality rate in Burma is among if not the worst in the world. Simple life-saving measures are simply often not available. Our program manager in Thailand has found a locally-made isolate that runs off of blue LEDs, and I had a chance to see one and watch it work properly on my trip in January. The price is $250. If this is something you’d be interested in supporting- we can make that happen!
Ear infections are common across the world and these would help identify which children could most benefit from scare antibiotics. Even the basic/in-expensive ones would provide much-needed eyes for children’s ears.
3. Nutrition/Food– The majority of the people in this area have nutritional deficiencies. In the specific area where we’ll be working there is a high rate of vegetarian and vegan families and few alternative protein sources for these families living in poverty. Moringa is a plant that provides incredible amounts of protein and vitamins that help build muscle and prevent anemia and other nutritional diseases. People on the ground are looking at ways to support local families in building moringa plantations which would be sustainable, reliable sources of nutrition. If this is something you have experience or knowledge in, or would like to donate towards, we’d love to talk to you.
Arming the medics with these gives them the ability to show videos and teach on a variety of topics. Have an old one or a way to purchase a discounted one? We’ll take it!
5. Oxygen concentrator:
It is very difficult to transport patients from remote clinics to the next level of care when that is needed. I traveled along the same roads that are used for this transport and even in perfect conditions they are rugged and unpredictable. Having a reliable way to provide oxygen during these long journeys can make a world of difference. These are not cheap and we are looking for persons either willing to donate or discount a portable version, or perhaps to partner with a few other people to provide this. I would LOVE to be able to take this with me in July. If you have contacts or this is something that speaks to you- let me know!
6. O2 sat monitor (preferably with AAA or AA batteries):
The ability to monitor oxygen levels can mean scare supplies of oxygen, antibiotics and transport is provided to the people who need it most. These are relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment that would be greatly valued by the medical staff.
7. Portable Ultrasound:
This is one of those “big” items, that almost feels too big to ask for, but I’m putting it out there. If you have contacts or access to used or donated items or thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.
I hope to see and hear from many of you- I am so grateful for all the amazing and giving people in my life and for the opportunity to give back to those who have such great need. We can’t do everything, but we can do some things.
What can you do?