Life Story: Klo Say
[italics used to indicate first person narrative by Klo Say]
When I was growing up in Burma, the Burmese military would come to my village and other surrounding villages to arrest people. They would force them to carry ammunition and military rations to the front line. They mainly targeted the Karen people as they are the strongest armed resistant group against the Burmese military government. They committed all kind of human rights abuses on Karen villagers to undermine the resistance group. They believed that the villagers gave support to the resistance group. So the military government systematically tortures, imprisons, kills, rapes, and forcely relocates the innocent Karen villagers.
In early 1988 my father worked as a teacher at Karen Adventist Academy which is under the control of KNU. The Burmese government intelligent found out about that and they came to our house with guns, interrogating my mother and scrutinizing our house in every ins and outs because they thought we might have secret contact with my father. We were so terrified because only the siblings and mother were at home. A couple days later just prior to a 1988 pro-democracy uprising throughout Burma we fled. We were afraid of possible further interrogation, imprisonment, torture and killing, we secretly set out on a risky journey to join my father. On our way, at times we would see fresh boot prints of the Burmese soldiers. A couple of times we heard gun shots from fighting or skirmishes happening between the Burmese soldier and the rebel group. We had to hide quietly in the bush till the shooting was over and carefully continue our journey. We fled to the Thai/Burma border.
One of the pictures shows my mother and my sibling fleeing the attack on refugee camp by the Burmese army and it’s supporter DKBA – Democratic Karen Buddhist Army. She was holding my youngest brother who was about only two days old when the attack happened. After delivery she should be having a time for recovery instead she had to flee the attack in fear and under great pressure.
When I was at the border area the Burmese military, every year, launch an offensive against our ethnic group. Many of the villages were attacked . During these times villagers were shot on sight, raped, tortured, houses were burnt down, properties were looted, live stock was killed, and barn yard and rice field were burned to ashes. They also bombarded villages from airplanes. The Burmese junta army crossed the border and attacked our temporary sheltering area. Finally my family moved to Mae La camp in 1995.
home. Homes had to be constructed out of bamboo and wood from the surrounding area. The refugees set about making a place for their family constructing schools, churches and homes. Over 50,000 people lived in the Mae La camp. It is enclosed with a barbed wire. The camp, located in Thailand was not entirely safe from the Burmese military. Every summer they would shell ours as well as other refugee camps to the terror of the people living in these tightly circumscribed villages afforded by the Thai government.
Klo Say is one of eleven children who like all the refugees boys growing up had to find ways to be engaged in life while restricted from going out to seek work in Thailand. Klo Say worked hard at learning English while still in southeast Asia and is one of our key Burmese translators in High Point. He became adept with various art media and used that skill to capture on film the environment of the Burmese refugee. It was fascinating to hear Klo Say describe some of the images he captured from the refugee camp. There are pictures of the women and girls wearing a tamarin bark makeup that functions like a sun screen and complexion aid. Groups of people gathered at the shallow river to bathe and wash clothes.
Young boys compete to blow a rubber band across a finish line the quickest. The soccer ball utilized by the children was a snug wad of rags that they could kick into the goal area. Water was transported home in bamboo pots twice a day after waiting in line for up to 45 minutes to fill your container. Klo Say lived in these conditions for twelve years yet today he like so many of the Burmese are not bitter but have a smile on their face and love for the Lord.
Klo Say who is now 31, has been in America since July of 2007. He is employed as a case worker for World Relief of High Point. He works long hours helping his fellow Burmese make the transition to life in North Carolina. He is married to Lah Nay Paw. Last spring their third child was born. Their children’s names are Nelson, Jessica and Daniel. They have been “adopted” by the John Brand family that attends First Wesleyan Church.
PS. I also used to produce some of my paintings into postcards to raise money for Karen internally displaced kids in Burma. To read more about this see the post on this blog about Ler Por Hur.
The refugee camp had fairly primitive conditions. Water had to be hauled from a central bore hole to each