Karen Women’s Organisation – Thai-Burma border

from Jane Best in Mae Sariang 7 June

Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO) is based in a town called Mae Sariang close to the border of Karen state in Burma. I met with members of the KWO team in their office to discuss the projects funded by RIJ and to learn more about their current activities.

For more information on the programmes funded see: http://refugeesinternationaljapan.org/kwo_2012

Hser Hser, Naw Wah, Paw Lueh La, Zion, Jane Abbey

I met with Zion, 2nd Joint Secretary; Paw Lueh La , assistant coordinator for the Baby Kits programme; Naw Wah, who managed the Elderly programme and Hser Hser, coordinator of the KWO Peace Process. Jane Abbey facilitated the meeting. Jane has been with KWO for many years and is an old friend.

The Elderly Care Programme in E Htu Hta camp in Karen State has finished as KWO had reported to us in the final report. They expressed their sadness in terminating the programme but they do not have the staff to administer all the programmes as well as encompass the new initiatives relating to the Peace Process in Burma. Paw Lueh La’s main job is Logistics and she has a huge workload already. The staff in E Htu Hta will do their best to assist the elderly but the problem is compounded by a recent cut-back in rice rations to all camps.

Naw Wah talked about the work of the Baby Kits programme in E Htu Hta camp and outlined some of the changes they had made in procedures. The baby kits obviously are immensely valuable to mothers and babies but Naw Wah highlighted another benefit as the programme raises the reputation of KWO because they are making a valuable contribution to the community. In return the community is prepared to share information with KWO, giving them a much better understanding of the needs of the Karen people. Clearly a win-win situation that develops trust on both sides. KWO also distribute baby kits within Karen state and we discussed the extension of RIJ funding to cover some of this programme. This seems a good development and I will present to the Funding Committee upon my return to Japan.

The work of Hser Hser and the Peace Process team presents new challenges and we spent some time talking about these challenges and the progress of change within Burma, and Karen state. I hear the same thing as I travel around the border region – that the ceasefire agreements do not feel permanent and individual safety is not guaranteed, there are still a large number of landmines and refugees continue to arrive on the border from clashes in Kachin and Shan states. The democratic changes in Burma are for the better but they are not addressing the ethnic issues that have troubled Burma for decades.

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