Tuesday, July 29, 2008

July 11: Discovering the "Future"

journal 9
July 11, 2008

My time at the camp is more than half over and I'm beginning to think of home. The head teacher, Ti Toh comes over periodically to check on "his" computer. I'm giving my laptop to him and I think he wants to make sure I don't break it before he gets it. I showed him the Bible study programs last night and he was jumping in his chair with excitement. But his real enthusiasm is for the internet. What a difference it makes to the people here, yet it's opening them up to the world. They have very limited access to computers. There is a computer lab with some older desktops and a teacher but only the older students are scheduled for classes. Some of the teachers have laptops left by volunteers like me, and an Australian has generously provided satellite. Students gather around my laptop in the evening, setting up their first email account and discovering "Facebook" type sites where they begin using their new English to talk to people outside of the camp! They also hear from friends who have gone to third countries, who send pictures and keep in touch. It's hard for us to imagine how exciting that can be for young people for whom the bamboo-barbed wire fence has defined their world.

Last night a student came to my room and asked if he could talk with me. I was sitting on the floor using my laptop, so he settled on the floor. He's 32 and suddenly realizing the power of education.

"From 12 to last year I didn't really pay any attention to school. I'm not clever, but I want to do something to help my people." When he finishes at the Bible school this year, he wants to go to Australia and work on a degree in Political Science because he thinks that will give him the tools to come back and be a leader for his people. We talked for a few hours. He doesn't use the computer. He doesn't know how to search the internet. He doesn't know what's available in the world. He doesn't know what his gifts are. He doesn't really know what a degree in Political Science will prepare him to do. We looked at a few schools to see what kind of courses he would be taking and what it would prepare him to do, but he has a lot of work ahead of him. I think, for the first time, they're beginning to consider the "future". They are realizing that there are now options to sitting in the camp and playing the guitar all day. They have the difficult task of considering the impact on their personal lives and balancing the needs of their community and the continual desire of the Karens to return to their land and to be autonomous (or at least semi-autonomous. They're proposing a federalist form of government for Burma which had been the original promise.) But that desire is affected by a generation now raised in the camps. I asked my class when they had come to the camp and almost all of them were either born here or were brought by their parents when they were a few years old. This is what they know; Burma or Kawthoolie is a story told by their parents. If this generation goes to a third country, will they come back to help their people? This is like the Babylonian Captivity or the great Diaspora. How do you keep a sense of "people" when the community is scattered. This camp time will be crucial to the Karen's (and other Hill Tribes) understanding of who they are as a people.


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