UNSEEN MAE LA An innovative arts project for Karen refugees from Burma to describe their lives through photography.
I was born and raised in refugee camps. When my parents first fled Burma they lived in a refugee camp where they were never allowed to leave. There was no way for them to earn money. They moved to Mae La Oon camp, where 10,000 people live, in hope of finding work. I was born soon after they moved.
My parents took me to visit their village twice. The first time I was very young and the situation was not as bad as now. There were about ten houses in the village. People woke up early in the morning and worked the fields. One of my most shocking memories was seeing a five year old boy smoking a pipe!
In 2004 I visited the village again. The situation was much worse and I was very afraid. The Burmese military built a military base on the hill visible from every part of the village. There were only two or three houses left. The people who still lived there hid most of their belongings in the forest allowing them to flee quickly when the military attacked. They also buried things like blankets, clothing, pots and rice so the soldiers would not steal them.
I am so thankful for the security we have in Thailand. However, even here we are not free. We can rarely leave the refugee camps making it difficult for us to earn a living. Aid organizations support us but there are so many refugees and there is rarely enough to go around. What we really need is democracy in Burma.