Friday, May 23, 2008



Pete Burns, School Teacher returning from cyclone ravished
Myanmar in correspondence below:

The most noticeable thing was not the presence of working soldiers...but their impeccable uniforms.

Hello friends and family and friends of friends and family and all of your friends and family that have joined in to help do something to help the people of Burma. The list of donors has grown to include people from at least five different countries and every walk of life. You were drawn together by word-of-mouth (via email of course) and when presented with an opportunity to help you were quick and generous.

I am in Bangkok now for a final wrap up on my leg surgery before heading back to the US. The past weeks in Burma have been challenging but rewarding as the efforts of our little community have started to produce some serious results. My time has ended there and I wrapped up my things and have headed out. Incidentally as I was at the Yangon Airport waiting to get out, Ban Ki Moon, General Secretary of the UN came in. I flew out on the same plane he rode in. But I don't think I got his seat. And he probably didn't have to tuck his knees up against his chest when the person in front of him put his seat back.

At the gate the pack of reporters buzzing around him stirred quite a bit of dust as they stampeded off the plane and out down the VIP corridor. After all, much hope is riding on his visit. Will he be able to make some headway here against some seriously insane hurdles? On the way to the airport yesterday morning, my taxi followed the same route out of the city as his caravan will follow in. The streets at 8 am were abustle with activity. Soldiers were out in force - many armed with rifles, but most armed with shovels, axes and saws. They were doing a final sweep of the main debris from the downed trees and power lines. Military crews in large trucks were fixing power poles and streetlights.

The most noticeable thing was not the presence of working soldiers, they have been here throughout, but their impeccable uniforms. Even the grunts, literally waste deep, clearing sewers wore new, crisply-pressed uniforms, polished helmets and some even white gloves. The traffic police, usually lowly recruits, were replaced with higher ranking officers, again in brand new, sharp coats, hats and gleaming chest metals. What the UN entourage will witness en route to the city is a fine looking, highly organized military operation to display their concern and efficiency and also to downplay the devastation of big, bad Nargis. I wonder what Mr. Ban will be allowed to see. As I write this I have just read that they will allow in all foreign aid workers. Wow! Now we are getting somewhere.

Now in Bangkok with electricity and ice and no meat shortages, the cyclone seems a million miles away. The memory of my friends and countless strangers still there, still dealing with the realities, brings it close to home though. While I was there dealing with it, going through it all together with them, it almost seemed removed from us, maybe we were too absorbed, too busy to be able to step back and see the big picture. Now removed from it, seeing it from afar, the scope is setting in my mind and it is frightening. As I have said time-and-time-again, our situation in Yangon was not at all that bad.

The first week was trying and chaotic, but the government swept in and got things running enough to keep the masses sated. There was real tension those first few days and there was no telling if or when people might start lashing out. But things in the city settled down. That is when YIEC started collecting our resources and personnel and trying to do something - even if only on a small scale, for those out of the city where things were still quite bleak. You guys stepped in with the money and that got the ball rolling.

Again, as I have said, my role was quite small and quite safe; basically, I raised money and spent it. Our Myanmar staff took it south. Our local friends took the chances with the roadblocks and the checkpoints and the searches and the sickness and the real sadness and the truly pitiful. To see misery on television and feel the pang of sympathy is noble. To then go and walk through it, see it, touch it and then reach out and embrace it, that is heroic. They are the heroes here.

I was merely a commodities broker.

There are too many people on the ground here to thank at this point. To name a few, Naymin Agun, Ei Pan Phyu, Aye Ei and the Artistic Princesses, Mike Shirk, Todd and Meghan Davis - there are literally dozens of others and all of them made it happen. Most importantly, these people continue to make it happen. I am in Bangkok, where later I will sip a cold beer, or a hot coffee and kick back with a newspaper. They are all still there - some for another week, some for another month, some forever. There is, and there will be for a long time to come, more to be done.

You have provided enough funds to keep this going easily through the summer months. And yours has been no small role - look at that list of names above (I know some people are listed twice and probably some people are not included or off the grid) that is a collection of people from all over the country and around the world who joined together to do something. When bureaucracy and politics bogged down the process, ordinary people have come together to do something, to help a little. For that each of you deserves thanks. When things are at their worst,everyday people are at their best.

Our "organization" is small scale - there are literally tens of thousands of people down there still in need. We are directly helping about a thousand refugees mainly. With about 50-70 individuals in dire need. It seems small scale in light of the big picture. But to see the places and the faces puts it into perspective. Take a look at the info provided on the YIEC community service web site. Todd Davis has added some photos and a map of the area where we have been concentrating. Below that information is general information about YIEC's community service club which has done tremendous work with local orphanages for over four years now.

Todd sites around $30,000 that we have all collected together. That number continues to rise and as we foreign teachers pull out and leave our local friends to continue the work, we will collect that remaining money here out-of-country and bring it back in August when foreign teachers begin to return to school. By then there will be more but likely very different needs. I won't be here for that, but I know this team will meet whatever challenges arise and they will get things done.

Thanks to everyone who has given so generously, helped so selflessly, and come together to do a little bit to help a few. Just being witness to this has been a lesson in so many ways. I am beginning to put some pics online. There are a few on there now, and more to come. Right now it is mostly pictures from Yangon, the village behind our school, the river area and the first days of our "relief work" - when things were too chaotic to be fully appreciated.

More to come. Take care.

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