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Finding Never-Neverland in Burma

By Ryan Harper

          Behind us were two plane flights which added up to be over four hours in total, a helaciously bumpy eight hour car ride, and a three hour boat trip up river until we finally reached our final destination. The travel agent who organized the trip and private guide for the five of us said the only words we needed to hear in order to convince us to embark on the long journey: adventure, a little risk, and best of all children. We referred to it simply as Never-neverland.
       Our destination was a very small and remote minority ethnic village Northwest of Yangon and close to the Bangladesh border. As our boat began to approach the village we witnessed a few young boys and girls playing naked in the water on the shore and once we became near we could how ecstatic and shocked they were to see that we were Westerners. We were told the village consisted of nearly four hundred children and no more than one hundred adults to care for them, which was the primary reason why we chose to visit.
       Upon arrival we were immediately swarmed by gangs of young kids who were intrigued by everything

from our cameras to our hand shakes and within no time we found ourselves clapping and dancing with all of them as we made animal noises to which they would then rhythmically repeat. We were led to the main building in town to meet the master monk of the village and were immediately invited inside to sit and have tea and oranges with him and the children. The monk spoke with us through our guide’s translations and we were shocked to find out that he had built this amazing community center which also functioned as the village monastery, school and orphanage for the four hundred or so children which he taught and helped care for. We were informed that some of the children arrived there because their parents had been killed either through direct military force or as refugees who fled to the jungle to escape such persecution. This terrifying situation is the unfortunate reality for many Burmese and is one that reminded me of a particular family that I had read about in an article written by Maura Stephens.
       The article entitled "The Heart of Burma" describes Han Lin and Htay Htay Yee who were the parents of five children ranging from 5-15 years old and whom were separated because the husband, Han Lin, was forced to flee "from the murdering military into the safety of the jungle". They were separated for 2 years before she was forced to flee as well because of frequent harassment and death threats by the military before they were reunited and then continued to spend the next six years hiding away as jungle refugees.
       As I sat there having tea and oranges with the master monk I was shocked by the news that some of these children, which were at that moment surrounding me wide eyed and in awe, could have very well endured such harsh conditions as those which I had previously read about. After our meeting with the monk we played longer with the kids and then finally ended our visit by leaving in the same fashion as we had arrived which was by singing, dancing and laughing all the way to our small boat. It was at that moment that I realized the immense amount power I have been given to make an impact on those young children and it was from that moment on that I decided to seek out kids to play and laugh with in every country which was to come on the rest of this journey.

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