Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Freedom's Not Just Another Word

During the holiday season, I wrote about how Dr. Salai and the women of Hill Country Hill Tribers had given me a deeper appreciation of hope. Following this Memorial Day weekend, I'm thinking about how our relationships with them have given me a deeper reverence for the blessings of freedom. 

On the way to class one morning last October, there was a lull in the conversation. This was rare, considering my two-year-old and four-year-old usually have lots of things to tell "Doctor Sly". He turned to me and asked, "What do I need to do in order to protest?"

How do you answer that question? Basically, I told him, you don't need to do much. One of the freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution is the right to peaceably assemble. In Burma, it's a punishable offense. In fact, Dr. Salai himself was imprisoned in 2001 for conducting a one-man peaceful protest in his academic gown.

I asked Dr. Salai what he wanted to protest here in Austin, and he explained that he wanted a peaceful regime change to come to his homeland and that he didn't want people in America to forget Burma. We continued the conversation in class that day, which coincided with a sham of an election orchestrated by the regime, and the sadness was palpable. All of the artisans have lost their homes and communities. Many have lost loved ones. All have had to make gut-wrenching sacrifices to ensure that their children would enjoy the taste of freedom. Many have scores of relatives and friends still deeply entrenched in the fight back home.

That conversation with Dr. Salai and the rest of the artisans marked a turning point in this organization. In addition to helping the artisans with income-generating projects and educational development, we knew that a part of our mission needs to be sharing the story of Burma and engaging our friends and supporters in positive action and prayer. We're dedicated to finding practical ways to help bring about peaceful change in our artisans' homeland.

As Dr. Salai's first American "protest", he came to Artreach and engaged in conversation with shoppers. He shared his story and the plight of the people still living under the oppressive regime today in Burma. His powerful words were intertwined with tables full of Karen and Karenni weaving. For me, watching Ku Lo's entrepreneurial spirit blossom while Dr. Salai was sharing all she has lost, made the day solemn in a way I can't explain.

Freedom isn't just another word. It's something worth fighting for and all too often taken for granted. This Memorial Day, I thought about all the sacrifices given for freedom all over the world. Thanks to people with unfathomable courage like Dr. Salai, I can write this blog post, worship without fear, and even protest. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Burma today.

In the coming months, we will continue to tell the artisans' stories. But we will also be filling you in on what's going on in Burma and what you can do to help. And, in case you were looking for a little bit of homework, here are a few resources that have been eye-opening to us as we dive deeper into the lives of the new Americans we've come to love.

Free Burma Rangers
Thailand Burma Border Consortium
BBC News Burma Series

Burma VJ

George Orwell in Burma 
War Isn't Over When It's Over

Please share any resources you've discovered with us in the comments. We definitely want to keep learning and growing.



  1. Thanks again for the post, Caren! I continue to be moved by the courage of your friends. Thank you for sharing their stories with us.

  2. Love it and love you. What a beautifully written post.


  3. really great post, caren. another burma org in need of support is the irrawaddy, a burmese paper based in thailand.

  4. I recommend "Little Daughter- A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West" by Zoya Phan.

    Jessica Montour