Timecoded Transcript


00:00:04-09         [TITLE] THOO MWEH KHEE

00:00:06               Why did I have to move, why do I have to study in Thailand?  I will tell you.  You know,    when I was a child, right, the Burmese, they came to my village and then they, what, they burned our house.  And then my family, my parents, they had to move to another place, which means like we had to move to the jungle.

00:00:29               It's the worst thing I ever have in my life. That is the worst thing for me, I think. Yeah. I don't know how to say this one. I was very upset and we also had nothing left, like food. We could not work or find animals and we could not study and we had to find food just for, just to survive, to survive. Yeah. Yes.

00:01:05               And I also remember one time there was a conflict, at our school. That day was Saturday. So we had like a school competition, like a sports competition in our school. And then there was like fighting, the Burmese soldiers and Karen soldiers, they shot at each other.

00:01:32               The Burmese soldiers, they came to our village, they came to stay two or three weeks and then they burned the houses and then they killed our chickens, our ducks, you know, the cows, pigs, everything.

00:01:45               And this goes for all the ethnic groups that there are.  Like, you see ceasefires every five or seven years, which kind of indicates that the old one has not worked.

00:01:56               [TEXT] Burmese crimes against the Karen and the country’s other ethnic minority groups are well-documented.  Human Rights Watch identifies widespread use of violence, murder, forced labour, displacement, and systematic rape by the Tatmadaw – the Burmese state army.

00:02:05               Yeah, I can still remember because I was maybe 10, 11, 12 years old, like in our village when it had been burned, the whole village, every house was burned… uh, and then maybe right after maybe three or three or four years, again, the Burmese military would come again and burn all those houses.

00:02:33               When I was a child, when I was five months or six months old, we had to run because the Burmese military tried to kill my father.  My father is the village leader.  And they told my father ‘you are the, like the security for the KNU soldiers. That's why you, we will catch you and put you to the jail, so you, you, you need to do like this.

00:03:03               I would describe them as very violent, but in some ways, not all the time, but sometimes they would come to the village and they ddin't have food. So they would ask for the villagers’ pigs, chickens, if people didn't give them they would go ballistic, you know, threatening the villagers. Yeah. Even, even once my cousin, she went collecting the leaves to make the house roof with older the people. So like one of the soldiers, he just came and called my sister and her friend, you know, then he just raped her. Yeah. So that's why I really don't like the government army.

00:03:56               The government embraces in its bosom all people of Thai blood.  The land of Thailand belongs to the Thai people.  It has long maintained its sovereignty because the Thais have always been united.  The Thai people are peace-loving but they are no cowards at war.  Nor shall they suffer under tyranny.  All Thais are ready to give up every drop of their blood for the nation’s safety, freedom and progress.

00:04:47               Motto?

00:04:47               I will be good, I will be kind, I will be a peacemaker.

00:04:51               [repeated in Karen]

00:05:10               I came from Burma, in Karen state,  in Kya Aye Say Gyi it’s called.  Kay Aye Say Gyi village.  Yeah. The place that I was born.  I was a student and I studied in the camp, the refugee camp, it’s called Umpiem camp.  And I was studying there, before I came here.

00:05:39               My name is Poekoko and I was born in the refugee camp in Thailand. And, um, I am a teacher now… Sorry.

00:05:53               No, that's good. That's good.

00:05:55               I was in Burma in my village. There is, uh, there is, uh, we call it Gah Doh Tah, Gah Doh Tah village, located in Karen state in Burma.  Located not exactly in the town, like outskirts. It would take maybe 30 minutes to the town. So it was a little bit in the jungle.

00:06:27               We mixed ethnic groups there. Like some of them were Karen, some of them Hmong and some of them Burmese, and Muslim.  We stayed together.

00:06:44               There are certain reason that why I left my village and came to Thoo Mweh Khee school. Like in my village, there was a school, but we due to the civil war in Burma we were not able to attend the school regularly.  Like in a year we could attend for maybe three or four months. And then after that, we needed to flee to the jungle, for our safety.

00:07:26               Before I came to Thailand my parents wanted me to study Burma, but at the time there were many civil wars happening between Burmese soldiers and KNU soldiers. They were fighting each other and we could not go to school. So I asked for permission from my parents. I told them I'm went to continue my studies. Actually, they wanted me to leave school, but I just told them ‘No, I don't want to leave school. I want to continue my school.’ So I came to Thailand then. First, I went to the refugee camp, Umpiem refugee camp, and I studied there for a year. Then I came back to Mae Sot for two years. Then I came to Thoo Mweh Khee.

00:08:12               Like I'm actually a really socially awkward person with people in America. I would never be the first one to go and introduce myself. I'm terrible at making small talk, but with Karen people, like if I see Karen people anywhere in the world, and I'm seeing Karen people everywhere, like I go to Bangkok and I meet Karen people, and like all over Burma, like in the city, in Burma, in America, once in an airport, I, uh, I was wearing a Karen bag and a Karen person came and started talking to me.  You have like an instant camaraderie.

00:08:47               We went back and had our daughter and we just felt like we were supposed to be here with the students. It's really the students who, who keep bringing us back. And I would say not just the students as a whole, but I can think of specific individual students whose desire to learn and desire to serve their communities and to be a part of something bigger and better and create something bigger and better… that's what really calls us back.

00:09:41               When you laugh be sure to laugh out loud, cause it will carry all your cares away.  And when you see, see the beauty all around and in yourself, and it will help you feel okay.  And when you pray, pray for strength to help you carry on when the troubles come your way.  And when you dream, dream big, as big as the ocean blue, ‘cause when you dream it might come true, and when you dream, dream big.

00:10:33               Yeaaaaah.  So… finished!  Oh my God.

00:10:59               If Thoo Mweh Khee did not exist in this place, I think there are many number of young people who would drop out in primary school. We are trying to teach, not only, you know, like, like I said, it's not only a place to learn, it is also a place to inspire, you know, and for equipping the young generations for leadership for, for, you know, even waging war, against, you know, the bad things, you know, the problems in Burma, in education way and wisdom way. Not, you know, killing, not violating, you know, no, not in that way. You know, Burma has been run by the military government for seven decades, over seven decades, and war has been going on until now and fighting and killings for more than 70 years. I think this because of the lack of education and knowledge and wisdom of all the people in Burma.

00:12:07               The regime. Well, I guess, um, it's still in spite of the elections, in spite of Aung San Suu Kyi’s position, it's still dominated by the military. And for me, the abiding factor about it is how long it has been in place. It's been effectively— the military have controlled of the country since 1962, which compared with other military regimes is an incredibly long time.  Pinochet was 1974 to about 1990, I think.  In Africa post-colonial, there were a lot of strong men emerged supported by military regimes, but they've almost all disappeared now.

00:12:57               For many years, the military government, they have been controlling the education system in Burma. They are not providing any critical thinking skill, reasoning, you know, logical thinking skills or things like that. They are just trying to control the education system in the way of, you know, memorizations, teaching this and it is only this and this and, you know, grade 10, you know, many young people, you know, their education has been cut off at grade 10. Some of them sit on exams more than six, seven years, but never pass.

00:13:36               So much of their literature was destroyed through the war in Karen state. There's this movement of the Burmese government into Karen villages, replacing their education that was primarily in Karen with a primarily Burmese curriculum.

00:13:51               I mean, in Burma, you know, for the education system, the Burmese control everything. If you go to the class, you have to speak what?  You have to speak only Burmese. They also, they teach them what?  Not Karen history. They teach them Burmese history. So some of the students, they don't know their own language. They don't know their Karen history. Moreover, they don't know how to speak their language. They don't know how to read and write their own language. Some of my students here, you know, two or three students, they are Karen people. They say they are Karen people. They just came from the Burma. I explained to them Karen history in Karen language… they don't understand.

00:14:36               Even seeing a lot of violent things living in Burma, I didn't even think anything bad about the government, you know?  Only after I came here, I learned a lot of things. So I started, you know, like knowing who is right or who is bad or why things were happening. So what is right and what is not right.

00:15:04               This is the only way that we can wage war against this situation, through education. So the people need to be educated and all the power needs to return back to the people. Then there will be hope, for Burma.

00:16:09               Like, I have no idea, like what they've been through… When we talk about, ‘oh, you need to, you need to promote peace, you need to try to find a way to work together with the other ethnic groups, you need to find a way to coexist peacefully with the Burmese.’  Those are words that I know, like, in the future, yes, that's what needs to happen, but I don't have any of the context.  One time we were having some visitors. And so in one of my classes, I had the students prepare little, like, ‘what's your name? What do you want to do when you grow up? And why?’  Just like little thirty second, one minute speeches, so that they'd be ready if someone asked them. And it was a group from Korea and they asked for volunteers.  It was, we were in a big room. There were like 12 visitors and, uh, like a hundred of our students. And one of the students who didn't usually volunteer for those kind of things and was kind of always on the edge of following the rules and not following the rules stood up. And he said, ‘I wanna… in the future, I want…’ and he kind of paused. But he said ‘In the future, I want to, I want to become a soldier so I can kill Burmese.’ And he just kind of like started to shake. He said ‘When I was a child, I saw the Burmese come to my village and they killed my uncle right in front of me. And I'll never forget that. So I want to find a way to kill as many Burmese as I can.’ And then he sat down and then it was just quiet. After they left, he came to me and he just started crying right away. He said, ‘Teacher, I'm really sorry. I really, I want to be a teacher. I stood up and I was gonna say, I want to be a teacher, and I want to help my people and help the children have better opportunities. But when I thought about that, I had to say it, it just came into my mind.

00:18:29               [TEXT] The crimes committed against the Karen by the Tatmadaw, as with the crimes committed against all Burma’s ethnic minorities, are so terrible it’s easy to look away from them.

00:18:42               [TEXT] ‘On 27 Dec 2008 the body of a 7-year-old girl was found near her home in Ma Oo Bin village, Kyauk Kyi Township in Nyaunglebin District, northern Karen State.  She had been raped and shot dead.

00:18:59               [TEXT] ‘I met one woman who… told me how three years previously her husband had gone to the nearby town to buy food.  He was caught by the Burmese army soldiers, who tied his hands, dragged him through the jungle, tied him to a tree upside down, gouged out his eyes and then drowned him.’

00:19:18               [TEXT] ‘As soon as I finished hearing her story, I met another woman.  She came from the same village.  Her fifteen-year-old son had been arrested by the Burma Army, tied to a tree and tortured.  He was then beheaded.’

00:19:36               [TEXT] ‘A third woman told me of her husband’s death in 2006.  He had been on his way home from his farm when soldiers caught him and carried him through the village.  The soldiers then tore out his eyes, cut off his lips and chopped off both ears.  Then they ley him go, and he died alone in the forest.’

00:19:43               [TEXT] from ‘Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads’ by Benedict Rogers.

00:21:35               Do you feel… do you feel anger for what the Burmese have done?

00:21:46               For me, it's not anger and it's not hate, but for me, uh, personally for me, something needs to be changed. You know, we need to be reformed. I'm not saying that I want to overthrow over, you know, the government, like kill the government, you know, kill them all, no, not in that way.  But the best way for Burma to take, you know, a process for the future, for the benefit of the people, for the country’s development… I think the government needs to be changed and needs to be reformed, and we need to, you know, return all the power back to the people.  And whether you are Karen or whether you are, you know, different in religion and, you know, race and color, you have all the same power, equal. Then that will be a time when Burma is going to develop, and it will be a peaceful country. So yeah, unless this government allows this to happen, nothing will change. People will suffer, you know, generation to generation.  How to change?  We the people need to be strong, with one voice, stand up together, and the international community and organizations need to be involved and put pressure on the government to change.  One day when the young people, the next generation, you know, equip well with the, you know, strong education then yeah, it can change Burma.  When the government has no choice, no options, then the power can return to the people. So that's what we hope for you. And like I said, education is the only way, you know, to change people in Burma.

00:24:41               [CREDITS] Directed, Produced & Edited by Chris Neilan

                                Interviews by Chris Neilan, Gioconda Coello

                                With thanks to: Pastor Peacefully, Pway Doh, Brandon Newlin, Jessica Newlin, Keta Jamir, Montana Picek, Htway Zaw, Johnmye  Nyo, July Paw, Paw Maw Day, David Young, Marianne Rouanet, Shirley Koffigan, Joanne Willemin, and all those at Thoo Mweh Khee.

                                For more information visit: www.thoomwehkheeschool.org

                                For general information on Karen issues: khrg.org

                                A Gor Gai Films production, 2019

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