* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The city of Myitkyina is with its different ethnicities and mixed religious beliefs the proverbial melting pot in Kachin, the northernmost state of Myanmar. Scattered around the township there are several small camps housing internally displaced people from all over the state – a state scarred by armed conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and government forces.
The residents of this primarily agricultural area know first hand the devastating effects of conflict, so when the 17 year ceasefire between KIA and the government collapsed in June 2011, they knew what to expect. Several families fled immediately and sought refuge at their places of worship, but many held on, unwilling to give up their land and possessions for as long as possible. One of these is Dao Khawn Li, a 35-year-old woman from the small village of Phar Khat. She and her husband lived and worked on a farm with their 5 children, as the conflict escalated and the fighting moved closer. Scared for the lives of their children they fled their only livelihood option, and headed for the safe surroundings of the Anglican Church in Myitkyina.
When Dao Khawn Li and her family arrived at the church grounds the local priest, Father Jon, welcomed them. Father Jon has been a priest here in more than 30 years, and for him, taking care of the displaced people is just as much part of his job as preaching. So when the people starting arriving in June 2011 he didn’t hesitate to offer them sanctuary.
For the first three months Father Jon and the local community did their best to shelter and feed their guests. “We had 40-50 people living and sleeping in that building” he commented and pointed out an open wooden pavilion, which seemed to only have room for half the people under his care. With limited funds he and the local community managed to feed and protect the people, however it was obvious that a larger scale of aid was paramount.
After this trying period Danish Refugee Council, amongst others, finally obtained the permission to operate in the area, and became able to help with the ongoing activities. After meetings with community leaders like Father Jon, DRC began to support the many local initiatives in the state.
With funding from Danida, the European Commission and Sida, DRC provides the displaced people, like Dao Khawn Li, with Non Food Items (NFIs) such as blankets, winter clothes and packages with vital products for helping with pregnancies, taking care of babies and preventing hygienic issues. In others of the more than 100 camps in Kachin, DRC is building shelters for the many internally displaced people and offering tailor made protection assistance to the most vulnerable families and individuals.
Both Dao Khawn Li’s and Father Jon have a dream that the fighting will end soon and everyone would be able to return to their homes. This is a dream shared by all the people living or working in the camps, and DRC works to fulfill their dreams by creating durable solutions – be it integration in the local community or a safe and sustainable return.