Archive | Global Justice

Relief Trip to the Refugee Camp Destroyed by Fire

In the middle of a border mission near Karen State, we received news of a fire decimating a refugee camp in Northern Thailand.  Dozens killed and many homes burned.  Scattered updates, thin reporting, and suspicious causes gave us little comfort that needs would be well handled.  Being many hours away, there was little we could do immediately.  The refugee camp in Thailand is not within the typical scope of the FBR mission to serve the people of Burma—the Thai refugee camps have many NGOs proving aid.  Still, several ex-Free Burma Rangers and many once-IDP families in Burma now call Camp 2 home.

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With no clear answer on what to do, Dave prayed for a way FBR could help.  Minutes later, he opened his computer to find an email from ____–they had relief supplies, but no means of transporting them to the camp.   FBR had trucks and rangers ready.  Doh Say, a Karenni FBR leader, led the trip, joined by Jonathan, Lisa, and me.

The mission would be no slam dunk.  Refugee camps in Thailand notoriously restrict visitors—especially foreigners, since the camps “technically” do not exist.  Despite the challenges, our team took off Saturday morning for an anticipated five-hour drive.

Ten hours and several engine overheating stops later, our truck rambled into the first checkpoint along the road the refugee camp.  We were not sure what would happen next.  Three hours prior, we received a phone call that the camp gate would close at 5 p.m.  We prayed for an opening and kept moving, anticipating that we might sleep on the hood of the truck at the camp gate.

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News quickly turned worse.  A Thai army at our checkpoint told us that only 30 minutes ago, the refugee camp commander called up and said “Allow no more trucks through.”

“You missed it by half-an-hour,” the soldier explained.  “Only registered NGOs and people with camp permits.”

We had neither.  We decided to wait them out.  Two other trucks from Chiang Mai arrived just in front of us.  They received the same frustrating news.

After waiting 30 minutes, the Thai soldiers came to us and said they called the camp commander who would allow us to drive to the gate and then make a determination there.  With no guarantees our relief supplies or our FBR team could get into the camp, we pushed ahead.  There would be no turning around for the next two hours.

The road to Camp 2 winds up and down a ravine, crossing a large river in at least a dozen places.  The off-road trail requires four-wheel drive with deep ruts and steep climbs through the jungle—picture taking the back entrance to Jurassic Park.  With darkness already upon us, the pace slowed to a crawl.

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Two hours later, our truck entered the rocky flats along the riverbed.  A surreal world greeted us.  Hundreds of candlelit tents lined the steep canyon walls around, reflecting off the snake-like river our trucked waded through.  We drove straight up the river in places, finally coming to a halt at an oasis of technology in this remote camp: the emergency response center, complete with satellites, internet, and aid workers.

Doh Say stepped out to negotiate.

“We can go,” he told us minutes later.  If we had a place to stay in the camp, we could walk in and drive our truck in tomorrow.  “Hurry before they change their mind,” Doh Say stressed.

By flashlight, we began a walk into an extraordinary land of suspended bamboo walkways and tree trunk footbridges.  Crisscrossing the river, entered a portion of the refugee camp burned to the ground.  The air smelled of recently scorched earth and, in places, the fire still burned and logs continued to smolder.  Charred bamboo poles rose eerily from the ground and each step left footprints in the ash.

We soon arrived at the bamboo home of the camp chairwoman.  I’m not sure whether they knew of our arrival, but they made space for us to sleep in and prepared dinner.

We rose in the morning to deliver relief supplies, including rice and cooking materials, and begin interviewing victims.  We made visits to families in two sections displaced by the fire, as well as interviewing several other victims and the camp chairwoman.  The fire victims received temporary tarp shelters.

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In total, the blaze destroyed at least 380 homes out of 685.  The fire consumed 55% of the camp (2 sections), displacing approximately 2,300 people.  In addition to the homes, the fire burned 2 churches, 1 Bible school, and a large clinic.  39 people died in the fire, including two unborn children.

The sections of the destroyed refugee camp contained predominately Christian families.  They requested new Bibles, which mostly burned in the fire and relief organizations do not provide them.

The refugees interviewed said they had a lot of time between seeing the fire and it arriving at their home.  One section burned in 10-15 minutes while the other burned over the course of 30-60 minutes.  Yet, they did not know what to do an often ran in and out of their home in fright.  Despite the amount of time, they did not save any possessions from their homes.  Others attempted to fight the fire instead of saving possessions.  Also, many of those who died did so because they went in to rescue victims.  All of this gives rise to some questions about the adequacy of fire response training among the refugees.

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The cause of the fire remains unknown as well as the subject of suspicion.  Early reports suggest a cooking fire.  Some refugees, however, cite seeing an aircraft fly overhead and drop a glowing material.  The Thai government operated rain-seeding aircraft in the area at the time of the fire.  Other refugees said the size of the fire was too large for it to be a cooking accident because the fire had to jump a wide river in several places.  Additionally, they said the fire appeared to begin burning in two places almost simultaneously.  The cause remains under investigation.

After spending about 10 days along the border, I am way behind on my bogging and report.  More to come soon!!

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Request from Karen Refugees: Change the Dictionary!

I am in Thailand again for the annual Pepperdine Law Spring Break trip.  It’s arguably my favorite event to lead.  One of the most fascinating experiences for our students is an overnight stay at Mae La Refugee Camp with the Karen people along the Thai-Burma border.  We learn about the plight of the Karen, the dramatic story of Burma, and the ongoing fight for freedom.

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As usual, we joined them on our morning of departure for a church service.  In typical fashion, we sat in front and each student introduced themselves.  I gave a message.  When that was over, one of the pastors thanked us and, in front of 450 Karen in the congregation, asked for our help in an important matter.  The dictionary.  In The New American Oxford Dictionary, he explained, the Karen people are defined as a “wild unclean man.”  Could you help us change it? he pled–he had written to the dictionary and received no response.

I was stunned–by both the perplexing nature this prejudicial definition and the specificity of their request.  Naturally, as lawyers, we all wanted to see the definition in print.  An outdated dictionary perhaps?  Urban legend possibly?  We would need to make it back to Chiang Mai to read this supposed definition in an obscure dictionary edition.

Or so we thought.

On Lisa’s Kindle, The New American Oxford Dictionary comes pre-loaded.  Not so obscure after all.  And, there it was, the high definition: “from Burmese ka-reng ‘wild unclean man.’”  The offending definition was Oxford’s proposed etymology, not the full definition itself.  Nonetheless, the Karen position is completely understandable.  For the several million strong Karen population now spread the world over as ambassadors and refugees of Karen nation, the definition is simply offensive.  Especially for refugees getting resettled among 11 nations, the definition is prejudicial.

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The New American Oxford Dictionary origin, however, is suspect.  First, the language of the Karen isn’t Burmese—it’s Karen.  It’s dubious that the Karen would adopt a name for themselves not of their own language.  It’s also questionable that they would willfully adopt a derogatory term.

We immediately began some research on the origin of the name.  It’s been studied by anthropologists and there is a fairly clear consensus among them: they don’t know.  While the exact origin of name “Karen” is unknown, the most probable scenario is that it came from the Kayin, another hill tribe in eastern Burma who speak a related Sino-Tibetan language.   No anthropologist suggests the name originated a derogatory Burmese term.

While the exact origin of “Karen” is unknown, The New American Oxford Dictionary treats it as conclusive fact.  At the very least, this is incomplete and misleading, if not woefully inaccurate.  While the good people at Oxford Press may not be moved by the effect of their definitions, I suspect they are concerned about the accuracy of their dictionary.

So, what do we do from here?  Despite their many needs as refugees, its not very often that the Karen ask for something specific.  Thus, we are inclined to do what we can.

Two questions:

1)     Does anyone have an explanation for the Karen name that explains or refutes the NAOD definition?

2)    If the definition is inaccurate, does anyone have any suggestions for how to help get the definition changed?  We are considering a letter from Pepperdine University School of Law to Oxford Press as well as a subsequent or concurrent Change.org petition.

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Inter-Country Adoption Conference Coming Up at Pepperdine!

Inter-country adoption is at a crossroads.  Proponents see it as a way to provide for children without a family or a future. Critics call it a door to corruption and cultural imperialism.  Events in Russia of the last few weeks illustrate the timeliness and importance of inter-country adoption on the world stage.  This conference seeks to bring these voices together to explore this complex topic and find common ground.

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The Conference will be held at Pepperdine University School of Law from February 8-9, 2013.  If you are interested in this topic, considering inter-country, or know someone who is, you won’t want to miss it.  We will welcome some of the leading thinkers and practitioners to the event.

Learn more and register on the Nootbaar Institute website.

Presentations will include:

PRACTICE

  • Orphan Rescue or Child Trafficking: A Generational Perspective
  • Case Study: Uganda
  • Abusive Practices in Inter-country Adoption
  • Special Needs Adoption from China: Reframing Discourses Of Value And Rescue In The Chinese Transnational Adoption Program
  • Adoption Trends: Causes and Solutions

LAW

  • The Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption: Past, Present and Future
  • Special Legal Topics Raised by Inter-country Adoption
  • Forgotten, Detained, Removed: Transnational Adopted Persons and Citizenship Rights

FAITH

  • Theological Perspectives on Inter-country Adoption
  • The Christian Inter-country Adoption Movement
  • Inter-country Adoption Best Practices
  • Interfaith Perspectives: How Religion Informs Adoption Law

FAMILY

  • Adoptee Adjustment and Identity Formation within the Family
  • Adult Adoptee Citizenship and Inter-country Adoption
  • Older Children Adopted Internationally Through Hosting Programs: The Adoptee’s Perspective
  • Inter-country Adoption: The Multi-dimensionality of Identity Development
  • Attachment, Development and Learning Struggles Related to Inter-country Adoptees

Do you work in the inter-country adoption field? Have you adopted or are you thinking about adopting? Do you have a heart for orphans and children in need?

Join us at our two day conference as we bring together scholars, politicians, lawyers, theologians, social workers, psychologists, adoptees, adoptive families and more to investigate the future of inter-country adoption.

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If you are in or near the Pepperdine community, I hope will join us for the Challenge Slavery event with USAID, Google Ideas, International Justice Mission, and Not for Sale.

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If you are outside the Pepperdine community, you can watch the live stream of the event by following the link below:

Watch USAID Challenge Slavery Event

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Thursday: USAID, Google Ideas, IJM, and Not For Sale at Pepperdine

This Thursday, Pepperdine University will bring together faith and community leaders for a conversation about the role of the faith community in leading the movement to end modern day slavery.

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Dr. Rajiv Shah, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will announce the launch of ChallengeSlavery.org, a USAID initiative aimed at tapping the collective power of college students and faith-based organizations to combat modern day slavery. The event will also feature a panel discussion with experts from Google Ideas, International Justice Mission and Not For Sale.

Join us at the event!

 

Date:  October 11, 2012

Launch Event: 4:00-5:30 p.m., Elkins Auditorium, Pepperdine University

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Photo of the Week: “Waiting for His World to Change”

Waiting in Jail in Uganda

My photo of the week again from the archive on my recent trip.  I took this photo and liked it, but once the color was corrected, it’s power really came through.  This was another boy we met in the prison in northern Uganda.  They just sit and wait all day.  The look on his face captured the pain of waiting, wondering what’s next, and wishing you were back home in school.  The light is from the doorway and I particularly like the way it illuminated its outline on the back wall.  The lighting is what makes the photo.  After our work, the boy has his case dismissed and went home.  I shot the photo with my ultra-wide angle lens.

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Photo of the Week: “Boys Behind Bars”

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I am starting a new blog series, “Photo of the Week,” where I will share a photo from my archive and tell the backstory.  Some may be recent photos and others may be old photos that I’ve rediscovered through new post-production techniques.  Simultaneously, I’ve changed my photography workflow, so I’m going back to revisit and re-master favorites from the archive.  Photos will come from a diverse range of themes, but predominantly a thread I plan to curate, “Images of Justice.”   I’m not a ‘photographer’–those are professionals.  I’m just a lawyer using a camera to tell a story.

“Boy Behind Bars” was shot at a tiny, rural prison in Uganda.  After our juvenile justice work concluded, I went back out for a final visit and brought my camera along.  It’s often too chaotic to shoot when we have 10-15 people visiting out there.  On this trip, it was only three of us, so it was calm and I could capture routine moments of the day.  I spent some time talking to these boys in the jail–many were accused of pretty serious crimes and I was locked in the cell with them for awhile.  We had a good chat and they agreed to let me take their photo.  I wanted a photo of them through the bars with the lock and I got exactly that.  I like the colors and I like the asymmetry of their positions: looking between bars, looking around bars, hands up, hands down, shirt on, shirt off.  Yet, their current conditions are the same.  Both boys were acquitted and/or released after our work.

 

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Where Did Summer Go? Highlights from a Season Gone By

This summer was a blur–different, I would say, than any summer before.  I wanted to reflect on this summer if only for my own sake and reflect on some changes and highlights.

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For me, thee big event of the summer was the May release of my book, Go & Do: Daring to Change the World One Story at a Time.  Two years in the making, it was fun to finally see it come to fruition.  The strangest part of the experience was sharing intensely personal experiences in a public forum.  But, it’s good–the message resonated with people and, I hope, helped some.  I received messages from readers I didn’t know across the country and as far away as South America and Asia who read the book.  It’s interesting see see where a message can go.

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Village Life on the Amazon – A Photo Essay

We visited several tiny villages last week on our boat trip down Brazil’s Amazon River.  I wanted to share a short photos essay from my favorite village.

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Amazon Reflection – I could not build a better movie set.  In life, I think reality rarely lives up to the mental images forming the way we hope a place looks.  When it actually, it can surprise us.  In this tiny riverside village, the scene looked like the movie set I would want to design, yet it was authentic.  It surprised me.  The sky was brilliant and wate was still.  I captured this brilliant reflection amidst some interesting boats.

Church, child, and rainbow

Abstract Church – This photo comprised a rare moment where three things I would want to photograph lined up in one shot.  At the forefront of each village, immediately after the main dock, stands a church.  Most are fairly plain, but this one had interesting abstract lines and angles.  A cool building.  Then we got a beautiful rainbow (double if you look closely).  Then, this little girl–with a pink balloon we gave her–walked right in the foreground.  I think there’s something symbolic about the church, God’s promise marked by the rainbow, and an innocent child.

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The Staircase – Hills seemed rare in the Amazon.  If you saw one, you could expect a village on it–the only natural way to protect against the annual rise in the river.  This photo was the long walk, and climb, in from the dock (our boat–a floating hospital–sits at the end).

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Cross Silhouette – The cross in front of the church at the forefront of the village.  I love the colors in the sky this evening.  Our boat moors at the end of the dock.

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Village Kids on the Dock – I just like this angle and the colors.  It’s from the second floor of the boat looking down on the dock where dozens of kids from the village came out to see us off.  They crowded the dock climbing up on the boat and railings.

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A Week on the Amazon River

This past week, Lisa and I travel to the Brazilian Amazon for a fascinating week on the Amazon River as Lisa participated in medical work in rural areas.

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Our local church, Malibu Presbyterian, takes an annual trip to the Amazon River.  They load up on a large boat and head out to rural villages where medical care is thin or non-existent.  Since Lisa (a nurse) first heard about it, she’s been wanting to go.  The experience was more than we expected.

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