Ja Tu (not his real name) is only 17 years old. When his father died, he had to stop school to help his mother farm their land. They grew rice, peanuts and corn on their farm in Kachin State in Myanmar. He would wake up early in the morning, eat breakfast prepared by his mother, and then join her in the fields, where he worked till sunset. He would then go back, bathe, have dinner and then sleep. Every Sunday they would go to Church in the morning, and in the afternoon he would join his friends and they would play various games with a ball woven out of bamboo strips (we call it a takraw ball in Malaysia).

One day, his friends wanted to walk to the nearest town to buy provisions and so they asked him to join them. A few miles out of their village, they were stopped by soldiers who took all of them to an army camp. That was how they were forced to join the army. For a month, he and his friends had to endure military training. Being teenagers who had never been apart from their families, they begged and pleaded with the army captain to let them go back to their village for just a few days. Eventually, he relented.

“When my mother saw me again, she cried. I cried as well. She asked me what had happened and where I had been all the time I was missing. I told her how the military had taken us. I cried and told her that I don’t want to become a soldier. Soldiers in Myanmar are very bad. They occupy other people’s land”.

Ja Tu’s mother arranged everything the same night. At 3 o’clock in the morning, an agent came to take him away.

“My mother told me that I will be going abroad. She told me that there would be no security for my life in my village. Before I went, she told me to go abroad and live there as a good man, whether I like it or not, and to try and survive. I told her to take care of herself and my younger siblings”.

Ja Tu’s journey to Malaysia took 16 days.  He was very afraid because there were many police and army personnel in Myanmar and Thailand. But eventually, he made it to Kuala Lumpur where for 3 weeks, he stayed at his agent’s house.

One day, his agent told him to go out and buy some noodles. Not knowing the Malay language, he spoke in Burmese and a Chin (from the Chin State in Myanmar) working in the restaurant, hearing his language, spoke to him. Ja Tu begged the Chin to find him a job as he has been jobless for almost a month. On hearing that he is only 17, the Chin told him that he is too young, but offered to bring him to his organisation’s office. Which is where he is now. It has been another week of being trapped in a house.

“I am so sad all the time. I have never been separated from my mother for so long, and I am now in a different country where I don’t understand what people are saying”.

At only 17, Ja Tu hopes find a job, and eventually, with the help of friends that he will make, he hopes to one day be able to contact his mother again.

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