Religious Persecution


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Taang Thangho and Taang Liando (not their real names) are brothers. Thangbo is 7, whilst his elder brother is 9. There are the lucky ones. With about 15 others, Thangbo and Liando goes to school run by an NGO in Malaysia. They get picked up everyday and driven back. It soon becomes quite apparent that Thangbo is the spokesman of the two. More outgoing and friendly, unlike his more reserved brother, he answered most of the questions, talking freely and confidently.

When asked about what he likes at school, Thangbo says “I only like playing. We play with toy guns, and then we play baking cakes.” Liando agrees. They learn English and Maths too, but Liando says that “I only like English. I don’t like Maths“.

School ends at 1.30 pm, and I ask them what they do after school. I study“, Liando says, and out of the corner of my eye I see his mom smile. Thangbo, on the other hand, was more frank. I watch TV. If mom asks, then I study.”

What else do you do? We fight. But we don’t really fight, we just act. Whenever we wrestle I win. When my brother tries to pin me down, I use my legs to struggle and win. When my brother grabs me, I use my nails.” It really reminded me of the time I supposedly bit my brother on the back when I was small. I don’t remember it at all, but my brother has the scar to prove it.

After school, they play all the time,” their mother adds. I have to ask them to study. They are similar but they are different as well. Liando is quiet, calm, and right handed. Thangbo is very friendly, very energetic and left handed.”

Since they wrestle all the time, I teased them by asking who cries more. We don’t cry. Only mom does“, Thangbo said.

I looked at the mother. “Is that true?” She nods.

They both look like their father. Whenever I see my boys, they remind me so much of their father. I feel so lonely. I miss him very much. When I see the boys talk to older people, they act so much like their father. I miss him in every way.” Their father was forced to become a porter for the army. That was seven years ago. He never came back“, said their mother.

This family just recently came to Malaysia. Prosecuted because of their Christian belief, the mother’s book shop was shut down, the kids were denied entry to school, neighbours ostracised them, and their house was pelted with stones.

But at least for Thangbo, who loves ice cream (any kind) and want to be a soldier and a missionary because a soldier fights bad guys, and Liando who loves fried fish and wants to become an engineer and a missionary because he loves to build, life in Malaysia has some semblance of normality.

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And what is your favourite food, I turn to Lia Mauzuang (not her real name) after asking her 7 year old sister the same question. Smiling, she says “KFC!” (Kentucky Fried Chicken). Hot and Spicy or Original? “Spicy”. Mauzuang, a 15 year old girl, seems like your typical teenager. Everyday, she reads, cooks, watches TV and plays music. “Sometimes I dance”, she says, smiling. Mauzuang likes Britney Spears – “all of the songs” – and Jennifer Lopez. She loves playing the piano too, something that she picked up in Malaysia. Every Sunday they go to church and if she goes there early, she gets to practice and play on the piano. She’s made two friends at Church – an 18 year old girl and a 17 year old boy – the one who teaches her the piano.

She loves the shopping malls and she loves Malaysian food, especially Chinese food. Her favorites are noodles with gravy and Hokkien mee. Together with her family, she gets to eat out once every 2 months. Because she cannot go to school in Malaysia, she spends her time studying the bible, reading newspapers, and learning English and Malay from books.

Later, when I was asking her mother about the differences between RA and her smaller sister, I got to know that unlike her sister, she is not so open, preferring to keep things to herself. “She bears her burden alone. Sometimes I see her cry and when I ask, she says that “at this time my friends are studying in Myanmar. I am here alone. I miss my country and my friends and my cousins and my grandmother””

But Mauzuang says that she prefers to stay in Malaysia because “I can stay together with daddy. Life here is easier and food here is nicer.” Together with her mom and sister, Mauzuang was finally reunited with her father when they all made the dangerous crossing from Myanmar into Malaysia two years ago. They were separated in 2000 when her father, a Christian minister, fled to Malaysia to escape religious prosecution.

From the International Medical NGO Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders)

http://www.msf.org/source/countries/asia/malaysia/2007/gallery/paul/paul1.html

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I grew up in Chin state in the west of Myanmar. Things were very difficult for my family because – like many people – we were frequently forced to work for the military. My parents had a small farm but it was hard to make a living. They were often made to work on military construction projects, so were not able to farm the land. People who refused to do military labour were arrested.

When I was about 15, we moved to Yangon, the capital of Myanmar. I went to college there and started studying for a degree in psychology, but after two years the authorities closed the university down because of student demonstrations. When I found out that the Bible School offered some courses in counselling, I decided to continue my education there. The university opened again two years later and I considered going back, but in the end decided that it wasn’t actually worth it. I could see that many of my friends from the Chin ethnic group simply found it impossible to get a job, even with a degree.

There is a huge amount of discrimination against Chin people – if you are not from the Burmese ethnic group it is extremely difficult to have a career. You have to convert from Christianity to Buddhism if you want to move up.

In 2003, I became Youth Director at a church, doing community work and providing counselling for kids and young adults. The church was illegal in the eyes of the government and we had to be very careful. More and more Chin people started moving from Chin state to Yangon, so our community was growing all the time.

The problems started in 2004, when I took a group of kids on a camping trip to the countryside. One of the kids was run over by a military motorbike. The law says that if a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle, the driver has to pay the medical costs. When the military refused to pay, I wrote a letter to complain that nobody was taking responsibility. They almost arrested me. The Church Pastor advised me not to take things further because he was worried about the consequences for my safety. The military took my address in Yangon, but let me go home.

The following year, I wanted to run a residential activity camp for kids in the church. The Church leaders were worried, because they knew that the military were watching the building.

On the second day of the camp, I went out shopping to get some supplies. Whilst I was out, the military raided the building and arrested the Church Pastor and four others. Somebody managed to call me and tell me what had happened. They told me to hide, because the military knew that I was involved and had my address. I hid at a friend’s place for a week, during which time the military went to my family home and threatened my mum.

I just didn’t know what to do. (more…)

Lu Aung (not her real name) arrived in Malaysia 5 months ago. She is only 16 years old. Her family didn’t know anybody in Malaysia, but sent her here. Why? Why would someone send their own daughter to a place where people spoke a different language, where she would be without documents, without protection, without income? Why?

“We were praying one night when a monk and soldiers broke down our door, shouted at my mother to stop praying and threw our bible out of our window. My brother spoke up, so they beat him again and again and again. The soldiers hit my brother’s head with their rifle butts. Again and again and again”. (more…)