Class of 2012
My name is Yen Lin. I am 23 years old. I was born in Khyut Pain Kawt Township, Pengu Division of Burma. I am a student of SDC. My parents are Oo San Aye and Daw Hlai Hlai Win. My father was a taxi driver and my mother was a housekeeper. I lived with my parents from the time I was born until I was 13 years old. However, my father passed away when I was studying in 4th standard. After that, my mother remarried. After my father died, it was a very difficult time for me and I struggled with many problems in my life. When I was 9 years old I went to live with my stepfather. I never stayed at my home permanently because I had to go gambling with my stepfather to make money for our living. When I was 10 years old, I became a monk and stayed with other Buddhist monks at the monastery for two years. Afterwards, I returned to my home and lived with my parents, but I did not have a job. One night I went to a video shop to watch a movie. While I was watching a movie there, two Burmese soldiers came into the video shop and arrested me and accused me of breaking curfew and gathering without permission. That night they brought me to Kyut Pain Kawt Township where they were keeping other prisoners who they collected from other areas in February of 2001. They gave me two choices: to be a prisoner or to be a soldier. They told me that if I chose to serve as a soldier, they would provide me with a sack of rice and 3000 kyat. I was very young and afraid of them, so I chose to serve as a soldier. At about 12:00 pm that night they sent me to Dah Nge Koe, in Rangoon Division, to the station for gathering new soldiers. I stayed there for one week, then I was sent to Pang Long township in Shan State by train to attend training for the new soldiers there. I attended the training for 4 months in 2001, where, we were trained to assemble weapons and lay down land mines and take them out of the ground. We were also trained to attack the enemy on the battlefield and navigate paths at night.
During the training, I was forced to buy and smoke cigarettes. I had never smoked before, but when I stayed at the training station I was forced by the soldiers in command and the officers to smoke. If we did not buy and smoke cigarettes, they would cut our stipends. We were told that we would be provided 3000 kyat for attending training, but we usually received only 200 kyat per month, as we were given army uniforms from the soldiers in command.
Every morning we had to get up at 4:00am to perform physical exercises with guns or in the woods. If we made a mistake while we practiced loading and unloading guns and cleaning the barrels, the soldiers in command would punch or beat us. Sometimes if we were late for our lunch we were punished and made to run around the building. During our lunch we had only 5 to 10 minutes to eat. If we could not finish our lunch in time, we had to throw it away and leave even if we had not had enough. Usually our food was not enough for us to eat and its quality was very bad, but we did not have the right to complain about it. If we said anything about it, the situation was made worse than before.
During the training, we had to obey orders completely and we were treated very badly. We had no chance to raise any complaints. If we did not obey or perform what they ordered us to do, they would punish us by punching us with their fists. We had 3 barracks for 250 new soldiers to live in and half of these were child soldiers from various areas of Burma. Because of the scarce water supply there, we usually had only one bath per week.
After finishing this training, I was sent to Battalion No. 135, which was based in PhaSaw Township in Karenni State on June 18, 2001. In that year, we worked hard to build two new barracks for Battalions No. 134 and No. 135, which would be stationed there. During the year of 2001, many soldiers got sick with malaria. At that time many soldiers were sent to the hospital in PhaSaw Township in Karenni State. I also had malaria for one year while I was living with the Battalion, and I was sent to the Loi Kaw Township hospital in Karenni State and was treated there. After treatment, I have remained well until today.
In 2002, I was sent to Taungyi township of Shan State in Burma to attend communications training for two months. After that I returned to PhaSaw Township again. Later in 2002, we had to go to the frontier area of MaiSet Township for one year. While I was in the field, we confronted ethnic armed forces three times. As I was on communications duty, I was responsible for the communication on the battlefield. It was difficult for me to do this during the fighting because I had to try to communicate with the other forces to help our group with rations, ammunitions and weapons, and other supplies. I couldn’t carry the guns because I was not old enough. Sometimes I was ordered to prepare our meal at 9:00 P.M. for the next day. After cooking, sometimes I was ordered to patrol until 11:00 P.M. I had a very little time to sleep or rest. Sometimes we had to get up at 2:00 A.M. to travel to look for the enemy’s tracks. It was still too dark to see our way and we were not allowed to use lights. One night we had to travel and I had to carry some very heavy supplies. While we were passing through a valley, I could not see and I fell into a large hole. Because of the very heavy things I was carrying, I could not get out immediately and it took a long time for me to get out.
Sometimes we had to travel for battle. One night, our commander ordered us to climb up a very steep mountain, but we were getting too tired to climb it. I had already fallen down again and again. I was very frustrated with my heavy things and I held them with my hands and threw them up on the rocks. At that time, my Capitan saw me and was angry with what I had done. He made us climb down the mountain again. When we got to the base of the mountain, my Capitan cursed me and punched my head and I was tied to a pole with some ropes for the whole night. I was untied the next morning. At that time I was only about 16 years old.
Some of my friends were 15 years old. Some of them had quarrels and fought often with the officers. Eventually, they could not bear the inhumane treatment and three of my friends killed themselves with their guns from 2003-2004. Another friend committed suicide in 2005.
Eventually, some of my friends and I could not bear such ill treatment and tried to escape from the base three times. The first effort was not successful and we were arrested again and I was beaten with a cane by the officers and sent to the Battalion again. When I got to the Battalion, all my legs and hands were tied with ropes and I was imprisoned. On the next day, they cut my hair and tied up my legs with rope, and then they put me in jail and made me work as a prisoner the whole day. Later they gave me the choice of being a soldier or a prisoner. I considered carefully and at last, I chose to be a soldier because I knew if I was imprisoned again I could be made to be a soldier and could be accused of crimes I did not do. In my mind, choosing to be a soldier was more suitable for me.
On January 13, 2006, three of us tried again to escape from the Battalion with guns. This was the 3rd time we tried to escape from the Battalion and the awful treatment. We intended to go and meet with the Karenni armed forces to give our weapons to them. We arrived at Htyae Ta Moo Len village near Mae Hon Song province of Thailand and met with some members of the Karenni armed forces there and we explained to them why we had escaped. We were sent to the Karenni armed forces’ base located in Nyar Moo in May of 2006. At that time my desire was to become a soldier in the Karenni armed forces, but the officers of the Karenni army made me attend school in the Karenni Refugee Camp. I started in grade 6 again and went on to finish grade 10 in 2011. During my school years, I stayed at a boarding house until I finished in 2011. In the beginning, when I arrived in the refugee camp, it was challenging for me to communicate with the Karenni people because I did not speak their language. In addition, we had to cross through the jungle to arrive in the refugee camp during the cold season. We had to walk all day and all night.
I would like to compare my life in Burma with my life in the refugee camp. While I was living in Burma, the majority of my life was spent as a soldier. During that time, I had to obey and listen to my officers and I did not have enough food or water. I felt that my whole life was subject to the orders of the officers. I felt completely hopeless. I often thought to myself, when would I ever see my parents again, And this made me feel very depressed. I was always afraid for what the next morning would bring.
Today, my life in the refugee camp is very different. I have the opportunity to attend the training course provided by Karenni Social Development Center (SDC), and because of this, I feel that I have escaped from the abuses I faced in the army. Now I have freedom and can choose the way of my future life. Today, I have a vision for my life, but before I had lost the feeling of purpose. Just now, the strongest desire of my heart is to meet with my parents again because I would like to provide them with support. However, I do not know where my parents are staying. Even though I cannot provide them with any material support, I want to contact them in any way possible. At the moment, I feel more security than before, because I am attending the KnSDC.
After I finished grade 10, I applied to attend the KnSDC training course because I was interested in learning about human rights, environment and the rule of law. After finishing this training course, I intend to apply to the Burma Lawyer Council (BLC) training school in Mae Sot, Thailand. After that, I would like to become a lawyer or a journalist to serve my community, especially in Karenni State or in other parts of Burma.
Before attending this training course, I had never learned about human rights, environment or the rule of law. My social relationships were not very good and my heart was not very open. After attending this training course, I have gained experience in how to communicate with others and I have become more confident to express myself. I have learned about the value of knowledge of human rights, the environment and rule of law. Before attending this training course, whenever I encountered problems in my community, I usually ignored them. But after attending the SDC training course, I feel more like a family with the other people around me and my heart has changed in a positive way. By attending this training course, I have gained experience in group discussions, group work, decision making and the subjects of human rights, environment and rule of law. This new knowledge has opened my mind and I have become more tolerant towards others.
The subjects of human rights, environment and rule of law which I studied at the SDC training course are very important to me because I have learned to respect the rights of others and to take responsibility in my life. Before doing anything, I think carefully about not affecting or abusing the rights of others. After attending this training course, I have stopped throwing trash on the road carelessly. Now, if I buy some thing with plastic from the market, I throw it into a trash bin after using it instead of throwing it on the road. I have learned how to solve problems justly if there is a problem between myself and a friend or among other people in our community. Before attending the SDC training course, I did not have this skill, and I usually did not try to participate or help to solve problems and often tried to avoid or ignore the issue. Now I seek to help others to solve problems justly without fearing others might hate me.
Human rights are very important to our community, because many people in our community and in the refugee camp lack knowledge of human rights or do not understand about human rights in detail. Because of this, many people, including young people under 18 years old, only look out for their own rights but do not take responsibility for the rights of others. In my opinion, if these people have the opportunity to learn about human rights in detail, they will understand how to respect others, how to protect their own rights, and at the same time they will understand how to take responsibility within their community.
The subject of environment is also very important to our community. Wherever I go, I see a lot of trash such as plastics, cans and rubber shoes on the roads even though there are many trash bins in our community. Many people in our community still need to learn about the environment so that our environment will be better day by day. In this way our community will be able to ensure a healthy environment for our future.
In my opinion, rule of law is not fully implemented in our community today even though we have courts and a judiciary system. Most of the young people in our community do not follow or obey the regulations agreed upon by the legislators in the Karenni refugee camps. I think most people in our community still need to learn about rule of law to implement our laws and regulations effectively in our community.
After finishing this training course, I intend to apply to Burma Lawyer Council (BLC) training school in Mae Sot, Thailand. In the future I hope to become a lawyer to serve my community. If I am not accepted to the training program, I intend to apply to an organization in our community to try to improve my skills for my future life.
In my opinion it is important and essential for our community to have a training course like SDC. I hope the SDC training course will continue to educate our new generations about human rights, the environment and rule of law because most of the people in our community lack this knowledge. I think without this knowledge, it will be difficult for us to achieve a real democratic system in Burma. The SDC training course is an important step towards creating peace in Burma. I hope if we can continue this training course, we will be able to produce more people who are educated in human rights, environment and rule of law, so that we can work towards building real democracy, peace and sustainable development in our community.