Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Lost Tribe

All week, Al Jazeera has been running special coverage on the Hmong tribe of Laos. (Just when I thought I couldn't possibly love them more...) The features are on them if you can.

Before the 1960s, the Hmong were recruited and armed by the CIA to fight a civil war against the Communist Pathet Lao. When the war was lost and the country became Lao PDR, the CIA dropped them.
Many Hmong emigrated (about a third of those to the United States), some are living in abject poverty in Thailand. But some remained and found that their war simply would not end. Targeted for retribution by the victorious government, they had no choice but to remain in the jungle.
Let me repeat that...this is not some stubborn rebel militia, this is an entire tribe, including their children and their elderly, who spend their lives on the run from one jungle camp to the next, without food, without shelter, without healthcare. The weapons they received during their war are just about the only thing they own, and there seems to be no hope for reintegration in their immediate future.

(...) I walked among starving children, their tiny frames scarred by mortar shrapnel. Young men, toting rifles and with dull-eyed infants strapped to their backs, ripped open their shirts to show me their wounds. An old man grabbed my hand and guided it over the contours of shrapnel buried in his gut. A teenage girl, no more than 15, whimpered at my feet, pawed at my legs and cried, "They've killed my husband. They've killed my mother, my father, my brother �" (...)

I read this article when it first came out. There were pictures, some of which I still cannot get out of my head. This story is partly responsible for my choosing my field of work (peace & development), because I ended up with a ball of white hot rage inside my gut. That rage is still there, and it's fuelled almost every single day, but now I can at least channel it into something constructive.

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