Enote 37 – What We Believe

July 09, 2007

What We Believe:

Recently I had occasion to review some thoughts on our work and I thought I would share them with you. This statement was written just after the attacks on New York City and Washington in 2001.

Karen Girl

During the last decade, Liz and I have traveled to Asia many times to live and work with Burmese refugees. In starting out on this venture, we never anticipated how much we would learn from our refugee friends, and the extremely difficult, sometimes terrible, conditions of their lives. Over the years traveling back and forth between this precious country of ours with all of its freedoms that we sometimes take for granted, and the depressing confinement of the refugee camps where refugees seem to have no rights at all, a growing conviction has come upon us which we would like to share with you.

The refugees are very decent people, and they are hospitable to a fault, but they live in a society which has suffered deep wounds from years of war and abuse. When we first came to visit and to live with them, they built us a bamboo house, they fed us from their meager resources, they cleaned and cooked for us, and they shared their lives with us. It was then we began to hear their stories of individual and collective abuse taking place for over fifty years. We heard about young boys eager to fight the war that killed their parents sometimes before their own eyes, and about young girls tricked, captured and sold into sex-slavery. And we heard about much, much more. The society in Burma, after having suffered so much deceit, and treachery, is a sick society. None of us, who work on the border with these people, can imagine how peace can ever be restored to that tortured country. 
Americans on the whole are also very decent people. We have been most fortunate to live in a country which has protected us from the ravages of war and provided us with our liberties. Our democracy was left to us as the legacy of bright, well-educated, persons committed to providing us with the best government they knew how. This democracy is sustained by one of the most ambitious and broadly-based educational systems in the world. Education is the principal means by which societies preserve their most cherished values, and prepare their children for the future. How many times have you heard that the principal aim of education is good government? 
The words of H. G. Wells quoted from The Outline of History, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”, strike us as describing exactly the situation in Burma. We increasingly expect it describes other places as well including Burundi, Palestine, Afghanistan, and others. After the tragic events of September Eleventh, we have come to realize that catastrophe can visit us on our own homeland. Catastrophe engendered by dysfunctional societies can no longer be limited by geographic boundaries. It too has become global. Thus it is especially for us in the United States, the richest nation in the world and viewed as an oppressor by many of the disenfranchised people of the world, to understand that help to heal broken societies aside from being a humanitarian response from a generous people —which it is— is also a matter of enlightened self-interest. 

Karen BoyOur foundation seeks not to dwell on the threat of terror and evil in the world. We wish to bring a gentler message of kindness and support to refugees from Burma. We wish to give support for the aspirations of young adults for a better life for themselves and their people; support for young children learning to read and write so they may escape the slavery of ignorance and poverty; support for teachers, who against almost insurmountable odds, struggle to maintain their schools; support for the people’s right to determine their own future. In our view, education is the beginning of an answer to all of these needs. Education alone will not solve them of course, but without education even those with the best of intentions for their people will be ineffective or worse counterproductive. How effective would Aung San Suu Kyi, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, and others have been without education?
As an organization we do not take any political position, and we do not seek to indoctrinate our grantees in any particular philosophical, political, or religious belief. Neither do we discriminate against any ethnic or racial group. Indeed, we do not even follow the UN definition of refugees, for we know that itself to have resulted from a political process. We do believe strongly in forming partnerships with the people we help, in order to help them help others. And so we seek to help those who have a desire and commitment to serve their own people. Thus our two principal ideals are education and service.

We'd like to have your thoughts, send us an email or call.

Best Wishes,

Tom

Your day is not finished until you've done someone a favor.

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