Some of you have heard me speak of the Karen as that noble tribe, and may have wondered why I choose such a generous word to describe them. There are quite a number of reasons including their much lauded courage in fighting for the British in World War II, their famous hospitality, their self-effacing attitude, and their good humor despite all they have suffered over the years. But the reason I would like to add today is their honesty.
Over the years we have had many opportunities to help our Karen friends outside of the help we give them through BREF for their education. We have helped some with loans to buy a computer or buy a house or for other expenses. In my book I have written about K'Paw Htoo, a.k.a. Matter, who was for a while in some difficulty in Bangkok. We loaned him 1 thousand dollars in Thai baht, a considerable amount of money for poor refugees. It turned out that he was unable to use the money for its intended purpose, and when I returned the following year, he paid us back in cash every baht we had loaned him.
On or around 2005 Liz and I came in touch with the Peace Education Committee. This was a group of Karen dedicated to learning English, Democracy, and to serving their People. It was the mission of a young Japanese graduate student who had encountered the Karen refugees on a project he was doing as part of his Masters Degree. In the end his mission did not suceed, and the Peace Education Committee dissolved, but not without some positive lasting effects.
One of the most important for us was coming to know Kay Khu Paw. She was one of the members of the Peace Education Committee who learned English to a very high degree of proficiency, and for several years thereafter Kay Khu Paw would help us interview candidates for scholarships in our Leader-Intern program. She did this solely out of a desire to help her people and without any compensation from us.
One day Kay Khu Paw asked us for a loan and we were pleased to help her. However another person who was supposed to help Kay Khu Paw, actually stole the money from her. So Kay Khu Paw was left with nothing. Except for our concern for Kay Khu Paw herself, we were not troubled for any reasonable assessment of the work she had already done for us would have amounted to more than the loan. But Kay Khu Paw was not satisfied with simply leaving it there. A few years later she was able to immigrate to the U. S.
After getting a job and returning to school Kay Khu Paw wanted to pay us back for the loan we had given many years ago. I tried to refuse saying that she had already given more value to us in translating than the value of any loan she might have received. But she insisted, otherwise as she said "I would die with my open eyes". She also said she would be honored to work for BREF when she is in a position to do so. (I am very hopeful that will work out in the future.) I relented and Kay Khu Paw, a fine example of a noble Karen, is now paying us back.
I must hasten to add that it is not always just the Karen. Many times we have been asked by those whom we have helped, how they can return our gifts to them and we say that the best gift you can give us is to help others of your people who are in need. Some need a little further explanation, others get it right away. One is a Burman who wrote us recently about the floods that have come to his country. He is asking donations for the people whose lives have been devastated by the floods see pictures below:
This fellow whom I must not name for fear he will be suffer from the government, has taken upon himself the task of raising money to help his people suffering from the flood. Another one of our students of whom we are very proud.