Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 20, 1999
From prayer to action
Local businessman hears call to help Burmese refugees
By GLEN ARGAN
Going on retreat while working in Thailand turned into more than a time of prayer for Edmonton resident Chris Dodd.
It linked him with Jesuits in the Southeast Asian country who helped him eventually work in a camp which serves refugees fleeing Burma's military dictatorship.
"I just got tired of this business of making money for myself," said Dodd who has run an import-export business based in Edmonton and Thailand for the past 10 years. "I was anxious to do something that would please Our Lord."
At first, the Jesuits at Seven Fountains Jesuit Mission in Chiangmai, Thailand, had him deliver food to an orphanage in which children infected with HIV lived.
There, Dodd linked up with COERR - the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees - set up by Thailand's Catholic bishops.
COERR needed someone to teach English to Burmese refugees who had been approved for resettlement in another country. Only about 600 of the 120,000 refugees in camps in Thailand have been approved for resettlement - mainly because they are the ones in greatest danger if they return to Burma. Many of them were among the students in a pro-democracy demonstration in Rangoon (Burma's capital) on Aug. 8, 1988, where the military slaughtered hundreds of people.
"All of the other refugees are sitting in limbo," Dodd said.
He was just the man to teach English to refugees. He was a native English-speaker and had been a volunteer ESL teacher at Edmonton's Sacred Heart School.
For the last year, he has driven 25 km every day to the refugee camp near the Thai-Burmese border where he works.
Some of the refugees have been there as long as six years, even though they have been approved to go to one of the three countries accepting refugees from Burma - Canada, the United States and Australia.
Dodd's most difficult task is "trying to create motivation in people who are just waiting and waiting."
Attendance at ESL and other classes - such as sewing, mechanics, computer and typing - is sporadic because of the apathetic attitude of people who have no idea what the future holds for them. Many at the camp have turned to drugs for solace because of their situation.
"I can't help everyone in that camp because some don't want to be helped," Dodd said. "But I can help some. And they're the ones that bring me joy."
The 1988 massacre was followed by a military takeover in 1990, the day after 90 per cent of Burmese voted for democratic rule under Aung San Siu Shi.
San Siu Shi, the 1992 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, remains under house arrest. Meanwhile, military power in Burma grows unabated. The Burmese military supply 60 per cent of the world's heroin - a business which gives them American dollars which they trade to China for land mines to control their own people.
Forced child labour and rape are common in Burma, Dodd said. Villagers are sometimes used as porters who carry material at the front of a convoy. If a land mine goes off, it is the villager who is maimed or killed.
"The atrocities are going on," said Dodd. "But how do they ever get reported? Who is there to report them?"
"The situation is not improving and it doesn't look like it will for the foreseeable future."
Although 120,000 Burmese are in Thai refugee camps, more than a million Burmese are thought to be in the country, creating huge strains on the government and villages close to the border.
As well as distributing food, medicine, educational supplies and sports equipment in the refugee camps, COERR also is beginning to help the Thai villages suffering from an influx of people fleeing the military dictatorship.
Dodd sings the praises of the Canadian Embassy in helping the refugees. "It's a real leader in this situation and I'm very proud to be Canadian as a result of it."
Donations to aid the refugees or requests for more information can be sent to: Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees, 122-122/1 Soi Naksuwan, Nonsi Road, Chongnonsi, Yannawa, Bangkok 10120 Thailand.