The five mothers sitting on plastic chairs beside me were decidedly cool while I sweated in the heat that was building, even on what was a relatively cool Myanmar morning. They were dressed in beautiful saris and long, colorful skirts and headscarves, and smiled widely in welcome. Through translation from English to Burmese to a local dialect of Arabic, I explained I had come from the US to visit the Save the Children program here in this camp for internally displaced families and wanted to hear their stories… stories of how they came to be in a teeming, dirty camp only six miles from their homes in the nearby town. Homes they had not seen now for more than three years—homes that no longer existed after they were forced to leave.
One by one, they told me about their lives before – as a rice trader, a bicycle repair shop owner, and one lady whose livelihood was the family coconut mat and bamboo shop. Several were at home with young children. They described a past life of simple pleasures and peace, room for their children to grow up and a decent school for them to attend. Although all of them were poor, they worked hard to have enough to send their children to school, get medical help when needed, and make sure they had a childhood. That was before, what they call, “the events.”