Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ex-Cheney pupil tells of Burmese refugee work

WHEN Ian Werrett learned of the actions of the brutal military junta in Burma, he knew he had to act in the most direct way possible.
And back home in Oxford after 18 months helping refugees from the South East Asian country, he’s raring to return to the region to continue his work.
The former Cheney School pupil said: “I developed an interest in South East Asian politics while studying at the University of Kent and when I learned what the government was doing in Burma, especially to the children, I knew I had to do something to help them.
“I had read reports of children being raped and burned alive.
Working in a youth centre in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, Ian, 25, from Headington, saw first hand the impact of the regime.
The Burmese junta is accused of persecuting all ethnic minorities, wiping out entire villages, systematically raping women and girls, and forcing young boys to become child soldiers.  The US State Department has labelled it a “country of particular concern”, the worst rating for violations of religious freedom. Freedom of speech and movement are also greatly restricted and torture is common place in Burma’s many prisons, leading many people to flee to neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand.
Mr Werrett worked out of the KL Krash Pad youth centre in Chow Kit, a low income, high-crime area of Kuala Lumpur, and stayed at a small flat nearby.
He said: “Most could not speak English or Malay and it took time to adjust to local culture and laws.
“I tried to help the Burmese refugees by providing the basic goods, such as food and medicine, as well as education for the children.”
The children yearn for education, he said, while school supplies were “treated like birthday presents”.
He recalled one refugee who told him how the military would visit his village most weeks to take boys for the army and rape girls and women.
Mr Werrett recalled him saying: “When we did not have time to run to the forest my family dug a hole in the ground – we would cover the hole and bury ourselves in there.”
Mr Werrett said: “Perhaps most worrying was the young man who told me how some people had even fled Burma and left their very young children behind.
“They were too poor to pay for their children to go with them.”
He is now seeking a job to fund another trip next year to continue his work.
He said: “I feel incredibly lucky, now I am back in Oxford, for the wealth of human rights and democracy we enjoy here.  “The main thing I take away from my time with the Burmese refugees is the ability to enjoy life regardless of circumstance.
“Although they had fled a genocide and struggled to provide food for their families, they were some of the happiest and kindest people I have ever met.”