More From Alder's Ledge

December 13, 2013

Gifts Of The Spirit

Family Isn't Always Flesh And Blood
(The Darkness Visible series)

(Shan Refugees In Koung Jor Shan Refugee Camp)
(Image via Al Jazeera)

This post contains spiritual content that may not match the views of all Alder's Ledge's team members. The views contained here are not meant to evangelize or any given faith over another. The sharing of these views is meant only to challenge the notions of what it means to be a "screamer". These are for illustrative purposes and to help those reading get to know our staff a little better.

Every new year brings people around the world a sense of hope and the promise of a fresh start. We celebrate the passing of the old year as we envision a year of endless possibilities just around the corner. In the West we use champagne and long nights of parties to somewhat drown the sorrows that had come our way and forget the pain of the past year. Yet for refugees around the world there is no such relief. The sting of a endless years of sorrow has a way of blurring the line between one year and the next.

The Shan people who comprise the Koung Jor refugee camp, just north of Chiang Mai, Thailand, recently celebrated the Shan New Year for the first time in their camp of about 500 refugees. Some of these refugees have spent decades trying to remain invisible as war has ravaged their homeland. Pushed over the border by ruthless elements of Burma's government, these refugees have suffered every indignity Myanmar could bring upon them. They are victims of ethnic cleansing and yet during this celebration the irony of smiles and sincere moments of joy washed over the faces of these refugees.

We, in our homes halfway around the world, meanwhile prepare for a holiday season of overindulgence and purchasing of gifts we don't necessarily need. We lavish our friends and family with material wealth even when we don't need to. And all the while these displays we so often associate with our holidays have nothing to do with the meaning of those said occasions. No amount of gifts, no amount of food or drink, no amount of time spent shopping, or any amount of time preparing actually can be linked to the reasons we are supposed to be celebrating. All these excesses, however, do just the opposite as they wipe away our smiles and sincere moments of joy we should be finding in those holidays spent with family.

There is nothing noble about the downtrodden, they aren't really any different than you or I. The only difference is what they have been through. They didn't choose to be cast aside and abused by a nation of ideologically driven politicians. They didn't want to be driven from their homes and forced to become aliens in a foreign land. Yet here is the catch... the difference that makes all the difference in the world... they find the meaning of a holiday, a celebration, in the one thing that we all should always remember. Family.

Recently I celebrated Hanukkah with my family. Every year this holiday has the task of giving gifts much like those given at Christmas by our Christian friends. Yet it also has another blessing in it that can't be purchased and isn't received by the family G-d gave me... at least not in the traditional sense. This blessing, this gift of the spirit behind the holiday, is the bringing of light to a dark and cold world. It is the blessing of giving of both my time, money, and any other resources I might have to those in need. It is the part of this holiday that I have grown to love the most. For it is the part of this holiday that reminds me of what family really means.

Over the years I have found family in some of the most bizarre places. A sister in Thailand, China, Burma, Korea, England... A brother in Canada, California, Japan, Croatia... Everywhere I have turned G-d has shown me that there isn't a person alive that isn't my brother, my sister, my beloved family. Our color, our creed, our faith cannot matter to me. For inside my Master has placed a fire that burns without end, a love for a family that knows no borders or limits.

For this reason the chance to give of myself to those who need it most is one that surpasses any gift I could ever receive. That chance to help bring a smile a face that has been missing that feeling for far too long... that is what every holy day embodies. It is in this service to others that we find what G-d meant when He told us to love Him, fear Him, and be of service to Him.

My beloved sister, in all her wisdom for such a young soul, reminds me often that in her practice of Buddhism the idea of serving others is essential to the growth of the spirit. In her work to help others she revels in the opportunity to learn from others' experiences, both bad and good. And by coming alongside them she is able to help those in need as they get back on their feet. But more importantly, she finds what it means to be family even with those who aren't our own flesh and blood.

For our Muslim staff the command in their faith to give charitably is a major part of their holy days. I have always cherished the moments where I have gotten to celebrate with them. To give to their causes and come alongside them as a brother during these holy times.

And for our atheist members, some of our most bold screamers, the notion that we are all a family of sorts is just as relevant. They challenge me to look beyond my faith, my people, and my own limitations to find new ways to serve others. These members remind me constantly that we are all born with a desire to be happy, free, and to feel the love of others.

What better way to show that love than to serve?

The people of Burma are suffering in ways that most of us will never truly be able to understand. Children there have seen things that they should never have had to lived through. Mothers in Burma have had to watch their children die right before their eyes. Fathers have had to live with the humiliation of not being able to provide for their families. Sons have watched their mothers and sisters be raped by a military that uses sex as a weapon. Daughters have had to care for their siblings after their parents were slaughtered like animals by barbaric mobs.

Every minority in Myanmar has a long sad story to tell a world that is hellbent on remaining deaf. Their voices have been stifled by the greed of a world ready to exploit the newly opened up country in which they live. And for many, their very existence is placed in question as countless genocides continue to set Burma's countryside ablaze.

This is why your service to them, your family, is needed beyond what words can fully express.

There are several ways that you can get involved and start serving the Rohingya, Shan, Wa, Kachin, Karen, Chin, and other minorities in Burma. The first is rather simple, and that is to start reading every bit of information you can get your hands on. Learn their stories, learn their plight, and learn what the issues they face mean to them as a people. Take in every article, every report, and every tweet or blog post you can find about the suffering in Myanmar.

Next comes the work of any and all screamers...

Start spreading the articles and information you gather. By posting this information to your social media outlets you start the process of screaming. This starts by reaching out to your friends and contacts online. Yet it is just the start. You must take this information and start spreading it to people face to face. By having that one on one contact you have the ability to engage the other person not just on an intellectual basis but have the chance to put some heart into it... emotions after all, make the information stick.

Next you need to start contacting your government officials. If you are in America this means that you must contact your representatives in Congress. It means that you need to bombard your officials in your state house and your governor (many states will attempt to forge new economic relationships with Myanmar). You must keep your government officials accountable for their lack of action when dealing with ethnic cleansing and genocide.

This is just a start when it comes to serving of your times and energy. And many of us who scream on a regular basis do most of these things without relent. These are our daily struggle as we serve those the world so often forgets. Yet this isn't the only way we need to be serving our family, our fellow man.

Charitable giving isn't just a part of the holidays. It isn't something that need be waited for. It is something that we should be doing on a regular basis. And if you do, then let me take a moment to thank you for your selfless generosity. But for far too many of us there are times where we hold back and tell ourselves that our actions and effort is more than enough... but it isn't.

In a world where money is a god in it's own right the act of charity must be continuous. No matter how little it might be, the act of giving of our own wealth to those who are without is an act that blesses both the recipient and the donor alike. It is an act that should be done without seeking of recognition. It is an act that should be done without concern for what that money could had been used for in our own financial needs. It should be given freely and without stipulation. And it must be readily given without hesitation.

For those who would wish to do this during the holiday season we here at Alder's Ledge would like to invite you to join us as we give to Partners Relief & Development.

The wonderful people at Partners Relief & Development have been serving the people of Burma for years. Their endless work on behalf of the refugees and oppressed within Myanmar is the sort of service we all should strive for. It is a selfless giving to those most in need that gives freely and without reservation. People like Oddny Gumaer are personal role models to the staff here at Alder's Ledge.

You can learn more about Myanmar and give to Partners Relief & Development by visiting their website: 

Please join us this holiday season in our efforts to scream for the oppressed and those in need across Myanmar. Your voice can help bring about an end to the suffering of thousands of refugees and internally displaced peoples in Burma. Your efforts can bring hope to those who have lived without it for decades. And your donations can keep vital workers in the field as they bring life saving medicines, food and water, and much needed help to the suffering in Myanmar.

Want to know more about becoming a screamer? 
Contact the author on twitter: @alders_ledge
Or a member of our staff: @AL_Staff

Source Documents 
(note: not all sources listed)

Partners Relief And Development

Al Jazeera 


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