His name was Myu Jat Aung. He was 11-months-old when he died on the afternoon of April 2, 2012.
The little boy–who would never see his first birthday–spent his final days at the Bum Ring Zup camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). The camp is located outside the town of Mai Ja Yang in Burma’s Kachin State, named after the Kachin people who constitute the majority of the population.
We arrived at the camp on the morning of April 3 and were told by our translator that we would be going to the funeral of a baby that had died the day before. I felt the tremendous weight of the news as we walked into the IDP barracks–a long string of approximately 6 by 8 foot rooms, each shared by a single family and separated from the next by sheets strung from the ceiling. Family and friends huddled in and around one of the rooms. Myu Jat Aung’s tiny body had been laid in the corner, sitting next to him were his mother and grandmother.
We were given seats directly across from the little boy as his grieving parents and grandparents came over to shake our hands. The family told us that we had been sent by God to help bring attention to what was happening to the Kachin people. I made a promise then to do the one thing we could: tell Myu Jat Aung’s story when we returned to the United States.
Displacement, Disease and Death
Myu Jat Aung wasn’t killed by the bullets, mortars or landmines frequently used by the Burmese army. However, the military’s violent targeting of civilians had set in motion a chain of events that led to this baby’s death.
His family, fleeing the attacks of the Burmese army, had sought safety and refuge in the IDP camps. Thanks to the surrounding community they were being fed, but local humanitarian groups told us that clean water, adequate sanitation and healthcare were difficult to come by.
Making matters worse, the Burmese government has been blocking international humanitarian aid to the region. The local community has given so much, but it’s becoming more and more difficult for businesses and families to find the resources to help those displaced. The aid that has trickled in from the world community has only scratched the surface.
Myu Jat Aung fell ill with diarrhea two weeks before his death. Over his last days, his health continued to deteriorate. He grew weaker and weaker. His tiny body gave out before the family could get him to a doctor.
Myu Jat Aung’s death came just one day after Burma’s by-election and just as the United Nations arrived to distribute food and other supplies. I’ll never forget the brand new UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) blankets that were wrapped around his tiny little body and the thought that he might still be alive if the UN has been permitted access to the region sooner.
I kept retracing the steps that led up to his death, thinking about all the moments along the way where something could have been done to prevent the awful outcome. It always came back to the Burmese army and the fact that Myu Jat Aung’s death could have been avoided if he and his family had never been forced to flee their village in the first place.
The day after Myu Jat Aung’s funeral, the United States announced that it would be easing sanctions against the regime. As we left the Mai Ja Yang area, the Burmese army was increasing its troop presence, threatening a further escalation of violence and worsening of the humanitarian situation.