The triumph of hope

Karen children in church

Karen children

These two young girls are refugees.

This photograph was taken in MaeLa camp in Thailand near the border with Burma. At the time the photo was taken, in late 2005, the camp was home to around 48,000 Karen people and only one of a number of camps along the border.

In January 1984 the Burmese Army launched an offensive against the Karen National Union (KNU) and the first refugees fled across the border to Thailand. Over a period of 20 years, almost 3,000 ethnic villages in the east of Burma were destroyed by civil war affecting at least one million people. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Karen, were displaced inside Burma while the population of the refugee camps, over the border in Thailand, increased to over 150,000.

The Karen are an indigenous people to Thailand and Burma. Traditionally, most Karen are farmers who cultivate the nutrient rich soils of southern Burma and eastern Thailand. The religion of the Karen majority is Animism and Buddhism although there is also a sizable population of Christians accounting for approximately 30 per cent of the population. These two girls were photographed in one of approximately 40 churches in the MaeLa camp and, although I can’t be certain, they were possibly born in the camp.

Their happy, smiling faces were so typical of the Karen people and they were clearly intrigued by the foreigners in their midst. I deliberately chose a slow shutter speed to emphasise their movement as they fidgeted happily to the music and singing. I see this as a photograph of hope and the triumph of innocence over conflict.

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