Soccer Walls and Updates

Despite the human rights abuses, the poverty, the corruption, and the waste, I’m still a nut for the World Cup. I love seeing competition bring people together, watching which players will show their best and which will show their worst. I love seeing the greatness of the world’s elite athletes on full display. I love the battle for position, the chess-like strategy, the heroics, the scrapy-ness of the smaller countries, and the pressure on the perennial powerhouses.

A few weeks ago, before all the excitement bubbled over in Brazil, an organization I’ve been friendly with, the Burma Community Rangers Organization, hosted a huge soccer tournament. There were 16 teams hailing from five different states, all refugees from Burma. There were teams organized based on tribe and others organized based on refugee camp of birth. Their very own Burma Cup, entitled A Moment To Reflect Soccer Tournament.

For those of you who don’t know the history of the people of Burma, they are a former British colony with as much ethnic and religious diversity as any country on Earth. The people from each different state (e.g., Chin, Karen, Karenni, Daichin, Burmans) speak different languages. And each tribe from within each state has its own dialect. The tribes and peoples have a history of fighting, dominating, and oppressing each other. With a balanced mix of Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist, add religion to the ethnic challenges only heightens the walls these varying peoples have constructed between each other. “Did you know Muslims in Burma drink human blood?” That’s what one Christian girl told me her daddy tells her. The divides are deep and the walls are high. More walls. Even here in America, the land of the free, there remains deep-ceded disrespect, suspicion, and prejudices between each other.

This is the context in which the Moment to Reflect Soccer Tournament was played. I was fortunate enough to take part in the opening ceremonies which seemed to have lots of fervent energy among the youth, all ready to take to the pitch. As the tournament carried on over two days, I saw all the same things I see in the World Cup. Fierce competition, victory, defeat, disappointment, desperation, sportsmanship–the good and the bad–and much more. You saw walls being broken down, you also saw arrows being shot from one wall to another. One game didn’t even complete because of in-fighting among players from different tribes.

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It is a challenge for the communities from Burma to integrate into United States culture. It’s a challenge for each community to stabilize itself here. And it is still a challenge for them to work together and trust each other. Maybe beyond learning English, finding a job, and educating their children, breaking down the walls they have built between each other is the real key to their integration into the USA. We Americans have had our own historical struggles in this regard, and we struggle still, but I think what has made America great (if there is greatness at all) is the People’s willingness to struggle with the issues of race, slavery, speech and religion.

So it is with much excitement and terror that I have accepted the extreme challenge of part-time Director of Burma Community Rangers. This is Update One. I will be working about 30 hours a week serving refugees from Burma, fundraising, helping with integration, playing with youth, breaking down walls, and growing leaders. I will be working for BCR as I wind down my law practice over the next 12 to 15 months. I know it will feel like I’m working two full-time jobs for a while, but I’m looking forward to this new challenge in leading a tiny, grass roots organization dedicated to bettering the lives of the vulnerable. And I’m looking forward to working with some of you in doing so!

Update Two: Art. They say (I don’t know who says) that the best way to fight graffiti in your city is to paint over it. If the graffiti comes back, paint over it again. And again. Eventually the street artists lose interest because their work is constantly painted over. We’ve taken a similar approach at Spencer Garrett Community Garden. When upwards of 200 pieces of children’s art was stolen last October, we resolved to have the kids keep painting. We raised some extra funds and had the kids painting again last weekend at a garden work day. We experimented with some different techniques this time around. We ended up with some beautiful pieces the kids put together. We think you will enjoy these photos:

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Update Three: Chin Wedding Bells. For those of you who haven’t seen the photos already, here are some pictures from our work as ushers in a Chin wedding a couple weeks ago. The groom was a friend of ours and we had a blast being a part of the cast and crew. The best part about being ushers is you don’t have to actually sit through the whole wedding, which was entirely in the Chin or Burmese languages–you can just goof off in the back.

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That’s all from Saudi Aurora. Until next time!

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