Voices from Kayah: "Don’t know if there is anything left to call home"
A father who wishes he could have warned his son about the risk of landmines near their village.
A mother who held her newborn close as she sought shelter and safety.
Parents who left their children at a church for safety while they risked their lives to return to their village to support the family.
These are some of the stories that we heard while meeting with displaced communities in Loikaw, following intense fighting in Demoso, Hpruso, Pekon and other parts of Kayah and Shan states in Myanmar.
"I thought the fighting would only last for one or two days," said Ma Kyi Kyi*, a mother of three children who has been moving from one displacement site to another in search of safety.
"When the fighting first broke out, we ran to a village near Hsi Hseng Township in southern Shan State," she said. It was her first-time leaving home.
We stayed there for one month with no electricity or water. Life is hard over there.
People displaced by violence often have to seek shelter in remote areas without safe and sustainable access to healthcare, education and livelihood opportunities. The lack of healthcare facilities poses a particular risk during the flu season and for communities without access to clean water, which can lead to the spread of waterborne diseases.
"We decided to come back to Loikaw in Kayah State as it is closer to our village. Now, I have been here for more than a year," Ma Kyi Kyi said.
I don't even know when I can go home, and I don't know if there is anything left to call home.
Increased clashes since the beginning of the year have seen thousands flee Kayah State to seek shelter not just in towns like Loikaw but also across southern Shan State. Monasteries, churches or the homes of extended family have served as places of shelter in Shan townships like Taunggyi, Hsi Hseng, Pinlaung, Nyaung Shwe, Kalaw, Pindaya, Lawksawk and Laihka.
With the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS), the ICRC in Myanmar has sought to help communities affected by violence in Kayah and southern Shan since January this year. From January to July, more than 4300 families across southern Shan received urgent food rations, including rice, peas, oil and salt. In Kayah State, since May, we've helped more than 1000 families with financial support to cover their basic needs.
Daw Thiri Khaing* is one of those we were able to help in Kayah. Now sheltering in a monastery in Loikaw, she said, "with this cash, I plan to buy medicine and spend some on my child's education. I will save the rest for an emergency."
Besides cash assistance, our teams also provide hygiene and sanitation system support, which is crucial to good health.
"Last time, we helped to build new latrines and improve old ones," one of our colleagues said. "On this trip, we built more latrines in places that we weren't able to reach earlier."
While we continue to support all people in need, there is always more we can do. We plan to return and support displaced communities in southern Shan and Kayah as soon as possible. For this to happen, it is vital that humanitarian access be preserved.
*Names changed to protect identity.