Photo Credit: Sara Palawng Naw Tawng
Under the auspicious of the KAA (Kachin American Association), Kachin in the United States convened the 21st Annual Kachin Christian Family Camp at Warren Willis Camp in Florida from May 26 – 29, 2017. Several hundreds of Kachin across the U.S. and those coming all the way from Burma attended the three-day event. KLN’s Tsa Doi La was fortunate enough to have witnessed the gathering and camp activities in the sunshine state.
KLN interviewed several camp organizers, Kachin community leaders and guests who turned up at the camp. The following are answers provided by some interviewees:
Rev. Lamung Tu Lum:
“I am Lamung Tu Lum of Jacksonville, one of the main organizers of the 21st Kachin Christian Family Camp (KCFC) here in the state of Florida. There are approximately over 200 registered guests excluding kids and we estimate over sixty day guests are also participating in several programs. In total, I can confidently say not less than 300 people are taking part in this year’s camp. As you can see our small kitchen is extremely busy since the majority of Kachin do not enjoy American food. To be honest, we are still in ecstasy having just won the men’s soccer tournament. In fact, this is the result of our hard work having been practising at least for two hours every Sunday after church.”
When asked to evaluate the camp programs and activities, “Many are repeat campers and they already know what to do. Those coming from far away places like Burma are still having jet lag and confused about day and night. Some arrived a week earlier and church members in Jacksonville have been hosting them. Especially, the elderly cannot take part in every program. It is just too much for them. Overall, the camp is an immense success!”, said Sara Tu Lum with a winning smile.
Pastor Hpakawn Ja Yung:
“My name is Ja Yung, pastor of the Kachin community in New Orleans. There are about seven of us coming from the state of Louisiana and this is my fourth time having participated in KCFC. It is a blessing to have been able to meet up with friends, acquaintances including people from far away places. I am massively encouraged to have witnessed another Kachin gathering again. During the camp, I was able to share the gospel with camp attendees.”
When asked to talk about the weak points of the camp, “ Well, there will always be shortcomings in everything we do. But I just want to offer my constructive criticism. Based on camp experiences in the past, we have to keep improving program itineraries and add more interesting activities.” Pastor Ja Yung added.
“It is costly and extremely tough for everyone to attend the camp every year, thus, we have decided to convene the camp every other two years instead of having it annually. The 22nd Kachin Family Camp in 2019 will likely be held in Louisiana, where I am from. I have yet to discuss with church members when I get back. For those who have never made it to Kachin camp till now, I encourage you to do so in the future. We welcome you all with open arms from the Bayou State”, he concluded.
Zahkung Nang Sam:
I am from Jacksonville, Florida. Along with Lamung Kaw Mai and Nban Htu Sam, I prepare and sell food to camp attendees who crave for homemade Kachin food at a very reasonable price of $5 a meal. This is for church fund and we also have teenagers and young adults volunteering in the kitchen. I have my sushi business but I took off since Thursday to shop and start preparing food. We spent the entire Friday preparing and cooking food as guests began arriving on Friday evening. The kitchen is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We stay open until 2 a.m. and we get up at 5 a.m. every day. Basically, we sleep only for three hours during these days. We are busiest during lunch and dinner times. You know, we are hosting the camp this year, we must be hospitable, not disappoint our guests and fulfill our host duties as Kachin must,” she patiently explained with a tired but happy smile.
When asked about what the most popular dishes they have been selling are, all the ladies including the two young girls who are volunteering promptly said in unison “Mishay Khao Swe and Kachin barbecue!”
When asked again to offer tips for those who will be taking charge of the kitchen in the next KCFC, “Everyone is busy and we have to prepare everything within a few days. The most important thing, I think, is a volunteering spirit and enthusiasm is required to do such things with love. But God is able and I am sure they will be fine. The camp attendees do not seem to enjoy the American food served by the Warren Willis Camp staff especially those coming from Burma. We have approximately over 30 people from Burma who are staying at the camp, with additional more than 20 day guests from the homeland.” Nang Sam added.
Sara Peter La Aung:
“I am based at Chiang Mai, Thailand. There are three of us from Thailand who have made it to this KCFC; however, we all go separate ways when the camp is over. As for myself, I will be heading towards Indiana to see family and friends there. I will be staying in the U.S. for 2 more months before heading back home.” Sara La Aung stated.
When asked about his honest opinion on camp activities, “I have got a feeling this is the last Kachin American generation which I can still connect to. The generation gap will just grow wider as young Kachin kids will completely get Americanized. But I encourage all Kachin to participate in such events at least once in a lifetime,” he promptly added.
Gawlu Htu San:
“I come all the way from Myikyina, Kachin State. I am a permanent member of the Dap Kawng church choir. I landed at the Jacksonville airport on 21st May. This is my very first time visiting the U.S. and I was actually shocked having not seen many people in the streets even a few days after my arrival. Everything is so quiet here. My camp experience is great. I wish there was enough time for many wonderful sermons. I also wish there were other activities such as knowledge exchange and networking programs among young adults. I will be flying to New York to see family after the camp.”, said Htu San.
When asked about her view on overall camp experience, “Coming here and meeting Kachin from Burma and various U.S. states, I have become more convinced that where we live doesn’t matter, but how we see/identify ourselves does. We have to be more united to become one single force”, she concluded.
Rev. Lasaw Yaw Ba:
“I serve as the vice president of the Kachin American Baptist Association also known as the KABA. This is my 21st time attending the KCFC. I have never missed a single one since its maiden convention. In fact, I was one of the foremost camp organizers along with a few Kachin friends who migrated to the U.S. decades before the late comers. The first such Kachin camp was organized and held in 1999 in the state of California. After having a lengthy discussion during the KABA bi-annual meeting, the board members finally decided to convene the camp every other two years due to many difficulties. Looking back, I can confidently say that the recent camps we have been organizing are far more successful than the camps several years ago. We are able to get visas for famous artists, dancer performers, professionals from Burma to join us here. We have included youth programs where we discuss about education and exchange of ideas is also greatly encouraged,” said Rev. Yaw Ba.
When asked about the camp’s weak points, “ Well, we Kachin have not learnt how to respect time. Although people vigorously participate in several camp activities, they usually arrive late, which can be very frustrating for camp organizers. It might also have to do with the soccer tournament. Many are absent during the day due to the games. We Kachin cannot compare ourselves to other groups such as the Japanese, Chinese, Korean or Filipino who have been here for several generations. I cannot stress enough how crucial education is when it comes to upward social mobility for Kachin community. We come from a destitute country like Burma, but the young must pursue higher education while they work.” he further explained.
“The KCFC is organized and sponsored by the Kachin American Association (KAA). There are five objectives for convening the KCFC.
To not lose our Christian faith in this new land.
To promote higher education among Kachin.
To encourage community involvement.
To foster a volunteering spirit for Kachin causes
To maintain our languages/traditions and to not forget Kachin IDPs from motherland.
The KAA is all-inclusive. Every Kachin is welcome to join and participate in KAA programs.” concluded Sara Yaw Ba.
Sumlut Ban Htang:
“It is my first time visiting Orlando, Florida. I am a second year Feminist Liberation Theology student at a university in Boston, Massachusetts. During the three-day camp, I’ve made many new friends, seen my relatives and got a chance to interact with other pastors. It is a great networking opportunity for me. My most favorite thing at the camp is learning about the KAA history by Sara Sumhka Seng Nan. There was a youth panel discussion last night where participants exchanged their views and addressed the identity of Kachin Americans. I found it to be very intriguing.” said Ban Htang.
When asked about her least favorite thing about the camp and to offer advice to future camp organizers, “Well like other Kachin camps I have attended, the programs are not always well-organized. There is rampant lack of respect for time among camp attendees. The first day I arrived at the camp, I was lost not knowing what to do. No information was given to guests at all. Nevertheless, I think people should try to attend future camps if time and opportunity permit. For boys, you have the soccer tournament. For us girls, may be they can organize some sports competition such as volley ball, etc. There were very few people who took part in Saturday night games.” she added.
In addition to interviewing elders, camp hosts, volunteers and some guests, the KLN’s Tsa Doi La joined the informal discussion with a group of Kachin young adults outside of the camp ground. The actual names of interviewees have been changed to conceal their identities.
Tsawm Nwoi Pan:
“I love mingling with my people. I don’t know how to explain it. I it just a deep-seated and unfathomable feeling. I am still single. Kachin guys should step up and speak to me directly if they think I am a great girl. Don’t go around telling my family/friends instead. I like to hear it myself. The dating pool has become even smaller after the split of KBC and Madung churches. It is awfully frustrating but I only want a Kachin man by my side.”
“Kachin young adults must organize a camp for ourselves. The camp should welcome Kachin of all faiths and colors: Baptist, Catholic, Buddhist, Animist, and Atheist, straights, gays and lesbians. There must be no discussion about religion, purely business. If someone gets uncomfortable and must really pray to commence the gathering, let them say a short opening prayer. That’s it. Let everyone give a 10-15 minute presentation on who they are and what they do. We can then exchange our knowledge and professional work experiences in the U.S. And we can all hang out and party afterwards. Cross my heart and hope die, I will make it to such a gathering.”
“I like keeping my opinions to myself. Don’t ask me anything for I won’t say a thing. But you can see how delighted I am in the company of my Kachin friends. I just love connecting with other Kachin across the U.S. I enjoy listening to their stories. I laugh at all the funny jokes. I just wish we could do it more often. Oh how I wish this moment lasted forever!”
“I mean I work out. Come feel these guns, don’t be shy. I work for an elevator production company as a logistics specialist. The sales team overpromises the clients offering tight delivery deadlines. I have to beg/push the production team to speed up the process to meet these deadlines. Sometimes I feel like I’m the Martin Shkreli (voted as the most hated man in America in 2015) at my company lol. May be that’s why I end up hitting the gym to build bigger biceps haha. You know I’m just joking, right?” Hpaw Lam assured with a grin.
“I am currently taking many Business/accounting classes but I want to change my major to computer
science next semester. I wish I had someone to tell me what classes are useful to land a swell job after graduation. I’d really love to win an internship preferably with a tech/fintech company before finishing school. Have you heard of any Kachin working in one of these industries? I am dying to know what kinds of tools/software they use and what they do at work on a daily basis. Humm, how I wish we had a professional network where we can easily pose our questions and someone would share their insight.”
“I don’t usually drink wine but when I do, I must really eat those freaking cupcakes! Well, the gods smile at you my dear Put Sha. Indeed, today is your lucky day. Your Agu happens to work with statisticians, economists, financial engineers, data scientists and computer programmers. I could be wrong but I think to go into fintech, you should be taking statistics, financial mathematics, some accounting, and computer programming classes. At my work, I use SAS for modeling and predictive analytics, SQL/SAS for ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) jobs, Unix shell scripts for automation and batch processing, Oracle database for storing data, Excel for basic reporting and Tableau for interactive data visualization. We even have access to Bloomberg terminal if you are into trading stocks and investments banking. If you wish to get ahead of your peers, may be you can get something like an FRM(Financial Risk Manager) or CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) certification. These are globally recognized certifications which will make you stand out among the job applicants. Here is my number ‘xxx-xxx- xxxx’. Call me anytime when you have questions. No, don’t call me at 3 a.m. I will be snoring like a wounded warthog by then!” said Mijat Du with a know-it- all attitude.