Students eat rice to help Burmese refugees
RICE has a big future in Australian lunchboxes, judging by the contented smiles on the faces of St Joseph's Primary School students in Alstonville yesterday.
In a fundraising day for Burmese refugees, victims of the decades-old civil war between ethnic minorities and the ruling military, the 230 students ate rice and wore traditional Burmese attire and face paint.
Burma, today known as Myanmar is emerging from 50 years of isolation with the extent of the human cost only now becoming apparent.
Since 1997, the military government has destroyed some 3500 villages in north east Burma alone, says Partners Relief and Development, a charity founded in Alstonville to help Burmese refugees and now active in seven countries.
Refugees such as the Karen people inhabit camps on the border with Thailand, while others roam the country in makeshift camps to evade capture.
Many children are orphans, escapees from village massacres.
St Joseph's Primary School brother and sister Daniel and Sophie Pereira visited the border camps with their parents last year.
Daniel and Sophie's grandparents are Burmese - they immigrated to Australia more than 40 years ago - and the children have extended family members in refugee camps.
"My dad's cousin is at a refugee camp right now," Sophie, 10, said.
"It was weird seeing people without proper homes ... they don't have doors or windows, just gaps."
Some refugees had lost limbs, victims of the thousands of land mines which still riddle the country.
"They didn't talk much but they were really good at singing," Daniel, 8, said.
"They sang in their language and we sang in ours."
Of the experience, the children agreed that gratitude was the number one lesson.
"Since I've been there I've been a lot more grateful."