3,000-mile mission: Peace in Burma -4th June 08
For two months and three days, he has walked.
From Oregon to Oswego, he’s walked. Two flags perched on his shoulder: One, the American flag; the other, representing peace in his homeland, Burma.
Whether it’s a 90-degree Chicago summer, or a snowy mountain he’s forced to climb, Athein — who goes by only one name — will relentlessly endure it, because to him, he must.
He plans to reach New York by foot, petition in hand, to save the people in the country he fled seven years ago. The camouflage-clad 35-year-old father of three young girls walks through countrysides and city streets, more than 3,000 miles, spreading his story about the genocide, torture and the inconceivable living conditions he was lucky to escape. He walks for those who couldn’t.
“They are in a very dangerous situation,” Athein said of the people who live in the country now called Myanmar. “I showed a picture (of the tragic conditions) to my daughter. She said, ‘Why do they kill the people, daddy?’ and I could not explain.”
Almost 400,000 people have been displaced from their homes in the eastern region of Burma, due to fighting between the Burmese military and members of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army. Then recently almost 10,000 people were killed when a cyclone ripped though the Southeast Asian country, but the government refused to accept outside aid.
“This is a real story,” he said. “Not Hollywood.”
The petition in Athein’s bag calls for “members of the United Nations to make peaceful political change and reconciliation in Burma a priority, and to take all necessary steps to protect the people of Burma from the oppression and violence of the military junta.”
To date, his petition has been signed by thousands.
Athein will present the petition to members of the United Nations on Aug. 8, when he arrives in New York — 20 years to the day that the Burmese military gunned down 3,000 demonstrators in the now infamous 8-8-88 ( Aug. 8, 1988 ) protests that, as a young boy, he was a part of.
“I tell my daughter, ‘Don’t cry, this is for you,'” he said, sipping out of his water canteen after carefully walking across the median of the Route 30 bridge in Montgomery.
Cars honked, people waved, and drivers offered well-wishes as Athein and fellow activist Zaw Min Htwe, 27, walked along Oswego streets. Through their travels, they are fed, and sometimes sheltered (depending on the day) through the generosity of people — all while keeping a 30-mile-a-day pace.
“Everything in my life, I give for peace and freedom,” he said, including an extra 15 pounds he’s lost along the way.
“You don’t need to go to LA Fitness,” Athein said with a giggle before he continued walking. “Just come on and follow me!”