February 24th, 2015.
In between a few dingy buildings and metal shacks, was a small dark storage room no bigger than 6x10ft. His leftover dinner hung on a string within a plastic bag from the ceiling, and his bed was a small bamboo mat. "Welcome to my home," he exclaimed with every bit of enthusiasm. I was invited into his home and into an opportunity in hearing the story of a man who's life was filled with tragedy and great hope.
I remember the day clearly. My students and I were brimming with excitement as we prepared to make that short trek over the bridge. With just a few steps, we'd be crossing the border from Thailand and into Burma. The agenda for the day kept us in eager expectation: we'd be working alongside and spending time with some locals at a nearby brick-making village. Afterwards, we'd make way to some other villages with the hopes of providing them some type of aid or comfort.
Upon entering Burma, I was greeted and introduced to a striking older Karen-Burmese gentlemen by the name of Myo. His english was impeccable, and his smile radiant. And like many of the people that have met and grown to know him, I was drawn to him and his charisma.
Fast forward to the latter part of the afternoon, our group had split up, and Myo had invited one of my hosts, Cole, on a tour around the neighborhood and offered to show him his home. I emphatically invited myself. As he navigated us through muddy alleys and dusty sidewalks, Myo greeted every neighbor along the way, reminding them of the love of God over their lives. I wandered a few paces ahead of him, wondering where is home was. He called for me, and I turned to see him unlocking the doors to a small cupboard.
Cole and I took a seat, as he began to share stories of his life in Burma. The horrors of a government committing decades of genocide, and what life was like living under government censorship. We laughed in shock and awe about his stories of Burmese imprisonment, what Yangon was like when he was a university student, and his crazy tales of coordinating underground government protests. My curiosity about his english was quenched when I learned that he had a PhD. in physics. Which then led to the deeper question, "why is he here?"
The word was that Myo was blacklisted by the government and exiled from his home. This was confirmed as the overall mood took a somber turn. The exuberant and bright persona shifted to something more contemplative and sorrowful, as his eyes shifted towards the past. "I just want to see my mother." Our hearts broke.
This weekend, I received news that Myo had suddenly passed away. I spent the last few days trying to process and remember the time I got to spend with him. Myo was a Karen who proudly displayed his colors, and carried abounding hope for Myanmar and for his ethnic people. His optimism and joy was infectious. He spoke with tears in his eyes about the importance of his people receiving a proper education, a better Burma, a free Burma. I recall a stillness in the air, a soft moment of vulnerability passing through that tiny dark room that smelled like generations of toil and sorrow.
This past week was particularly rough for me. Swings of depression and anxiety as I contemplated between getting a steady professional job versus pursuing this path as a photographer/filmmaker/writer. I received the news of Myo's passing, and I quickly dug into my hard-drive sorting through cluttered files for these images.
Going through the raw files once more, I sorted and edited these images with tears in my eyes as I began to realize how much of an impact this short moment left on me. Better yet, I was reminded that this is the very reason why I chose to pick up a camera and pen in the first place. I look back at these pictures and feel a nostalgic love that I had forgotten about. A moment to capture, and a life to share-- I remembered I took this leap to pass along the seeds of stories untold.
"God be with us," etched on the back wall, I can't express how thankful I am for these experiences and pictures. I'm a middle-class Korean-American who grew up in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. But beyond the luxury and privilege, I was reminded of my humanity and the things that truly matter.
So thank you Myo, and thank you Outpour Movement. Your legacy and your love lives on within the lives of millions. Your sacrifice made Burma a better nation, and your love and smile reminds me to take the courage to continue after these dreams.
Thank you. And I can't wait to see you soon.
For more information about the region and the work we were involved in, please visit Outpour Movement