Henry, the unsung hero

A Tribute to an Unsung Hero

By Michael Javier, CLM
When the Covid 19 pandemic and the political conflict happened in Myanmar, many people suffered economically, physically, mentally and emotionally. Among the most affected were the young people who wanted to finish their education in order to get a high-paying job. However, the pandemic and political conflict prevented them from achieving their goals. Schools were closed as mandated by the government. Many of these young people lost their hopes and dreams because they could not continue their studies.
One of them was Henry. I knew him when I was assigned to Banmaw, Kachin State back in 2019. Henry was a friendly guy. He was an English student of one of my colleagues. He was also my language interchange student when I was studying the Kachin language. When I first met him, he had already graduated from secondary school and was preparing for the matriculation exam. Although he was a smart guy, Henry failed the examination and could not proceed to college to take his desired course. He had to wait for another year to retake the exam. While waiting, Henry enrolled in a short medical course in Yangon. Henry lived in the shelter where the medical course was offered. At that time, the government was so strict because of the various rallies and demonstrations staged by the local people. Even the gathering of a few people was not allowed, and those who gathered could be arrested. Those living in the shelter had to be very careful because, during that time, some injured people came to the shelter seeking help and medication. There was a risk of the government harassing them if they were caught helping those who participated in the rally. On one occasion, the shelter experienced a surprise check by the military. Fortunately, those living in the shelter managed it well.
A few months after completing the medical course, Henry had his on-the-job training in some rural areas. These were not ordinary places in that there were many conflicts between the local civil group and the government armed group. Henry often encountered conflicts between the two groups, and there were times when bombs exploded near the medical team’s tent. He helped not only the local people but also the soldiers from the civil armed group who were wounded.
During his stay in some villages, Henry met people working for various Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) who also helped in providing medical support to the people. He made friends with them, and some of them encouraged him to go abroad. Because of that, he found the courage to take the risk to go out of Myanmar, though illegally, by crossing the border. He eventually reached Thailand to seek asylum and stayed in one of the migrant centers there. He waited for more than two months but nothing happened about his request for asylum due to incomplete documents. He was advised to go back to Myanmar to get the necessary papers. He could not do anything but return to his country of origin. Moreover, he hesitated returning to his hometown because he was afraid he might be arrested because of his work. However, he eventually decided to go home to his family and tried quietly to live his life as a normal young man.
When I learned that Henry had returned to Myanmar last October 2023, I contacted him and asked him if I could write his story. He told me he was happy for me to share it. He even sent me some of his action photos. Last month, March 2024, I was shocked to hear of the sad news that Henry passed away due to complications from an illness. He died in a hospital in Banmaw, along with his dream to live happily in a peaceful country. Sadly, he could never experience the freedom that he longed for.  Even now, I still find it hard to believe that that would be my last conversation with him. As a son, brother, friend,  servant and young hero, Henry is a great model to me. He was like many young people in Myanmar who did not stop dreaming to live peacefully and simply, despite the greed of those in authority who unjustly took away the best part of their lives. Indeed, Henry fought a good fight without resorting to violence. He did it well in his own quiet and humble way. May his soul rest in peace.
At the moment, most of the young people in Myanmar are living in fear because the political situation there is getting worse everyday. They are afraid that they might be taken forcefully to become either a government military soldier or a member of one of the local armed groups.
Let us continue to pray for the peace of the Risen Christ to reign in Myanmar soon.
Henry (in brown shirt) with the local people