When Zar Zar Maung was just 4-years-old, she and her 18-month-old sister Thu Zar ran for their lives.
They ran through jungle to the sound of bullets and bombs, fleeing unrest in Myanmar where their father had been involved in protests.
That was in 1990. Now, they’re watching the same thing happen to family and friends, as killings and unrest continue following a military coup in February.
Together with their employer, Sealord, they’re raising money to support refugees fleeing the latest violence.
The Maung sisters remember the fear of escaping their home country after the coup in 1990. “We were scared for our lives – we would run when we heard the sound of guns and bombs. We managed to sneak into Thailand to a refugee camp there.
“Our Dad died in the jungle, and we also lost our grandfather, who was killed. It’s hard seeing what’s happening in Myanmar being repeated,” they said. Their story isn’t unusual among their Burmese colleagues at Sealord in Nelson.
Ram Talawng remembers sheltering in the jungle under banana leaves as they fled with nothing – not even shoes. Occasionally groups helped by giving them rides in a car, risking their own lives to do so.
“At one time, there were nine of us along the back seat of a car and another time I slept with two others in the trunk of a car. It felt like I couldn’t breathe.” Van Lian fled with his sister, living in India until they were sponsored to come to New Zealand. “It was too dangerous to stay.”
All have made a life in New Zealand and are grateful for what they have. But they’re also sad and worried, as they watch friends and family back in Myanmar going through the same thing.
A military Junta has ruled Myanmar since seizing power in a coup on February 1, after disputing the landslide election of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy Party. By Tuesday 922 people had been killed and 5315 were being detained, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported.
Zar Zar Maung said knowing their friends and family were going through the same thing they had experienced was hard. “Just so, so sad, because I remember that feeling ... I feel so sorry for them, especially the little kids.
“We’re so lucky to have survived such a tragic event, and we’re here living such a peaceful life. I just wish them to have the same one day.” Sealord chief executive Doug Paulin said he was aware the events would have hit home for the company’s 54 Burmese employees, so they’d met arranged a meeting to see what they could do.
Hearing their stories brought home the reality of what they had experienced, he said. “They tell stories of running through the jungle with bullets flying over their heads.”
They had contacted the Prime Minister on behalf of the staff, and were raising money to support the Mae Tao Clinic in Thailand, which supports displaced refugees and migrant workers. Staff had already donated money from their wages, matched by the company to total $7000.
Now, a special shift was being organised where office staff would take to the factory floor to make and package fish bites. All proceeds from products made in that shift would also be donated, Paulin said. A typical shift makes about 50 tonnes, and he’s hopeful they’ll still make “lots”.
“I will be the fastest packer you have ever seen.”
Zar Zar Maung said family back home were touched when they heard about the fundraising here. “They always say why can’t our government just take a little bit of that, and have that mentality of caring for people.”
Every dollar would help, she said.
“A few dollars here can do so much over there ... They’re running for their lives.”