In April 2011, four year old Saw Pwel sustained serious burns when he accidently knocked a pot of rice cooking on a stove. The boiling fluid poured onto his buttocks, perineum and down his legs. Three months after the accident the scarring is a combination of skin contractures and seeping open wounds. The little boy can no longer walk as his knees are fused by scar tissue at 90 degree angles. He has had to adapt his mobility and now has to roll and crawl to get around.
Saw Pwel and his family live in a mountainous area of Karen State, Burma. His parents are subsistence farmers and grow rice. Since they do not have an income, they are not expected to give rice when armed military groups come to their home. Payment can be 10 to 20 kilograms of rice per household per request. Sometimes the military come to their village to take people as porters. The expectation is that they provide free labour for 2 days before they are allowed to return home. Saw Pwel’s village is so remote that a visit from the Backpack Health Worker Team (BPHWT) is the only health service available.
At the time of Saw Pwel’s accident his mother took off his trousers and believed the best thing to do was to pour cooking oil on his wounds (other remedies in rural Burma include applying toothpaste – see Thin Thin and Tha Gan’s story). For two weeks she used traditional medicine on her son primarily rubbing in turmeric powder. After this time period the Backpack Medics arrived in their village. They cleaned and dressed Saw Pwel’s wounds and instructed his parents to discontinue traditional therapy and to take him to the Mae Tao Clinic (MTC) on the Thai side of the Thai-Burma border. His mother was given antibiotics and medical stock and was taught how to attend to his wounds on a daily basis.
Saw Pwel is a very brave and delightful boy. He never complains to his mother about pain and his injuries have certainly not stopped him from playing with his friends. He has adapted to crawling instead of walking. The only question he asks regarding his condition is why he can no longer walk and run. Over the past two months Saw Pwel’s parents have constantly wondered what they should do about their son’s injuries. They felt they did not have the money to travel into Thailand and the road from their village to Myawaddy (Thai- Burma border) had become unsafe due to escalating conflict.
In mid-July 2011, Saw Pwel’s parents decided to make the journey to Thailand. To avoid the area of active conflict they backtracked up to the capital of Karen State and approached Myawaddy from another route. The trip cost 7,000 Kyat (US$7) per person which they had to borrow from community members. The decision to make the journey was because the family could no longer bear seeing Saw Pwel suffering and this often made his mother cry. His parents have also had difficulty attending to their crop as a great amount of time has gone into looking after their injured son.
Saw Pwel’s family wish for him to get better so that he will be able to walk again. In the Karen Language Saw Pwel’s full name means ‘content’. This is a very apt name as despite being badly burnt and unable to walk, Saw Pwel seems content with his predicament and displays a calm demeanour beyond his years.