Writing this blog, like talking to a friend after a long silence, is a little awkward knowing where to start, because so much has transpired since our last meeting. Unfortunately, I have to start by telling you about the death of a friend.
None of you knew Paul, at least not directly. But if you remember my efforts to help indigenous Hill Tribe villagers in eastern Burma, Paul was my inspiration, my partner, my guide. With his death (after a prolonged battle with unknown illness), Burma has lost a true saint. Selfless, kind, wise, Paul gave all of himself to helping those who had nothing.
Raised in poverty in a Catholic orphanage on a diet of little more than rice gruel, Paul excelled in languages, quickly learning multiple dialects of the region. For three years, he had been a soldier living in the jungle, surviving on a diet of spiders and grub larve. Later, Paul and his wife raised their own kids, then adopted and raised at least one grandkid when their father (one of Paul’s sons) bailed. Paul scraped together a living as a taxi driver and then, later in life, as a tour guide.
But being a ‘guide’ was really just an excuse to build awareness of, and provide assistance to, Burma’s most forgotten populations. In the mornings before setting to visit the next village, we’d stop by the market to purchase a few dollars worth of aspirin, antibiotics, and other little medical supplies. I’d struggle to keep up with him as we’d trek every days for hours by foot – in the pouring rain and blazing heat – to the country’s most remote regions. In every single village, Paul was greeted as an old friend, as a respected elder, as a savior. The children would clamber around, as he’d gently hand out cookies, one per kid. The elders would consult with him, asking his advice. They were largely isolated from the world, separated by language barriers, subjected to despicable discrimination and, as I was to find out first hand in one village, brutal violence by the military. Paul, effortlessly communicating with all the diverse villagers, brought news not only of the outside world, but of neighboring communities. He was a unique, critical link providing perspective and counsel.
One night, towards the end of my all-too-brief visit, Paul shared his quiet efforts to assist this impoverished villages which we had been visiting. Out came a huge bundle of hand-written blueprints and cost spreadsheets describing in precise detail what each village needed in terms of infrastructure. This village needed a clean water system; that village needed a school. Here, the village needed eight community toilets, and he even had designs three different quality levels of construction, depending on how much money he could raise. I remember looking at the $$ figures, doing a quick back-of-napkin currency conversion and totals – to do ALL of these projects, in multiple villages helping hundred of families, it was nothing. Nothing! I barely knew Paul, but I’m told that these were only a small part of his community work, including being a first-responder after a massive earthquake leveled a nearby community. Paul also helped bring support to the local leper colony and, of course, to the orphanage that had been his childhood home.
Paul had been grateful for your generous donations, and never took a penny for himself. He had been making progress on construction of many of the projects, and if and when I get any more updates, I’ll certainly report back.
In Paul’s death, those villagers have lost a true friend and advocate. Perhaps the Catholic Church will acknowledge his selfless contribution with consideration of Sainthood. I’m sorry to see you go, Paul. You were a true inspiration.
(Note: Thanks to your earlier support, we raised thousands of dollars which went directly to support Paul’s humanitarian efforts. Now, with his passing and without his trusted leadership, those particular projects are on-hold for the foreseeable future. However, those of you interested in supporting similar, equally important efforts in Burma, can contact me at Michael@StrausCom.com, and I can put you in contact with other incredibly worthy non-profit projects).