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Amid persecution, hope

She went to the Rohingya refugee camps in 2016-17 to help set up schools and teach games from the Waldorf system, but Ashlander Molly McKissick never expected that the video she shot with her phone would make a touching movie, now entered in the Ashland Independent Film Festival and the Ethnografilm Festival in Paris.

The world has been bombarded with stories and video of the violence in Myanmar and suffering of more than 1 million Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh, but, she says, her 10-minute video, “We Are Blood,” takes a different direction, showing them as “beautiful, brilliant, dignified, spiritual, powerful people, full of integrity ... and carrying a dream of their homeland.”

Camp children had virtually no experience of games or crafts, so McKissick, a Waldorf teacher for 28 years, taught them “child-friendly” activities: jump-rope, blocks, swinging, beads, marbles, knitting, shaking hands and sharing. She shot a teacher-training video, but her eye-opening moment came when a 15-year-old assistant, Noor Kaida, invited her home.

“In the film, there’s my moment of awakening. I follow her to her house. It’s like Alice going through the looking glass. I could see what was happening behind the scenes," McKissick said. "While I had gathered shells and fashioned marble runs with bamboo, the children I had been greeting at the door each morning had been running for their lives. Some saw their mothers raped, their fathers shot or burned alive. Some saw people jump ship and drown to escape machine gun fire as they crossed the river border in fishing boats, hoping to reach (UN workers) to beg for refugee status, to beg for protection, to beg for a life inside fences.”

The film, she said, is not a fundraiser but can make the refugees’ story more accessible and perhaps inspire Americans to inform the chairpersons of the Senate and House foreign relations committees of the situation and prompt action from the U.S. State Department to label it “genocide,” a category with legal ramifications. The U.S. House has already voted that label.

The Rohingya are called “the most persecuted people on Earth,” she says, adding that after a 1982 coup in Myanmar, they became subject to ethnic cleansing, creating “the largest refugee camp in the world, by far.”

She notes it’s the biggest genocide since Rwanda, with huge numbers of men murdered, leaving the camp 80 percent female.

Her GoFundMe account has brought $2,800 of a goal of $4,000. The film’s editor, Erica Tanamichi of San Francisco, writes on the GoFundMe appeal, “The most intriguing footage that haunted me for days was when Noor Kaida, a young Rohingya refugee, sneaked Molly into the living quarters of the camps and let her film. At the time, no one was allowed to film inside the camps — and the place was buzzing with press after a recent attack on the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

“We meet Noor Kaida’s family and her cousin, who had just fled Myanmar. Her cousin’s husband had been shot just days before on the river as they escaped the burnings, shootings and raping of their people. These women. These children. These survivors stared into Molly’s iPhone wide-eyed, honest and raw. No tears, no pleading, just raw and real and, to my surprise, with glimmering hope.”

McKissick will speak and show the film at 7 p.m., Friday, April 3, at Ashland Peace House, 543 Mountain Ave. It is free and open to the public. She will also hand out postcards on the issue for people to mail to Congress.

A scene from Molly McKissick's film "We are Blood."