The Lost Generation

About a year ago, vivid signs appeared around town. They read “WIPE OUT DRUGS.” It was a declaration of war waged by fed-up locals in Kachin State, Myanmar. Locals contend that 80 percent of Kachin youth are hooked on heroin — the fallout from living amid poppy fields controlled by a patchwork of militias. The Kachin have a name for the addicts: “The Lost Generation.”

Since Myanmar’s opening up to the world two years ago, Christian groups have been able to organize more freely and take the drug war into their own hands. The central group, consisting of the Kachin Baptist and Catholic church, is calling themselves Patjasan, “Pat” in Kachin means “to block”, “jasan” means “ to cleanse,” together people in the area understand it as "The rehabilitation program".  The signs, sponsored by Patjasan are meant to proclaim their presence in the village. They warn addicts that they are being watched. 

Patjasan patrol groups identify and collect addicts using village informants and early-morning raids. They convince village leaders and parents to hand over their addicts and promise to get their loved ones clean. But with little funds to spend, all they have is cold water, massages and prayers to help these “students” in rehab. Several makeshift church rehab centers are taking in addicts they’ve collected off the streets and shackling or locking them up until the worst is over. 

Other sections of Patjasan target drug dealers, ‘arresting’ dealers mid-transaction in the middle of the night, coaxing confessions, threatening to hand them over to the Burmese authorities if they don’t comply. Anyone caught with drugs gets at least five years in prison if not life.

This is the story about “The Lost Generation” and what’s being done to save them.

"Ah Tu", 21, has been recruited to join a rehab center and promises to go the next day. But first he takes this last hit. He has been an addict for three to four years. While he was recruited by a private Christian center, he told the recruiter that he's decided to go to the government clinic instead because they have methadone.  Most Kachin addicts choose not to go to the government-run clinic because of their distrust of the government. The Kachin and the central Myanmar government are still at war.

"Ah Tu", 21, has been recruited to join a rehab center and promises to go the next day. But first he takes this last hit. He has been an addict for three to four years. While he was recruited by a private Christian center, he told the recruiter that he's decided to go to the government clinic instead because they have methadone.  Most Kachin addicts choose not to go to the government-run clinic because of their distrust of the government. The Kachin and the central Myanmar government are still at war.

Used syringes litter an alley in Myitkyina, Myanmar. Locals estimate that, in some villages, about eighty percent of their youth are hooked on heroin. They are calling the addicts, "The Lost Generation."

Used syringes litter an alley in Myitkyina, Myanmar. Locals estimate that, in some villages, about eighty percent of their youth are hooked on heroin. They are calling the addicts, "The Lost Generation."

Two addicts shoot up in an alley in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, Myanmar. They say they have to shoot up five to six times a day. It costs between $5 and $10 per hit.

Two addicts shoot up in an alley in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, Myanmar. They say they have to shoot up five to six times a day. It costs between $5 and $10 per hit.

Minutes after shooting up heroin in an alley way, this man says he's high.

Minutes after shooting up heroin in an alley way, this man says he's high.

Signs like these popped up around Myanmar's northern city of Myitkyina and surrounding villages last year. They announce a mission to wipe out drugs. The Patjasan program is a collaboration between the Kachin Baptist and Catholic church.

Signs like these popped up around Myanmar's northern city of Myitkyina and surrounding villages last year. They announce a mission to wipe out drugs. The Patjasan program is a collaboration between the Kachin Baptist and Catholic church.

Tu Lawt, left, a staff member at the Aung Mintha drug rehabilitation center, coaxes La Raw, 23, for information about his drug stash. Another user snitched on La Raw, revealing that La Raw is a dealer. Rehab center staff collected La Raw from his village in the middle of the night.

Tu Lawt, left, a staff member at the Aung Mintha drug rehabilitation center, coaxes La Raw, 23, for information about his drug stash. Another user snitched on La Raw, revealing that La Raw is a dealer. Rehab center staff collected La Raw from his village in the middle of the night.

One of the only ways to ease recovering addicts' withdrawal pains is cold water. Many of them dowsed themselves with the water several times a day.

One of the only ways to ease recovering addicts' withdrawal pains is cold water. Many of them dowsed themselves with the water several times a day.

Nlam Tu Lum, 20, was collected from his village during the night and delivered to the Aung Mintha rehab center. Today, he is a boat driver on the Irrawaddy River and has stayed cleaned six months after leaving the rehab center.

Nlam Tu Lum, 20, was collected from his village during the night and delivered to the Aung Mintha rehab center. Today, he is a boat driver on the Irrawaddy River and has stayed cleaned six months after leaving the rehab center.

A recovering addict sits in front of his rehab camp in Aung Mintha.

A recovering addict sits in front of his rehab camp in Aung Mintha.

Nlam Tu Lum, 20, was collected from his village during the night and delivered to the Aung Mintha rehab center. Today he is a boat driver on the Irrawady River and has stayed clean for six months.

Nlam Tu Lum, 20, was collected from his village during the night and delivered to the Aung Mintha rehab center. Today he is a boat driver on the Irrawady River and has stayed clean for six months.

Brang San Aung, left, in his thirties, plays the guitar while singing with friends at the Aung Mintha rehab camp. Music seems to be the best way to pass the time in rehab. Brang San Aung is HIV positive and used heroin for seven years.  He died from unknown causes months after this photo was taken.

Brang San Aung, left, in his thirties, plays the guitar while singing with friends at the Aung Mintha rehab camp. Music seems to be the best way to pass the time in rehab. Brang San Aung is HIV positive and used heroin for seven years.  He died from unknown causes months after this photo was taken.

Seng Hkum, 27, was an addict for eight years. After enduring three nights of confinement in a church, where his legs were placed in wooden stocks, he's been given shackles to allow some movement. After a week, the shackles come off and addcits at Aung Mintha camp must decide if they'll stay for the whole four month program.

Seng Hkum, 27, was an addict for eight years. After enduring three nights of confinement in a church, where his legs were placed in wooden stocks, he's been given shackles to allow some movement. After a week, the shackles come off and addcits at Aung Mintha camp must decide if they'll stay for the whole four month program.

Recovering addicts at the YCC or the Youth Christian Camp spend the first week locked up in a confined area nicknamed "the prayer room" to prevent them from hurting themselves or others while suffering withdrawal.  

Recovering addicts at the YCC or the Youth Christian Camp spend the first week locked up in a confined area nicknamed "the prayer room" to prevent them from hurting themselves or others while suffering withdrawal.  

YCC staff members massage Hkun Aung, 34 while suffers through withdrawal pains. Hkun Aung has been an addict for 16 years and this is his third day in rehab.

YCC staff members massage Hkun Aung, 34 while suffers through withdrawal pains. Hkun Aung has been an addict for 16 years and this is his third day in rehab.

Two recovering addicts at the Aung Mintha rehab play in a stream near the rehab camp. The cold water eases their withdrawal pains.

Two recovering addicts at the Aung Mintha rehab play in a stream near the rehab camp. The cold water eases their withdrawal pains.

Tu Ring, 42, a former black opium addict (also called black heroin), smokes a cheroot in his dormitory at the Aung Mintha rehab camp. He was an addict for twelve years while working as a miner.

Tu Ring, 42, a former black opium addict (also called black heroin), smokes a cheroot in his dormitory at the Aung Mintha rehab camp. He was an addict for twelve years while working as a miner.

Recovering addicts at the Aung Mintha play a game called "chinlone" or cane ball in the evenings to pass time and become fit.

Recovering addicts at the Aung Mintha play a game called "chinlone" or cane ball in the evenings to pass time and become fit.

New students at the YCC peer outside from the "prayer room."

New students at the YCC peer outside from the "prayer room."

Moe Kyaw Thu, 22, does his bible study homework in the Aung Mintha dormitories. He was a gold miner and an addict for three years. He left the rehab center only three days before his "graduation."

Moe Kyaw Thu, 22, does his bible study homework in the Aung Mintha dormitories. He was a gold miner and an addict for three years. He left the rehab center only three days before his "graduation."

"Hkun Aung", an unofficial name he has given, rolls around in pain under his mosquito net.

"Hkun Aung", an unofficial name he has given, rolls around in pain under his mosquito net.

Recovering addicts at the YCC rehab center are forced into prayer and singing sessions each morning and evening.

Recovering addicts at the YCC rehab center are forced into prayer and singing sessions each morning and evening.

Confined to a bamboo hut, the new students at the YCC rehab center talk to the older students through spaces in bamboo slats of the "prayer room."

Confined to a bamboo hut, the new students at the YCC rehab center talk to the older students through spaces in bamboo slats of the "prayer room."

After the first week of confinement, the students at the YCC rehab center are allowed outside the center and encouraged to attend church in town. Today, they are performing a few songs for the community at church.

After the first week of confinement, the students at the YCC rehab center are allowed outside the center and encouraged to attend church in town. Today, they are performing a few songs for the community at church.

Hkaw Zung, left, a YCC rehab center staff member talks to Hkun Aung, 34. "Hkun Aung" has been an addict for 16 years. This is his third day in rehab and he's in severe pain. "I can't do this anymore," he tells the staff. Hkaw Zung himself was an addict and contracted HIV while injecting heroin. 

Hkaw Zung, left, a YCC rehab center staff member talks to Hkun Aung, 34. "Hkun Aung" has been an addict for 16 years. This is his third day in rehab and he's in severe pain. "I can't do this anymore," he tells the staff. Hkaw Zung himself was an addict and contracted HIV while injecting heroin. 

New comers confined in a bamboo say grace before eating dinner.

New comers confined in a bamboo say grace before eating dinner.

A week after his detainment, scars are still visible from the canings that addict Naw Lawn endured when he was caught by Patjasan, a Baptist vigilante anti-drug group.

A week after his detainment, scars are still visible from the canings that addict Naw Lawn endured when he was caught by Patjasan, a Baptist vigilante anti-drug group.

After four days in the YCC rehab camp, "Hkun Aung" opted out, returned to his village and immediately found black opium to inject and smoke. This village two hours outside of Myitkyina consists of about 70 households. Most of the men have an opium habit.

After four days in the YCC rehab camp, "Hkun Aung" opted out, returned to his village and immediately found black opium to inject and smoke. This village two hours outside of Myitkyina consists of about 70 households. Most of the men have an opium habit.

"Hkun Aung" injects black opium with is friends in his village. 

"Hkun Aung" injects black opium with is friends in his village. 

"Hkun Aung" becomes high almost immediately after injecting the opium. 

"Hkun Aung" becomes high almost immediately after injecting the opium. 

"Hkun Aung" and his friend from his village smoke opium together hours after Hkun Aung left rehab.

"Hkun Aung" and his friend from his village smoke opium together hours after Hkun Aung left rehab.

An artificial rose left besides the bed of one of the students at Aung Mintha. Roses were given to the students after a choir performance in the village.

An artificial rose left besides the bed of one of the students at Aung Mintha. Roses were given to the students after a choir performance in the village.