Four Australians are planning a gruelling trek through nearly 500 kilometres of rough terrain in Myanmar and India to commemorate the terrifying ordeal recounted in Colin McPhedran’s book, White Butterflies.
McPhedran was just 11 years old when the Japanese invaded Burma (now Myanmar) in 1942, causing his family to flee over the Patkoi Mountains during monsoon season, along with 40,000 other refugees. Of these, some 20,000 are said to have perished along the way, including the entirety of the young McPhedran’s family.
In order commemorate this journey, Kenton Reeder, Kevin Commins, Michael Clarebrough and Jacob Garrett intend on following both the route and modes of travel as taken by the WWII refugees. This entails a 22-hour rail journey from Mandalay to Myikyina, followed by a 500-kilometre walk toward the foothills of the Himalayas – an area still rife with conflict and usually off limits to visitors.
The group has also partnered with the Burnet Institute in order to raise much-needed funding for the training of midwives in Myanmar, as part of the ongoing project, ‘Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies’.
“We were first attracted by the challenge of doing something no group has done before, but as we began to understand the complexities that this adventure presents, we also discovered the plight of many living in this country,” Commins told Wild.
The group, which has been planning the trek for the past few years, has recently travelled to Myanmar to finalise arrangements, including the official permits required to approach the Myanmar-India border.
At this stage, plans for The Colin McPhedran Commemorative Trek will have the four setting out from Mandalay at the beginning of February 2017, but without having gained permission to cross the border into India, they instead plan to double back upon reaching it, returning in late March.
The group plan to document their journey with regular updates throughout, depending on satellite connectivity, in a bid to raise $60,000 by the end of next year.