It was Gandhi who admonished his generation saying, “In a gentle way you can shake your world.” Gandhi certainly shook his world during his lifetime. While traveling throughout this world, I have met my share of passionate people who have likewise shaken their world in gentle ways.
One of my dearest international friends was Daniel Kalnin. He was born in the mysterious country of Burma, present-day Myanmar. The British had colonized Burma, which is bordered by China, India, Thailand, and a bit of Laos. Burma had become a strategic defense post for the Brits during World War II. But in 1948, Great Britain decided to pull out of Burma and sail home. The vacuum created by the lack of leadership and stability threw Burma into political, economic, and cultural turmoil. They had grown to depend on the British rule of law, available health-care, and the advantage of international trading. Power struggles, tribal wars, and a lot of bloodshed became the rule.
Daniel realized that if he were to see any of his dreams come true, he would have to leave Burma. When he was eighteen years old, he slipped across the Thailand border and became a fugitive. Eventually, some Americans rescued Daniel and brought him to America, where he was educated and where he met his Canadian wife, Beverly. Upon graduation, the two of them determined to return to Thailand and work with the hill-tribe people who lived on the border of Thailand and northern Burma.
In Thailand, with the blessing of the king, Daniel constructed a small housing development. He tested twenty-seven water sources to find an uncontaminated water supply for the village. None could be used. But high in the mountains he discovered a spring of pure water and built a water system of cisterns and pipelines to serve the people. One of the criteria for families to move into his development was to stop cultivating poppies for opium resale, take ownership of some of his land, and start growing a cash crop of coffee. Daniel returned briefly to the US and raised money to buy coffee plants. While here, he set up distribution outlets to market the new Hill Tribe Coffee brand in America. The villagers discovered they could make more money with coffee crops than with poppies. Because of the new water system, the villagers became dramatically healthier.
I traveled with Daniel on motorbikes over the steep trails of the lower Himalayas along the border of Burma to a bustling town in his new development of Bayasai. Daniel showed me the large brown church the people had built with a large red cross painted on the front. It was the only place in the insurgency area where the people from five different tribes were living together peacefully.
In the commercial city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, Daniel and Beverly had also built the House of Blessing. When I first visited the Kalnin’s home in Chiang Mai, there were forty-seven throwaway girls between the ages of ten and twelve who had been taken from slavery and prostitution and were being housed, loved, and educated in that home. And yet for thirty years, Daniel had been estranged from his family and beloved homeland of Burma. Eventually, Project C.U.R.E. was privileged to join Daniel in returning to Burma and seeing his dreams come true in establishing the highly effective Barefoot Doctors organization that has saved literally thousands of the lives of the hill-tribe villagers and citizens of Thailand and Burma.
My dear friend Daniel has since died, and I am still grieving the loss. I originally wrote this story to honor Daniel, his family, and his never ending life’s work. Today I salute him as a true champion, because in a gentle way, Daniel shook his world!