The other morning our US Campaign for Burma group was invited to visit Shan Youth Power, an organisation designed by, and for, the youth of Shan State in Burma who now reside within Thailand or on the Thai-Burma border.
The people of Shan State face atrocious systematic human right abuses, including mass killings, forced labor, and forced relocation committed by the Burmese Military. As a result of this unstable and dangerous environment, the Shan people are often forced to flee to Thailand and the Thai-Burma border. Unfortunately however, the people of Shan State are not recognised as refugees by the Thai government, and therefore cannot enter the refugee camps.
This lack of recognition also results in the people of Shan State often being overlooked by the international community, despite facing similar human rights abuses and lack of basic services that those from other states in Burma experience. This visit was therefore imperative for our group, to shed light on some of the the lesser understood or recognised organisations, issues and people of Burma.
Introducing our group to the Shan Youth Power organisation was a young woman who originated from Southern Shan state. We had met her a couple of days before when we were given the incredible opportunity to visit a local migrant workers village
The village is situated on the outskirts of town, and as we drove there, our truck drove us into a gated community comprised of multi story, manicured villas; a community that would not look out of place in Southern California. As we drove further it was clear the community was still expanding, and their were many villas still in construction. Behind these lay bare paddocks, within which lived the few hundred Shan migrants, the construction workers for the villas, and their families.
The juxtaposition between the bamboo and wooden hut community of the migrants, with their communal washing wells, cramped living areas and roaming street chickens, and the villa community that lay just across the paddock spoke clearly of the disparity of wealth and circumstance in the region.
We heard stories from several people there that illustrated the far reaching impacts the Burmese military has on the ethnic communities of Burma, beyond the effects of direct conflict, and that further show the diverse manner of ways the
people of Burma are victimised by the regime.
It is for these reasons, the systematic human rights abuses, mass killings, rape, forced labor, forced relocation and jeopardised health and education services, as committed by the regime, that the people of Shan state have been fleeing to Thailand and along the Thai Burma border. As the Shan people are not recognised as refugees in Thailand, no refugee camps are provided as shelter. As a result, are forced to live in different places throughout Burma and work in low paying jobs
due to their lack of legal status and education.
Shan Youth Power (SYP) exists to support and help these Shan migrants and IDP’s. SYP was founded, under the name Shan Youth Power Media in 2002. The organisation was originally created to address the lack of information and media available within Shan State, for the people of Shan State in the Shan language. However in only a few years the organisation expanded, due to the recognition of pressing needs in the region, including health and education services, hence the name was
changed to Shan Youth Power.
Today the organisation is based around four central projects. The original media project, which continues to provide information about Burma and Shan State in the Shan language to the youth of Shan State. Through their website, bi-monthly newsletter, online videos, podcasts and radio programs SYP spreads information on language, culture and information to promote social change, awareness of democracy and advocacy skills amongst the youth. SYP also provide information to the Thai people, to educate opinion on the Burmese ethnic communities in their towns; to reduce tensions and promote understanding.
SYP, obviously, are faced with numerous challenges in providing their services for the youth of Shan State, the most pressing of with include the drug abuse issues in the region, as exacerbated by the military regime, and of course, the instability of the environment and social situation they work within. Nevertheless the successes of SYP are great, far reaching, and vitally important for the people of Shan State, whose issues often go unheard and unaddressed.