Life on the Border Part 2: Standing Up for Suffering Communities
“After the 2010 election, I left Burma for a better education, to improve my skills, apply to international universities and get more work experience abroad. I am volunteering with Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization (TSYO) and interned at Network for Human Rights Documentation in Burma (ND-Burma).
My work with TSYO strives to give young people an opportunity to rise up from this oppression and work towards a better life. We share our knowledge and provide educational opportunities to many Ta’ang youth in Northern Shan state. Through some of our projects, we help young people in financially difficult situations to finish high school and attend university. TSYO also tries to help the development of communities by providing them with basic access to educational materials. Through my own initiative in my hometown, I set up a community library open to all locals in order to improve their reading, literary skills, and basic knowledge.
I have experience using media as a means to disseminate information to the Ta’ang people using resources such as blogs, group email projects, and Facebook. I share updated news with them about what is happening globally using social media. It is beneficial for the young people to know how to use online tools. Nowadays, social networking is a great tool to communicate with the global community and, as mentioned previously, I hope to spread knowledge of and access to these tools to even wider audiences. More people will be able to express their ideas and opinions and see that others have the same ideas and are able to work together to achieve common goals.
The media is particularly close to my heart. For generations, people from my country have been subjected to mass censorship and the military regime controlling what information is available to the public. I believe that people have the right to know what is really happening in their country, so they can form their own opinions independently. The freedom to access information is a fundamental prerequisite for the freedom of expression and I will support the development of these freedoms in Burma.
I also would like to study the dynamics of local politics and the different ethnicities in Burma and how we can work better together to represent the voice of the ethnic people and work better with the rest of Burma to achieve political equality and human rights through inclusive democratic means. Over the decades there has been continuous fighting between these ethnicities and the government forces. In the future, I hope that there will be an opportunity for me to use my skills to resolve conflict on these issues and bring peace to a divided land through peaceful political action. For these reasons, I will need to go back to my local area and try to work better with the local political parties to educate them more about politics on a local level, and then work up to the parliamentary level to achieve success for their electorate.
As part of my role as a field worker with TSYO, I work very closely with the Ta’ang community to try to improve their lives. I provide different types of training to Ta’ang youth on human rights, democracy, federalism, community organizing, political defiance, and media studies. As a result, the trainees can share their knowledge with their own communities through their improved skills and capacity. I also act as a facilitator in providing peer education and workshops, and carrying out research and data collection in Ta’ang communities. In Burma, ordinary people suffer many human rights violations; therefore by educating the local people, I can empower them to take action against human rights violations to improve their lives and lives of future generations. For many years, the people of Burma have suffered oppression and have been cruelly deprived of knowledge, freedom, and education.
At TSYO, we have published many different advocacy reports such as “Virus of Tea”, “Under the Boot”, “Ballots Against People’s Will”, “Lightless Life”, “Monopoly of Tea Farms”, “Land Confiscation”, “Shweli Under Siege”, and “Catalyst for Conflict”. These reports educate local people and the international community about issues facing the Ta’ang community. In the process of writing them, I improved my skills as a trainer, organizer, and data collector, as well as in advocacy, campaigning, and political issues. In several of our published reports, I went into the field and interviewed the different levels of the Ta’ang community in small rural communities. My wish is to bring news to both the local people and to those further away to aid them in expressing their feelings and everyday struggles. By providing these media articles, we could educate as well as create political interest and activism. I believe all these steps are necessary to bring democracy to Burma.
I have had some memorable experiences working in the field in Burma. For instance, I participated in different kinds of political campaigns such as voting referendums against the 2008 constitution and 2010 election. In the 2008 referendum, I was almost arrested by the military regime when the media released news about my community. The authorities did not have any evidence but they suspected that the one responsible for the release was a person who graduated from a university studying Computer Science, which indicated me. I had to leave immediately or risk arrest and imprisonment. In the 2010 election, the local authorities again attempted to arrest me. Fortunately, I escaped and fled to Thailand again after the election.
Another observation as a fieldworker includes the fact that there is widespread corruption among politicians; they buy votes and tell people, and sometimes entire villages, who can’t go to polling stations to cast their vote through their village leader. There is also extensive advanced voting. After the election, even Ta’ang leaders who were nominated for parliament were not clear about what “democracy” entails. They did not know how to be involved within the context of a political situation.
I have learned many things as an activist and advocate, particularly during the instability of the 2008 referendum and 2010 election. Now it is clear to me how important young leaders are for giving voice to Burma’s people, especially the marginalized and minorities. It will take time but one of the main goals that Burma supporters should focus on is building awareness and empowering people to exercise their political rights for a better Burma.”