Burmese youth voices

In March 2007 a team of eight young American researchers traveled to Thailand for the Center for Peace Building International to meet with sixteen youth-oriented organizations operating along the Thai-Burma border. They interviewed many exiled Burmese youth as part of their research, and heard...

“[I long for] the right to speak, to travel. It is needed. We have no chance to talk.”

“My biggest problem is I didn’t get the opportunity to study. I want to study. I want to graduate like young people, like other young people.”

 “I have to do something… I have to share human rights and women’s rights in my society in my country, in my friends, in my family because they don’t know about this.”

“Sometimes you feel disappointed because the movement is taking a long time already. But another time you always keep encouraging yourself, like the work you’re doing is also contributing to the change. It’s frustrating in one way, but in another way it’s looking at your work day by day and then just do the best you could do to contribute to the freedom in getting democracy in Burma. ... Always have a hope that there will be a change one day. No military regime will last forever.”

Download the full, remarkable report, “Overcoming Obstacles, Creating Opportunities: Youth Perspectives from the Thai-Burma Border,” Burma Youth Project, April 2007.

See below for two essays from youth in refugees camps along the Thai-Burma border.

I am Sulien, and I’m from Burma. I was born in Karenni State in Demoshe Township. I am from a rural area. So there is really bad education, no health care. I came to Thailand in 2003, and I got a [position] at Burmese Women’s Union in July 2003. So I have been working at BWU for over three years.

I am [an activist]. In our community I was discriminated against. I suffered. And also I saw HR abuses in our community with my own eyes. So I really want to change the future for my people. I want to really work for women and for our country. I want to learn more about gender issues and educate about them in order to change society.

I really want an education. Many Burmese women don’t have the chance to attend school. It’s like a culture of discrimination. For example in my family, I have four brothers, and they can attend school, but my parents cannot afford for my sisters to attend school. I want to abolish discrimination. Because in Burma, women are a larger part of the population than men, but they have less education than men.

[I left Burma] because the education is very bad. In school women and men don’t have the same rights to learn. There is a huge disparity in grades between men and women, and very bad education in the school. I decided to come to Thailand and continue my education. I came with 15 friends, only women. We traveled here together.

At first I arrived at Karenni refugee camp. I had one sister who was at the refugee camp, and she is also a BWU member. I learned about BWU working for women, and I decided to start getting involved with them. It was very amazing for me.

When I was in Burma, I didn’t know what my human rights are. We [faced] trouble day and night, but I didn’t know why we had the problem. In Karenni state [there is much] forced labor, and also rape cases [perpetrated] by the SPDC. The SPDC came to our village and raped women. Also porters were used for the military. For example my father always made to be a porter. But [at the time] I didn’t know yet this is human rights abuse.

When I arrived in Thailand I started to learn human rights, and also what women’s rights are and about democracy. Now I know what democracy is, I know what my women’s rights and human rights are. I want to raise awareness about the different discriminations as well as help inform other women of their rights. Only then if women know what they’re entitled to will this kind of discrimination be abolished.

I am a young Muslim girl who lives in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border. I’ve lived in Mae La refugee camp with my family since 1997. Before I arrived in Mae La, I lived in “Mae Ka Tee” village for 2 years. I grew up in refugee camps.  Now I’m going to share an experience about a little girl with a big problem.

It happened 3 years ago in Burma. There was a family who had a son and a daughter. They were very poor. They lived in a small village. The girl name was Moe Moe and her brother’s name was Aung Aung. Their father’s job was a shoemaker and their mother was a housewife. They did not get enough money for food from their father’s job.

One day, Moe Moe asked her brother to find a job. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any job. So he decided to sell firewood in the market. So every morning he went to the jungle to cut firewood and came back in the evening. Moe Moe sold it at the market in the morning. After she sold it, she helped her brother to carry firewood but her brother didn’t want her to go. Aung Aung said that cutting firewood wasn’t a job for a girl in the jungle. Still she helped her brother.

One day, a group of boys were standing in the middle of her way. They tried to approach to her but she ignored them and kept walking. One of the boys said, “You are a girl coming in the jungle without friends” The other one continued you “you are in our area, now you become our prey, you have no way to go back for tonight”. Now she couldn’t move. They kept her in the circle and brought her into the deep forest.

Aung Aung thought today his sister didn’t come and help him. It was ok, he could do the work alone. When he came back to the house, he asked his mother, “Mother, where is Moe Moe? Didn’t she come back from the market?” His mother thought he made a joke. So she replied, “Moe Moe went to the jungle every day when she comes back from the market.” “No, she didn’t come to me today” “Don’t make me get hypertension Aung Aung” “Mother, believe me. She didn’t go to me” “So, let’s wait for the time she comes back”

They were waiting and waiting for her but she didn’t come back. Early next morning, Aung Aung went to the jungle found his sister. Unfortunately, he saw his sister raped by a group of people. When he saw this, he got so angry and tried to kill them with his knife. He couldn’t kill anybody but they killed him with guns. One of the men released Moe Moe and said, “You can go anywhere you want, but you have no chance to tell about us. If you tell, look here.” He showed the gun, “ I will bury the same hole in you as I did your brother.”

When she arrived home, she cried a lot and explained what happened to her mother. Her mother told the head villager what happened with her daughter. Immediately the head villager phoned to the police station. The police came to ask information from her and she answered. The policeman said, “That is not their fault, this is your fault. You went to the jungle alone” The family couldn’t do any thing. He continued, “They are young boys. They will change their minds when they see a girl like you in the jungle alone.”

If Moe Moe gave money to the police, they would take the problem to the office but the family didn’t have any money to give them. So the police went back and didn’t ask any questions because they got a lot of money from bad boys side.  Moe Moe, got pregnant, and nobody cared about her.

So they came across the Thai-Burma border, Mae La camp. When they arrived, they explained their problem to the KWO leader. They were supported by the KWO and also by RCH in the camp. The medics took care of her until she gave birth. Now her family’s lives are free from under the devils control and they can live without worrying.

The Burmese authorities don’t care about people lives. They look after for only themselves and their relatives. In this case, if Moe Moe had money, she would have won her case. Instead she had to move to a refugee camp because she is poor. There is no justice for crime. The authorities are corrupt in every way.

Hla Moe is a student in the English Immersion Program (EIP) at the Umpium Mai Refugee Camp in Thailand, which is run by World Education Consortium. Note: Hla Moe, along with Sulien, are both pseudonyms.


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“There’s a radical—and wonderful—new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world.”

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