Thursday, 19 December 2013

Dr Cynthia Maung Receives Honorary Doctorate in Medicine from Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand

18 December 2012
Press Release 
By Mae Tao Clinic

On the 18th December Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presented Dr Cynthia Maung, Director of Mae Tao Clinic with an honorary doctorate in medicine from Ubon Ratchathani University (UBU). This is the first time that an academic institution in Thailand has provided such high recognition of the work of Dr Cynthia and her staff at Mae Tao Clinic. The award was given in recognition of Dr Cynthia’s work in taking care of refugees and displaced people affected by war and helping underprivileged patients in the midst of ethnic conflict.

Dr Cynthia was honoured to also have the opportunity to address the staff and faculty members on the 17th December and to provide an inspirational speech to new graduates on the 18th December.

Dr Cynthia pointed out the link between the work of Mae Tao Clinic and that of Ubon Ratchathani University, since both institutions work in border areas of Thailand with vulnerable and mobile populations from Burma and Laos. Both UBU and Mae Tao Clinic believe that training local people to work with their own communities is the best approach to public health. They are both also committed to supporting the work of the Thai government’s Border Health Master Plan, which promotes the provision of health care to all people living in Thailand, including migrants and ethnic people.

In her speech, Dr Cynthia urged graduating students to develop an approach to health that looks not just at the disease process and treatment but at all the underlying factors of the broader definition of health that is the social and economic aspects of health. Dr Cynthia highlighted the constant dilemma of working in a low resource setting, but emphasized her belief that: “Every patient should have the right to access health care and not have to remove their child from school, or go hungry or delay treatment due to structural barriers to health services, whether they be economic, social, or otherwise.”

She reflected on the current situation in Burma, explaining that although there have been some political shifts, “It remains a chronic health catastrophe.” Government health expenditure is just 3% of the country’s GDP compared to Thailand’s 12.7%. This has resulted in official health indicators in Burma, such as maternal mortality ratios and infant and child mortality rates, being amongst the worst in the region.

Dr Cynthia highlighted that the inspiration for her work has been the communities themselves. She explained that in times of government neglect and abuse, the communities work together for community health and education, developing local solutions and innovations in very challenging circumstances. “It is from this resiliency of communities that community leaders emerge. They learn to work together, share resources and develop strong supportive networks, developing innovative responses to truly provide public health.”

“Dr. Cynthiakah was nominated by the College of Medicine and Public Health to receive an honorary Doctorate degree in Medicine. The Ubon Ratchathani University Council have now approved the award to be presented to Dr Cynthiakah. Dr. Cynthiakah is an illustrious example of a medical doctor who has devoted her life to taking care of refugees and displaced people affected by war and ethnic conflict.  She has devoted herself to helping underprivileged patients with limited resources. She embodies the spirit of a true humanitarian. She is a role model for medical and public health professionals who bring benefits to the nation and to international communities” states Ubon Ratchathani University.

For more information, contact:
Naw Ghay Pho (Thai language): +66(0)800298297
Eh Thwa (English/Burmese languages): +66(0)810448521

Dr Cynthia Maung is the Director of Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Tak. For her work in health and human rights she has received multiple awards including the Sydney Peace Prize of Australia, The One Award of Hong Kong and the Ramon Magsaysay Award of the Philippines for Community Leadership.
Mae Tao Clinic was established in 1989 after the Burmese government crackdown on nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations across Burma. From a small 4-bed clinic in 1990 to the present time when there are over 140,000 patients visits per year with over 3,000 safe baby deliveries. Nowadays, Mae Tao Clinic is a comprehensive health centre, as well as a training centre which has trained thousands of health workers who have returned to Burma to work in rural and war affected areas of Eastern Burma. It also provides education and child protection to migrant children in the area.

Friday, 18 October 2013

A Problem, A Solution, A Step in the Right Direction

The Mae Sot dump, home of some 110 migrant families, provides much material for articles to be written and much conversation material. What isn't obvious is what ought to be done. I first visited the dump about a year ago.  You are more than welcome to go back and re-read my articles from that period.  Before you go, please know this:  since that time I have learned much and would now write very different material.  Call it knowledge, growth or just aging.

Various organizations go to the dump.  Some actually do some good, others go, take photos and use them to raise money which never reaches the people of the dump community. At least one very small organization has been there a long time but has no plan for sustainability, no financial transparency and often seems more interested in personal power than anything else.  One small “Christian” organization has actually taken children and forced them to participate in Christian prayers and rituals. Let’s take a hard look at the situation and how certain organizations and people seem to fit in.
Trash Pile

The likelihood that I will offend some folks with this is extremely high.  I do not care!  What goes on at the Mas Sot Dump is a damn shame and people should be made aware. Below I will start naming names.  If I DO NOT mention an organization by name that means one of two things:

  • They are not involved in a significant way, or
  • They are not recommended as potential donation recipients.
The people who reside and work at the dump are migrants from Burma.  Most are either ethnic Burmese of Karen.  Like most first time visitors I was horrified by the conditions and quickly reached in my wallet to fix the problem, at least one small part.  No wonder scum bags go to the dump take photos and go home to raise money.  It’s a perfect scheme.  Far away, full of tear jerk stories and damn near impossible to monitor.   If you want to help, there are a couple of suggestions at the end of this article.  However, before you try to help, perhaps you might want to try to understand a couple of basic facts.

First, the people who live on the Mas Sot dump made a conscience decision to go there (of course the children didn't have a voice; I’m talking about the adults).  Many of the families have had children while living there.  Second, these people tell me that the reason they made the choice to live on a garbage dump is because it’s the best alternative they have at the moment. Burma is too dangerous and income opportunities are more scarce than here.  Refugee status isn't always possible and often not desirable.  These people take pride in working for their living, an opportunity they would not have in a refugee camp.  I’m reminded of a great quote by Edgar Papke "The most powerful thing we have in our lives is choice."
Home without the terror caused by the Burmese Army

Choice is a tricky, sneaky concept when applied to the dis-enfranchised. These souls have made a choice to live in conditions that you, gentle reader, would likely brand as unbearable.  Once there they seem to believe that choices are no longer possible.  They tend to become servile, contrary to their very nature.  What can a foreign visitor do that might actually have a positive impact on their sense of dignity and self-worth?  All too often foreigners come to the dump, look around, take a few pictures and leave. Others come with donations, which is fine and indicates compassion but does little or nothing to help the long term situation.

Now I start naming names! 

Recently I have been involved with one project which is certainly on a creative and positive path.  I had the excellent fortune to be introduced to one Christina Jordan, one of the founders of an organization called Co-creative Impact and Innovation Institute. See:  Her approach is to suggest self-empowerment. This is very challenging when working with people who have been "kicked to curb" as it were.  She knew of my several trips to Mae Sot and had seen some of my photographs.  We talked and she ended up inviting me to accompany her to a meeting with the village headmen at the dump.  Her idea is to have a conversation with the headmen and encourage them talk to the community.  Since photographs have been an issue she asked me to talk to them as a photographer.  I was more than happy to do so. Perhaps the very best thing that can be said about this is that Christina Jordan has only one agenda: find out what the residents of the dump want and to try to find ways to help them accomplish those goals.

Christina Jordan, King Zero, Saw Phaung Awar and village leaders
What do I mean when I say they have no sense of empowerment. My best explanation is to share a couple of examples:

  • I was at the dump this past weekend and asked one of the headmen if they decided to use the "No Photo" signs Christina had made for them.  No. They were afraid someone in power would ask them where they got the signs from.
  • One large group of tourists recently came through the dump community.  The headmen said nothing because they were with someone they recognized as being in some position of authority although they could not identify him.
One of the ideas that was born from the meetings with the headmen was “Piglets for Progress”  The idea is to raise enough money so every family can have at least one pig, two being ideal.  The idea is brilliant on several levels:

  1. The community has existing knowledge and proof of concept. Some families already have pigs and they are quite successful.  
  2. Pigs are right at home in the dump.
  3. People can raise them, sell them at a profit and buy more piglets (To a large degree, the pig idea is self-sustaining).

The pig idea will meet resistance mostly from people who take the attitude that they know what’s best without having done their homework. To those people I say that this is an idea that comes from the people who live in the dump, it’s not something being forced on them by someone with good intentions and no idea about their reality. The Piglets for Progress project helps with self-empowerment and that is most badly needed. "Piglets for Progress" IS NOT an ego born disease!

You can help by contributing at Piglets for Progress 

You can also help by sharing this article with your friends and associates.

People wanting to contribute rice and other commodities to the dump are encouraged to go through the Best Friend Library in Mae Sot. If you can't contact them, please let me know and I will assist.
Ashin Sapoka, Best Friend Library, distributes rice to families at the dump

Medical treatment for the people residing on the dump, as well as many displaced persons on both sides of the Burmese border is provided by Mae Tao Clinic.  They do a marvelous job and truly deserve all the support they can get!  This organization has a most excellent reputation.  They are financially transparent, fiscally responsibility and save lives every day! Visit their website, download and read their annual report.

Abundant Blessings,


Sunday, 6 October 2013

A positive report on Chay Nay Choo!

Gentle Reader,

Many thanks to my friend Ramlah M Jafri for writing an excellent update on Chaa Nay Choo.   I won’t repeat it except to say he is now re-united with his parents, doing well and continuing to recover from the devastating burn injuries he suffered.  I did take the liberty of re-using photos.

Chay Nay Choo at the hospital

The latest news about Chaa Nay Choo is at   Please continue your generous support of this young man.

Home at last with his parents
Abundant Blessings, 

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Dump Residents Flooded - A Cry for Help

Gentle Reader,

Here is a very brief update from Saw.  It came in last night at 7:56 pm

Dear All
Information update of float
42 family lost their shelter. I received contribution 2000 baths. They are staying at school.
with best wishes


Bad news is that the number of families has increased from 35 to 42.  Good news is they are temporarily under roof and contributions are coming in.   I will have a bit more news this evening.

As of last night, 35 of 70 families residing at the Mae Sot Dump lost their homes due to flooding.  Please help!  Let suggest what to do that is easy and efficient.     Some people say I write to much so I will put the bottom line at the top and the explanations below.
Please make bank transfer to L Win Oo, account number 2122818341, Kasikorn Bank.  The phone number in the image below is that of L Win Oo whose nickname is  Saw.  If you can afford 10,000 baht great, if you can afford 1,000 great.  If you can afford just 100, your generosity will make a difference! 
Bank Transfer Information
When you make the transfer please notify by email the following people:
L Win Oo -   
Ashin Sopaka -
Jerry Nelson -  I ask you to include me simply so I can keep track and send thank you notes as appropriate.

Over time many people have gone to the dump and left with a resolve to do something.  Some have, but most have found the whole experience overwhelming, or have not been able to keep their promises.  Some have left frustrated because of "difficult personalities".   Here is a chance to do something very easy and very useful!

As of last night 35 of the 70 homes at the Mae Sot dump have been washed away by floods.  The people are poor and have very little resources.   The situation, while not as bad as the refugee camp fire 4 months ago truly is an emergency.  These people have lost their basic shelter, clothing, food and perhaps potable water.  The rain in Mae Sot is causing flooding, mud slides.  Many roads are impassible.  The road to the dump is under water.  Saw mentioned that the water was "higher than the top of the motor cycle".
Saw took this late yesterday.  We drove down it only an hour earlier! 
THE PLAN:   We will raise money and transfer it to Saw who is in Mae Sot and will be able to make quick assessments and spend the money in the most appropriate way.   I just spoke to him and he wants to buy 35 food packets at 130 baht each.    He will let me know later this evening what other specific needs he will try to meet.   When I spoke to him a few minutes ago he let me know he had already received a 2,000 baht donation from Christina Jordon.   Hopefully we can get a few thousand more to his account by the time the bank opens in the morning!

L Win Oo (Saw) is a school teacher from a near by school.  He is also very involved in the Best Friend Library and has offered to take on the responsibility of finding out what is needed, prioritizing the needs and providing what he can with the funds we raise.   This solution is efficient because he is already on the ground, the people know and trust him.  Because he is Burmese and affiliated with the Best Friend Library there is total cooperation between he and the village headmen.
Saw, on the right, with the village headmen this past Saturday.
Saw holds umbrella for Ashin Sopaka during rice distribution last month
(notice the row of shacks in the background - now likely gone)! 
Ashin Sopaka – Co-founder of the Best Friend Library.  Although he is currently in Burma, he is providing moral support.   The last time I went to the dump I was in his company.  He shared with me that he considers the people there to be part of his family.  There is a great mutual respect.   Including him in the notifications will be one part of the verification of funds used.
Cookie Monster Monk

Ashin Sopaka listens to the Village People

"They are like my family" - Ashin Sopaka 15 June 2013

King Zero – Co-founder of the Best Friend Library.   He is currently in Mae Sot and in constant contact with Saw.  He has recently facilitated planning meetings with the village headmen, continues to support the residents and adds much credibility to any outreach to the people who reside at the dump.  Including him in the notifications will also be one part of the verification of funds used.
King Zero at meeting with Village Headmen on Saturday

Jerry Nelson -  I’m just trying to help raise some money and give you an opportunity to make a difference.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Human Rights Defenders Sentenced in Burma

Below is the latest press release from Burma Partnership. This is further evidence that international community has rushed all too quickly to embrace the "democratic progress of Myanmar".  Sadly, the United States and other powerful nations have no real interest in human rights in Burma or any other country. The real interest is in plundering Burma’s resources and keeping competing nations at bay.  The press release uses the phrase “huge red flag to anyone wanting to do business…..”.  The abuses of power inside Burma may deter small businesses without the resources to buy their way through the corruption.  For big business it will simply be a cost of doing business; the cost will be borne by the Burmese people.

The Upper Burma Court has proven it's loyalty to the Chinese.  

10 July 2013

Press Release
Upper Burma Court Sentences Three Human Rights Defenders to Long-Term Imprisonment; Guards Intimidate Lawyer
By Burma Partnership and Assistance Association for Political Prisoners - Burma

On 8 July, Shwebo Township court handed out additional sentences to U Aung Soe, U Maung San and Ko Soe Thu, increasing their prison terms to respectively 11 years and six months and two years and six months. The three human rights defenders were previously detained, held incommunicado and sentenced in unfair trials for their opposition to the Letpadaung Copper Mine.

The three rights defenders were denied the right to access and consult with a defense lawyer. Court and prison officials thwarted attempts to gain power of attorney by U Aung Thurein Tun. The trio was not allowed to meet with a lawyer until their final court hearing when they received their trumped-up sentences. In a further perversion of the rule of law, prison guards intimidated U Aung Thurein Tun by listening in to his conversation with the three human rights defenders and taking photos in contravention of the principle of lawyer-client conversation confidentiality. International standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, require defendants to have prompt access to a lawyer. 
U Aung Soe from the Yangon People’s Support Network, U Maung San and Ko Soe Thu are human rights activists who peacefully protested against the construction of the Letpadaung copper mine in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Region. On 25 April, local police arbitrarily arrested the three after villagers began plowing the fields that had previously been confiscated from them.

Following the arrest, their whereabouts remained unknown for over 30 days. On 1 June, after a closed-door court proceeding, Shwebo Township court sentenced U Aung Soe to 18 months in prison and U Maung San and Ko Soe Thu to six months imprisonment each under section 188 of the Penal Code (disobedience of an order promulgated by a public servant), in total disregard of their right to due process of law.
“In Burma today, human rights activists still pay an unacceptably high price for exposing and highlighting fundamental injustices. This new verdict makes it impossible for the international community to deny that Burma is not that fundamentally different from under the previous military regime and that it is still not a free country,” said Khin Ohmar, Coordinator of Burma Partnership.

“Releasing political prisoners is not meaningful if the government continues to fill our country’s jails with replacements. Freedom today is worthless if you are imprisoned tomorrow,” said Ko Bo Kyi, Joint-Secretary, from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma. He added, “Since their initial detention, the three rights defenders were placed outside the reach and protection of the law. If the people of Burma are to believe the government is sincere about implementing the rule of law, then words need to be put into action. A first step would be to take action against state authorities who have stripped the three defendants of their most basic rights, including every human’s right to not be arbitrarily imprisoned and right to consult with a lawyer.”

On June 8, the Shwebo Township court sentenced U Aung Soe to an additional 10 years imprisonment under sections 505(b) (intent to cause alarm to the public), 295 and 295(a) (intent to insult a religion), and 333 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt to deter public servant from his duty) of the Penal Code, increasing his total sentence to eleven years and six months. U Maung San and Ko Soe Thu were sentenced to two years imprisonment under sections 505(b) and 333, making their total sentence to two years and six months each in prison.

“This is the first time since the so-called reforms started that human rights activists have been sentenced to such long terms in prison. Their only crime was to peacefully oppose a military-backed business that is irreparably harming the lives and livelihoods of their communities,” added Khin Ohmar. “This is a huge red flag to anyone wanting to do business in our country. Business has human rights impacts in Burma that the government is unwilling to adequately address. The international business community needs to practice "do no harm" policies when doing business in Burma.”

Arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, unfair trial and denial of lawyer-client confidentiality have no place in a country transitioning towards democracy. Restrictions on fundamental freedoms and on human rights defenders’ work must come to an end immediately. The government must immediately and unconditionally release activists and all remaining political prisoners; cease all forms of restrictions of human rights defenders; review all legislation identified as not being in line with international human rights norms; and undertake reforms to ensure the independence, impartiality, and accountability of the judiciary and the right to a fair trial. The government must also ensure the right to a fair trial, including immediate and ongoing access to a lawyer of the defendant’s choice and that no trial takes place without the presence of a defense lawyer.

For more information please contact:
Khin Ohmar, Burma Partnership: +66 (0) 818840772
Ko Bo Kyi, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma: +66 (0) 819628713

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Freedom of Expression in Burma?

Gentle Reader,

Recently I started looking at the easiest way to obtain a visa for Burma (Myanmar) and came upon a blog called The Mad Traveler on line.   I just have to share one paragraph from his article about the visa process at the embassy in Bangkok. "For a tourist visa you have to include a short work history. What were your last two jobs, beginning and end dates, work phone number, job title. It’s important not to include the obvious red flags: journalist, photographer, human rights activist, rabble rouser, terrorist, missionary".  

It appears to me the United States and the European Union told Burma that freedom of press and freedom of expression would be a prerequisite to opening up trade and aid to Burma.  The government of Myanmar responded quickly that freedom of expression is the new reality in that country.  Many people missed, or chose to miss the wink.

One of the newsletters to which I subscribe is Burma Partnership.  This morning I received a brief article that, at least for me, tells a awful lot about the state of freedom of expression and freedom of press in Burma.   I'll copy it here.

"20 June 2013

Statement by Three Human Rights Defenders 
By Moe Thway, Wai Lu and Wai Hmuu Thwin

We would like to explain what is happening to us, Moe Thway (Generation Wave), Wai Lu and Wai Hmuu Thwin (Yangon People Service Network), in these days.

On 13 June 2013, Monywa court issued warrants to arrest the three of us under section 505(b) of the Penal Code. Lieutenant Khin Zaw Latt from Monywa Police Station 1 said he requested Monywa court to charge us with section 505(b) because of our comments about the Letpadaung copper mine case.

On 25 April 2013, there was some violence between local police and villagers in the Letpadaung copper mine project area when villagers tried to plough their fields, which are in an area that they were prohibited to enter under section 144 of the Penal Code. Local police arrested an activist and two villagers and also issued a warrant for 8 other activists and villagers. As the consequences of that case, villagers were afraid of police raids on their villages and the possibility of more violence.

Because of that situation, we were worried that there would be more conflicts between local authorities and people. So we four activists, Aung Thu (88 Generation), Moe Thway (Generation Wave), Wai Lu and Wai Hmuu Thwin (Yangon People Service Network), went to Monywa and Letpadaung villages on 8 May 2013 to try to calm down the tensions in that area. We informed to the local police, administration and also government, that we were coming to find a compromise and peaceful way to resolve the problems.

During that trip, we met and consulted with people from several villages surrounding the Letpadaung project and brought their requests to local authorities. We sent the information we got from local people to the Prime Minister of Sagaing Region, U Tha Aye, and also to the chairman of Letpadaung mining project implementation committee, U Hla Tun, and two ministers of the President Office, U Aung Min and U Ohn Myint. We requested to meet Sagaing Region government, but we didn’t get the chance to meet the Prime Minister of Sagaing Region although we waited for 5 days from 8 to 12 May 2013. One of us, Wai Lu had a chance to meet U Aung Min, Minister of the President Office, to report about the situation in Yangon on 12 May 2013.

While we were in Monywa, we were asked for an interview by some local reporters. We had an interview with them at a tea shop named Pin Lone. Some police from the Special Branch were nearby and closely watched our interview. One reporter shot a video recording while we were answering questions. We spoke out our opinions of local police using section 144 of the Penal Code to keep villagers from entering their fields and prohibited areas near the mining project.

Unfortunately, Sagaing Region police force felt that our comments and opinions in the interview damaged the police and the government’s credibility. So they proposed the court to arrest us and charge us under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which carries a possible sentence of 2 years imprisonment.
We are being charged for giving an interview to media and expressing our opinions about police actions in a civil rights movement case. The government is telling the world that there is freedom of expression and is getting so much appreciation. But this warrant is an attack on our right to freedom of expression and is destroying Myanmar’s democratic transition.

We call on the government, the police and all authorities to ensure freedom of expression for all people of Myanmar as an important step on our path towards democracy."

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Spot Light On Burma!

Gentle Reader, 

It's impossible for me to write anything at all original about the 'Gala Charity Dinner and Dance - Spotlight on Burma'  My friend Garret Kostin, the director of the Chiang Mai branch of the Best Friend Burmese Library, has done a sterling job of posting information.   I'll just hit a few highlights, post a few photo's and ask you to check out the face book pages which are at Peace in Burma and The Best Friend Library 

Depending on who you talk to the event was about many things.  For me it started out about helping to raise money to keep the library open in the future.  However, it turned out to be much more.  It was an evening of awareness, compassion and good old fashioned fun!   The event's silent auction raised 65,550 baht ($2,260 US).  My congratulations to the contributing artists and my gratitude to the generous attendees who made this possible! 

Maliwan watches over a silent auction table
while I was taking pictures and networking.

One of the post event items posted on face book is more than worth quoting:  He wrote:  "If you had to pick just one, what would you say was your very favorite part of "Burma in the Spotlight" last night??

This could possibly be mine: the amazing DIVERSITY -- men and women; old and young; Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, atheists; Thais, Burmese, Shan, Kachin, Karen, Americans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Japanese, Australians, Germans, Brits, and on and on... All coming together for a night of fun together to support Burma, migrants and refugees, and the projects of The Best Friend in Chiang Mai and Shan State!"

My personal favorite experience was having the honor to meet Tin Tin Nyo, the Secretary General of the Women's league of Burma.  Short, to the point and very powerful is how I would describe her key note address.  She emphasized the need for women to be involved in Burma's political future and noted that while  changes are being proclaimed by the Burmese government any real change must be implemented on the ground.

Tin Tin Nyo and her party
Often I find myself frustrated, saddened and angry because horrific things happen to human beings and the people who influence the world just don't give a damn.  They seem only interested in lining their own pockets.  However, on the night of 1 June 2013 more than 450 people (guests, volunteers, staff and dignitaries) came together to support the Burmese people in their struggle for true freedom.   The event would not have been possible without all of them. However I'd like to mention:  Garrett Kostin, whose tireless work has made the library a reality!

Garrett Kostin
Director Best Friend Library Chiang Mai
The amazing food we enjoyed is a credit to the head Chef of the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel which provided a marvelous venue.   The event organizers Ram and Bazil made the event truly spectacular.   Several of my friends have commented on the quality and attention to detail that went into this special evening.

The Chef, The Organizers and someone

I posted images from the event at  Spotlight_on_Burma  They are also on my Facebook page Enjoy.  If you want to make a print of one any of these images please contact me and I will provide you with a print size file.  Please DO NOT download and print the images from my photobucket account or from my Facebook page.  First they are to small to get make a good print and 2nd it's a copyright violation.  A few more of my favorites are below.  Enjoy! 

Lovely Young Performers Ready for their big night!

We Women, one of many organizations represented

The Dance of the White Dear, a marvelous performace

Dang Fantastic, and he is! 

Grace and Beauty! 

Three English Students just after they made their first public speech!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

They Told Us So, But Did We Listen?

Not long ago I discussed a documentary called "Nothing About Us Without Us"  If you care to watch it, or watch it again I've included the link just below.  What is really aggravating is governments and large NGO's have been treating these people with no, absolutely no, respect!   They have been lying to them about repatriation plans which were being carried on behind there back.  

When I mentioned this video to people, I received some surprisingly defensive comments.  It seemed at the time that the Karen had shined a light on the pile of dung in the living room and the 'important' people were not to pleased.  The best they could do was ridicule the makers of the video.  Well, what do ya think they have to say now? 


What triggered this diatribe?  Well the answer, gentle reader, is:

Plans Under Way to Repatriate Burma’s Refugees
by Saw Yieng Naing / The Irrawaddy

A female refugee makes a sheet of leaves for the roof of her house in Ei Htu Hta refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)

More than 140,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand are facing mounting pressure to leave their camps on the border and return to their homeland, with many refugees saying they are not ready or willing to return.
Refugees in camps in northwest Thailand say they have been given three options: move elsewhere in Thailand, return to Burma or resettle in a third country. They say they have been asked to select a choice on a form delivered by Mae Fah Luang Foundation, a Thai organization under royal patronage that is based in Chiang Mai Province.
Most of the refugees on the Thai-Burma border are ethnic Karen who fled their homes in southeast Burma due to civil wars between the government and ethnic armed groups. Many are economic migrants who crossed the border in search of employment.
Several refugees in the Mae La refugee camp, which houses more than 40,000 people in Tak Province, said the Mae Fah Luang Foundation created the survey earlier this month and asked adults and teenagers in the camp to fill out their responses.
“On the form, refugees have three options,” said Ah Mu, who lives in the camp. “They [refugees] were asked to choose their top priority. For example, if they want to go to a third country, they have to mark that option…and also specify which country they have in mind.”
“They were also asked to mark their second and third priorities, in case if they weren’t matched with their first choice,” he added.
Ah Mu said other questions focused on the refugees’ skills and education levels, as well as where in Burma they would return and what kind of jobs they would pursue there.
The Thai foundation also distributed forms last month to community leaders who administrate another refugee camp known as Umpiem Mai, according to Tun Tun, the general-secretary of that camp.
He said he and other community leaders were consulting with refugees to consider their options as they completed the forms, which he said would be collected by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation in November.
Some refugees said that although they technically had three options, the criteria for traveling to a third country or staying in Thailand was so strict that many people were forced to opt to “voluntarily return” to Burma, even though they did not wish to do so.
Some others, however, said that those who complained were mostly newcomers and economic migrants from urban areas in Burma.
According to regulations from the UN refugee agency’s resettlement program, refugees without registration cards do not meet the criteria for resettlement.
So far, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that 81,700 refugees from Burma have been moved to other countries from Thailand since the UN resettlement program started in 2005.
Vivian Tan, spokesperson for the UNHCR in Asia, said it was not yet time to promote the repatriation of refugees to Burma. However, she confirmed that UNHCR and partners continued to consult with refugee communities and community-based organizations regarding their options and needs.
“We are also collecting information on the situation in the southeast [of Burma] that we will share with the refugees to enable them to make an informed choice when voluntary repatriation eventually becomes feasible,” she said.
Tan added that a profiling exercise began earlier this month to collect more information about the refugees, including their hometowns, education levels, skills and future plans.
She said all concerned ethnic armed groups and the Burmese government needed to agree on safeguards for returnees, including amnesties and respect for basic rights relating to freedom of movement, as well as the issuance of identity documents upon return. She also called for preparations in areas of potential return to ensure that returnees had a place to live and access to basic facilities, services and work opportunities.
There has been no public or official announcement about refugee repatriation or the expected closure of nine refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border. Some NGO sources, however, say Thai and Burmese authorities intend to shut the camps by 2015.
NGOs including UNHCR, The Border Consortium (TBC) and community-based organizations are conducting repatriation training and workshops for the refugees.
Representatives from refugee support agencies and international NGOs have been meeting with Burmese government officials in Naypyidaw since last year and engaging in efforts to facilitate the eventual repatriation of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Burma.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

You can make a real difference for less than $30 USD!

A little background:  My mother used to say that what goes around comes around.  She also reminded me that it gains both girth and speed on the back stretch. The 4th Universal law - The law of receiving reminds us that in order to receive you must give, else you close off the channel.  

850 Thai baht is worth approximately 28.35 U.S. Dollars,  21.90 Euros, 18.73 British Pounds or 29.35 Australian Dollars.  It’s not a huge amount of money, though it’s not, at least to me, trivial.  I’m asking you to spend or donate that amount of money and here are my suggestions:
  •         If you happen to be in Chiang Mai on Saturday June First,For only 850 baht you can attend a Gala Charity Event ‘Eyes on Burma’ at the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel. Time: 5:30 exhibition and silent auction / 7 p.m. - 11 p.m. dinner, dancing, entertainment.  There are some details at:  The Best Friend  There are several great reasons to attend:

1.    My personal favorite:  It supports an organization that is needed in this uncertain time along the Thailand/Burma border
2.    The Key Note Speaker is Tin Tin Nyo, General Secretary of Women's League of Burma) and there will be representatives from several well known organizations all doing good work to help the people along the Thai/Burma border including some of my personal hero’s like the Free Burma Rangers and Partners Relief & Development.
3.    The dinner will be an exquisite Burmese buffet
4.    The entertainment will be provided by several Burmese organizations and
5.    The dance band will be Thailand’s famous Dang Fantastic!

 The Best Friend
  • If you can’t make the event, please make a donation at The Best Friend Library Indiegogo campaign.     Please give the amount that you are comfortable with, plus just $5.00 more!   The campaign goal is reachable and that allows the library to be sustainable.  

Indiegogo campaign
The Best Friend Library in Chaing Mai is probably responsible for saving the life of Chaa Nay Choo, the 14 year old who suffered horrific burns trying to save others in the fire at Mae Surin refugee camp near Mae Hong Song on 22 March. 
Chaa Nay Choo
Although the Chaa Nay Choo is still receiving support from the library, the managed to conduct a successful campaing to finance new arms for Khong Naitun, the migrant worker from Burma who lost both of his arms in an electrical accident at his worksite. 
Khong Naitun
Just one final thought.  The Best Friend Library in Chiang Mai is worth keeping open and you deserve all the prosperity and happiness that you will allow through your generous donations!  

Abundant Blessings, 



Friday, 10 May 2013

'Burma in the Spotlight' Gala Charity Dinner & Dance in support of The Best Friend Library – Chiang Mai!

Gentle Reader, 

As you know I'm volunteering some of my time to support The Best Friend Library.  Please take a moment and look at their website and you will see that it's much more than a library.

A couple of hours ago Best Friend Library posted an article announcing a successful campaign to provide Khong Naitun, a Burmese migrant worker who suffered horrific injuries from a construction accident, with two new prosthetic arms!  

  This is an organization that deserves our support!

Thank you in advance for your interest in the 'Burma in the Spotlight' Gala Charity Dinner & Dance in support of The Best Friend Library – Chiang Mai! The event will be held on Saturday, June 1, at The Imperial Mae Ping Hotel. There are several ways you can support this event:

• ATTEND:   We hope you will attend the event with your friends. Tickets are only ฿850 each, and for that you receive a lot of value: an expansive Burmese buffet dinner, live entertainment by Dang Fantastic, one of Thailand's best-loved musicians, performances by talented artists from Burma, free library membership, and a chance to win some amazing prizes. Best of all, every baht raised supports education and social welfare projects for people from Burma!

Tickets are on sale at The Best Friend Library (302/2 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 13), The Imperial Mae Ping Hotel's reception desk, and customer service desks at every Rimping Supermarket in Chiang Mai.  I also have tickets for sale; you may call me directly. Let me know if you are interested in booking a full table for 10 at a special price!

• DONATE:  Our business friends are encouraged to donate prizes for the event's lucky draw. This is a great opportunity to have your business featured at the event to a targeted, compassionate, and active audience. as well as a great opportunity for people to try your product or service. Hopefully, each lucky draw winner will receive a prize worth at least 1,000 baht. 

• ADVERTISE:  A 20-page full-color program will be produced and distributed to each attendee, in addition to special supporters who are unable to attend the event in person. We are able to offer a select number of full-page ad spaces in the program. Advertisements will be A5 (vertical)-sized, and are offered for only ฿1,500 each. This opportunity won't last long. If you are interested, please contact me or The Best Friend Library as soon as possible.

• PROMOTE: Please forward this email to all your friends and colleagues to help spread the word. We have A4 and A3-size event posters. Perhaps you would display one at your place of business. Just let us know if you are willing, and we will deliver to you!

You can see more details at the following links:  This is the organization we are primarily supporting with this event, although many other local Burma-related organizations will also be benefitting.

I look forward to discussing the event and your participation further! You can contact me at or 089-556-4293. You can also email

Abundant Blessings,

Jerry Nelson

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Everything Is Broken!

The title was stolen from 'Everything is Broken : A Tale of Catastrophe in Burma' by Emma Larkin.  This excellent book was published by THE PENGUIN PRESS - New York - 2010.  ISBN:  978-1-59420-257-5.  While this article is not intended to be a book review.  I do however; want to make the suggestion that Ms. Larkin's critical work has not been read, or at least not understood by many in political power. This assumes that those in political power operate with good motives; alas this is doubtless a bad assumption. Nevertheless. The book is organized 3 major parts.

I   'A Sky Full of Lies' discusses the Burmese government's efforts to keep the truth about the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis when it made landfall in the Irrawaddy Delta on 2 May 2008.  The scope of damage is unfathomable.  According to official figures, 84,500 people were killed and 53,800 went missing.  Many sources who were on the ground in the weeks following claim that the actual casualty figures were two to three times higher!  More incredible was the reactions of the Burmese government.  U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates accused them of criminal neglect.  He was only one of many who made similar statements.   Larkin suggests that paranoia may be one explanation for their bizarre refusal to accept aid followed by their conniving attempts to make the relief workers tasks as difficult as possible. Perhaps they were afraid the United States and other western powers would see the post Nagris period as an opportunity to invade and topple their regime.  One thing is certain:  In an environment where information is blocked rumors are ramped, take on a life of their own and often serve as the only news available.  Certainly this was true after Cyclone Nargis.

II  'No Bad News for the King' points out that bad news NEVER goes up the chain of command in Burma.  The lengths they go to keep any negative news from reaching the highest echelons of government are truly flabbergasting.  One has to ask just how informed can Senior General Than Shwe really be when subordinates are terrified of presenting anything other than good news for his consumption.

III 'Everything is Broken' presents a summary of the facts, the denials, the corruption and the horrible results of the government's reaction.  Cyclone Nargis killed and injured so many people and created so much psychological , economic and physical damage that relief under the best of circumstances would have been extremely difficult.  The Burmese government displayed a behavior that under no circumstance could be classified as acceptable.  To prevent relief from reaching the victims of Cyclone Nargis was proof of just how inhumane and self serving the Burmese generals can be.

This book is highly recommended for anyone who is interested in a well written book on Burmese politics, events or recent history.  There are many other well written accounts of the on goings in Burma. My assumption is that if I can find them so can the United States Central Intelligence Agency, the British Intelligence Agencies and any other government with a modicum of interest in international affairs.

Know This!  Senior General Than Shwa rules Burma.  He commands the Burmese Army and the Burmese Army Generals are extremely loyal to him.  Those who have demonstrated possible opposition, real or imagined are dead! The current constitution  requires that the Army hold enough seats that it is impossible for any law to pass without the blessing of the senior general. President Thein Sein has limited power and is paraded out for ceremonial purposes as evidenced in the last link below. Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's long time political prisoner and hope for democracy, is now a member of parliament.  However, her opposition party can do little without the support of the international community.   Almost all of their political clout was stripped from them by the United States and the European Union when the sanctions were lifted.

The international community KNOWS the truth about the Burmese junta.  So why do they cow tow to the corrupt generals? The simple answer is that we have lost our moral compass, or to quote Emma Larkin "Everything is Broken". Is it really as simple as greed and corruption?   I think not.  While it is true that there will be massive fortunes made from the rape and plunder of Burma's resources it's more complicated than that.  

Forbes magazine published an Article entitled 'Myanmar - The Last Frontier?'  November 9, 2012.  Being a business journal it discusses business opportunities. Not one word was written about human rights violations, not one!  Frankly it's not worth reading but in fairness I've provided the link. 

Posted at Small WarsJournal is an article entitled ' Sharing the Wealth:  Burma's Post-Military Rule and Natural Resource Governance'   The article is interesting though I doubt the veracity of any writing that talks of post-military rule in the present tense.  Further, I find it noteworthy that in the bio's provided for the three authors there is NO MENTION of Kirk Talbott, John Waugh or Douglas Batson having ever actually been to Burma.

North Korean Involvement - Perhaps a year ago, I was on the outskirts of a conversation that I mostly regarded as empty bravado.  A man who claimed to be a journalist was telling a story about being refused a visa to Burma because he had let it slip to a Burmese embassy official that he knew about Burma's nuclear dealings with North Korea.  He is full of it, I thought. A simple trip to google would have proven me wrong. A quick search for Uranium in Burma reveals some very scary information including photographs.
Areal Photo of possible nuclear plant under construction near Mandalay
Japan confiscated contraband cargo of North Korean metal pipes and specialized aluminum alloy bars that were bound for Myanmar in breach of international sanctions.  These are essential components for building nuclear reactors.  The BBC reported that 'Burma may be building missile and nuclear sites in remote locations with support from North Korea, according to secret US cables released by Wikileaks".
Burma Democratic Concern wrote "Wikileaks cables have also made evident that the U.S. regularly lies in its public statements about international issues. The government isn t even close to being open with American citizens and the people of the world. For Burma, the Obama Administration is obliged under the Tom Lantos JADE Act to disclose publicly what it knows about the SPDC s nuclear program. The State Department has refused to publish the Act s Report on Military and Intelligence Aid, even in the face of our Freedom of Information filing..."  They went on to point out several specific cables including:

  • China revealing that Burma s North Korea relationship includes a nuclear component and that the North is providing hardware and Russia software and training - 09Rangoon502 
  • China promoting the idea that Burma-North Korea cooperation is acceptable - 09Rangoon732 
  • An offer to sell uranium to the Embassy in Rangoon - 08Rangoon749
  • Burma named as a WMD proliferation risk - 09State80163 (This alone might have made the Burmese generals paranoid).

The China Factor - It's a safe bet that as incompetent as the current United States administration is, they must be concerned about China.   Projects include a major copper mine near Monywa, oil pipelines from Burma's coast to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan.  There is also the huge Myitsone Dam project worth some $3.6 billion; it has been suspended until the end of Thein Sein's term as president.    I recommend the article 'China Didn't See This Coming' which appeared in the Atlantic on March 15th, 2013.   The United States, the European Union and others are fearful of China taking all the cherries from the Burma bowl; so afraid that they have lifted sanctions pretending that all is well in Burma.  Is keeping the truth on the table so difficult? Will denial continue to be the order of the day?  Will they say that there are no human rights violations to report?!   The United States is now offering military aid to the junta.  With more weapon technology they can kill more Karen, Rohingya, Kachin, Shan and any other ethnic group they choose to annihilate!   Of course the United States will play innocent, denying any knowledge of the carnage. How stupid do they think we are? They might even give the junta a wink and a 'solemn warning' to behave.  I'm ragging on the United States simply because that's where I come from and the behavior of my government is a source of great shame and frustration to all who care about human rights.  I'm pretty sure the European Union is no more pure.

Human Rights Violations As I said earlier, as incompetent as they are, these governments should be able to find unclassified documents.  Certainly they would argue that they are smarter than me and I have found many, far too many include in this article. Perhaps I should define them as inhumane rather than incompetent.  Herer is a small sampling of what I have found:

  • License to rape: How Burma’s military employs systematicsexualized violence  The author of this article points out that the "The 2008 Burmese Constitution places the military outside the purview of the civilian courts and includes an amnesty provision which precludes the prosecution of military perpetrators of crimes, including sexualized violence; raising global concern, including from the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar..."
Barack Obama, against the advice of top advisors, and human rights organazations around the globe, went calling on the president of Burma sending a clear message that anything he said about human rights was nothing more than political white wash.  This short video is well worth seeing:  Obama in Burma:  AMilestone for Reform or Groundwork for Oil-Friendly Junta Rule?
Two of a kind
President Thein Sien was given, given not earned, the ICG'S Peace Award.  Why?  I personally think it all has to do with greasing the slide through which the coffers of the west will be filled at the expense of the Burmese people.  While he does't  directly address the possible motives behind the award, Guy Horton definitely articulates the valid arguments such praise.  Please read:  Burma's Shame: Why the ICG's Peace Award froThein Sein is Unconsionable.  To me, it's more evidence that everything is broken when it comes to the grab for the resources of Burma. 

There will be presidential elections in 2015 and Thein Sien will be replaced, at the pleasure of Senior General Than Shwa.  His replacement will be toothless unless there is a revision of the Burmese constitution. Such a revision cannot happen without Than Shwa's blessing.  Not likely!

In the United States there will be another presidential election on Tuesday November 8, 2016.  This of course assumes that the current president and his cronies don't succeed in totally destroying the United States of America, where almost Everything is Broken!

If Everything is Broken, why do I bother?   If enough people know what is actually happening, then perhaps it will be possible to repair many of the wrongs that are now being committed.  My Quote Action for today reads:  "Truth, like surgery, may hurt but it cures" writer Han Suyin - Your action for today is to see if you are avoiding telling someone the truth.  What do you think it's costing them and you?  Please share this article with everyone !