TWA trains Burmese activists in Thailand on ‘Democracy and Elections’ – report

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The two week training imparted the tools for organizing a Mass Mock Election in Burma

TWA trained Burmese refugee activists based in Thailand on ‘Democracy and Elections,’ in light of their successful organizing of Exile Tibet’s first Mass Mock Election in July 2010.

TWA Vice President Samten Chodon joined Program Coordinator of ‘Empowerment through Action’ (Women’s empowerment) Nyima Lhamo in visiting five regions of Thailand.

The objective of this training program was mainly to share with the Burmese activists the possibility of conducting a mass mock election, and to tell the world that the 2010 election was rigged and the new system in Burma sustains the military power and rule.

Read the intial press release here, and a day-by-day report below.

[One] gentleman confessed that till date he has been living with more priority towards people and interest in his ethnic group; which he think should change after looking at how Tibetans in exile live and what they work towards

3rd and 4th August – Mahachai

Mahachai has the highest concentration of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand; most of them work in the area’s seafood processing plants. We began the day with so many doubts and fears of the possibilities of not being welcomed, of not being able to connect to our friends there. But our fears disappeared as we began with the training. The first day of the training saw around 25 young men who were invited by Ven. Ashin Vayama.  Many of them happened to be leaders of racial groups, NGOs and small associations. We looked into introduction of TWA, the similarities between Tibet and Burma’s struggle, our Democracy, why Democracy, then Mock election and why Mock election.

The greatest weakness of the people living in this part of town was lack of education; especially not knowing English. Most of the participants expressed their wish and desire to study but they saw no possibilities as the authorities object and suppress. Their survival becomes their priority and moreover the long working hours with only a day or two off in a month adds on their burden and makes it impossible for them to think of other possibilities. They wish if only a super power or a stronger foreign nation could initiate a program for them. A young man said that he tried to open a school in the locality but was not allowed; it sounded like the policy of the authorities to keep the masses uninformed and uneducated forever.

At the end of 2 days training, people of Mahachai showed interest and willingness to support to the organizing group.

6th and 7th August – Sangkhapuri

The next training was in Sangkhapuri at the New Mon Association’s office, attended by a group of 11 people. The group consisted of some women representatives from Mon Women’s Association and Mon leaders from New Mon State Party; it was impressive to see the women taking active participation. People in this town participated beyond our expectations, especially the Mon leaders; we were told that they lived in the forests with arms for more than 20 years but they had a lot to say and share with us throughout the two days. The offtopic discussions on gender issues and the refreshment game led by Rev. Imoto sparked in more laughter and hilarity to the training. It is always not easy to begin a big project like a mock election if there are too many ethnic groups with their ethnic interests; but this training clearly brought the participants closer and it was interesting to see them conversing in Burmese dialect instead of Mon dialect at the end of the second day of the training.

9th August – Mae sot

The town has a substantial population of Burmese refugees and economic migrants. In recent years the ongoing refugee situation has attracted NGO’s and International aid agencies to set programs in the town and surrounding areas. Rev. Imoto and his friends have opened a café named  ‘Peace Cafe’  and the net profit from this café project is used to help the people inside Burma.

Dr. Carl who was one of the organizers of this project kindly agreed to allow us to do the training at his house. Mae sot is a town where you find more Burmese than Thai people but politically a sensitive town and thus could organize only a day’s program. The attendees were all Burmese Activists representing Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB), All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSD), National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) and Refugee camp leaders. This group showed their concerns as to how to move towards a big project like a Mock Election; there was a slight lack of confidence and trust that the other ethnic groups would corporate and commit. Many of the attendees showed their curiosity and interest in learning about Tibet, Tibetan history and our lives in exile.

10th and 11th August – Chaingmai

On 10th August, Tibetan Women’s Association met with the secretaries of Women’s League of Burma(WLB); TWA’s Vice President and the Secretaries had a in depth discussion of the group’s activities, projects and programs.

The daylong meeting and exchange program with the high profile politicians and leaders of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), National United Party of Arakan (NUPA), Arakan National Council (ANC), and Chin National Front stands the most fulfilling part of the program. The gentlemen took note of all the things that we shared about TWA’s Mass Mock Election and they appreciated TWA for having conducted the mock election in exile. One of the gentlemen agreed and confessed that till date he has been living with more priority towards people and interest in his ethnic group; which he think should change after looking at how Tibetans in exile live and what they work towards.

13th August – Bangkok

Back in Bangkok, we readily waited to see meet with the Rohingya group leaders. The Rohingya (Burmese) living in Thailand is a predominantly Muslim ethnic group of Arakan in western Burma. Under the Junta rule, the ethnic minorities like the Rohingya are heavily discriminated. It always feels great when you meet people speaking the languages you are so close to; most of the attendees of the day spoke Hindi which helped to break the ice between us. As we presented the mechanism of conducting a mock election, many of them showed fear of the impossibility of conducting a mock election and were not confident of their participation if ever conducted. The attendees differed with their opinions and it brought in all the attendees to share their ideas to the group. Some of them felt that the first step should be education and empowerment; which is one of their weaknesses.

Conclusion:

TWA is proud to be able to share and train our Burmese friends in Thailand despite that fact that we are refugees in this world. The restoration of peace and independence in Burma will surely have an impact on Tibet’s struggle. TWA is convinced that the Burmese activists will be successful in conducting a large scale Mass Mock Election in Burma to ascertain the people’s mandate in the formation of a Government run by a democratically elected leadership – just like the one bestowed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Tibetan people. TWA would like to thank Rev. Imoto for having presented TWA with this opportunity to share our work with the Burmese friends and we look forward to developing more programs and working together in the near future.

Quotes:

“Democracy plays an important role for Burma and Tibet. We feel Tibetan democracy is a gifted one, and are happy to share our gift with the people of Burma through this training. People in Burma are struggling for democracy under the Junta rule. Aung Sang Sui Kyi and her supporters’ efforts show commitment to restoring peace in Burma, and are effective enough to highlight the oppression and hardship facing of the people of Burma,” said Samten Chodon.

“With the heightened repression of Tibetans in Nepal, if Burma became a free state and if meaningful democracy is restored in Burma, then this could also create another route for Tibetans to escape into exile, even if it meant to escape secretly,” said Rev Katsuyuki Imoto.

“Some Burmese groups are trying to expand their knowlege, skills and ideals after you ladies left here. It was so powerful experience for
all of us, and I am sure that we are stepping to next stage soon. Strongly hoping Free TIBET and Free BURMA. With warm regards, Aiko Hommaru”

Also view the photographs on Flickr.

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

Overseas empowerment training 2011

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