In Burma, The Wrong Way to “Help”

There have been some recent positive changes in Burma, but make no mistake that the country remains an authoritarian regime.  Authoritarian regimes have rules.  When you don’t follow those rules, the worst thing that will happen to you is that you will get kicked out of the country.  But for those who may have helped you, or could be perceived by the authorities as helping you, the consequences can be much, much worse.  Which brings me to this guy:

There are so many things wrong with his approach, which I hope will be self evident to anyone reading this blog.  But, I want to point out one quote:

I agreed to stop walking and leave Burma because others were being held responsible for my travel. That was never the purpose of this walk. I wanted to see the country I had read about in books for the past three years. I wanted to dramatize Ying’s walk through Burma over a decade ago to send her to school. I wanted to get away from the approved tourist areas and meet and talk to the fifty-three million people living in Burma in order to deepen my interest in the country. But I can’t accept Magado Travel taking the blame, stress, and loss for my decisions. They are not my whipping boy.

The fact is that this guy’s trip was all about him.  If he really wanted to help Ying, he would have put her in touch with one of the many fine organizations that are working to provide opportunities for Burmese students and who you know, actually know what they are doing.  If he wanted to publicize her plight, he could have gotten in touch with the media or many other things.  Instead, he decided to act recklessly and put people in danger — not just the travel agent, but any person he met and spoke to in areas where he was not supposed to be.  All so this guy could blog about his great adventure.  Shameful.

What is the moral of the story?  If you have a great desire to “do something,” please pause.  Contact an NGO.  Contact your embassy.  The folks at the US Embassy are extremely friendly and helpful.  Get in touch with a Burmese civil society organization.  Talk to people who have spent time in the country.  You can even go down to 50th Street Bar and just start asking around about good places to donate or help.  Just stay away from political topics and people will be willing to talk with you.   But, please do not just go start breaking the laws of the country because you feel you have some moral high ground.  You are not going to do any real good and you may well put people in danger.


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