Why Burma?

This is the question I get asked more than any other.  Of all the places I have visited, why have I focused my involvement on Burma?  For almost anyone who has visited the country, the answer would likely seem obvious.  For those who haven’t, I’ll do my best to give the best answer I can.

The Burmese live under one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.  They are subject to extreme political repression, including the imprisonment of over 2000 political activists, forced labor, forced relocation, and a wide range of other human rights abuses.  The country has been plagued by civil war since before its inception and abuses directed toward ethnic minorities – over 100 different ethnic groups live in the country – are routine.  It ranks near the bottom in world rankings relating to health care, education, poverty, and infant mortality.  I’m not going to spend a lot of time delving into these things, because they are well-documented and easily found by typing “Burma” into your favorite web browser.

What draws me to Burma is that in spite of this – in spite of the repression and the crushing poverty that plagues most of the country – the people I have met, almost to a person, are the kindest, most generous, people I have ever come across.  Whether on a bus or in a tea shop, they are engaging, and always strive to make sure that you, as a visitor, is well taken care of.  Moreover, in a time when much of the world harbors an anti-west sentiment, this is a place where the people truly love westerners and go out of their way to make us feel welcome.

Even more inspiring is that, in the face of the brutality of the regime, there is a growing civil society in Burma.   Community based organizations dot the landscape.  People strive for education and long to help themselves pull out of their current situation.  They openly talk about their hope for freedom and democracy and a better life.  In other words, there is hope in the country.  And, I want to learn more about them and do my small part in hoping their hopes to be realized.

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