Archive for the Civil Society Category

In Burma, The Wrong Way to “Help”

Posted in Civil Society, Tourism on November 14, 2011 by burmaperspective

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:

http://scholarshipsforburma.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/i-wish-i-could-say-i-walked-to-mandalay/

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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Update From Yangon

Posted in Civil Society, Development on February 23, 2011 by burmaperspective

It is remarkable to me how much has changed in the year-and-a-half since I first visited Burma. As I mentioned in the previous post, the introduction of visa on arrival started an influx of tourism that was further compounded by the elections and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. The result has been a sea of foreign faces in places where I have never seen them before.

Small things are more expensive but big things are getting cheaper.* The exchange rate has taken a nose dive, dropping 15% since I started coming to Burma. Hotel prices are increasing. The price of a single air-conditioned room in my hotel has risen 60%. Cheaper rooms have had an even more dramatic increase. The price of a glass of beer, always a good judge of an economy, has risen about 20%. On the other hand, the price of a permanent cell phone number has dropped from $1000+ to $500 and is continuing to fall. Car prices are also dropping, though still are not in the realm of affordability for the ordinary Burmese. A used Toyota was around $30,000 on my first visit and I am told the price is now closer to $15,000. Locals expect the price to fall in half again in the coming year. Continue reading

Burma ≠ North Korea

Posted in Arts, Civil Society, Education on November 1, 2010 by burmaperspective

News about Burma is almost exclusively negative.  But, Burma is not North Korea. I think that opposition groups tend to avoid talking about the positive developments in the country because they are worried that any positive news will take focus off the fact that the county continues to be ruled by a repressive dictatorship with little regard for human rights.  I actually think that this strategy has the opposite effect.  It distances westerners from the Burmese people, who get portrayed strictly as victims.

The truth is that many Burmese have access to the internet.  Many have satellite dishes.  Bootleg DVDs are sold on the streets of Yangon and movie theaters even play American movies.  As a former British colony, many Burmese speak English.  They also are huge Premier League football fans, with an unnatural affinity for Manchester United.

Culture can thrive in Myanmar, often carefully walking a line that keeps it out of the crosshairs of the regime.  Moreover, Yangon has a healthy hip-hop scene, both mainstream and underground, in addition to a thriving hardcore scene.  While much of the country lives in extreme poverty, it is important to understand that there is a sector of the country that not only has a strong cultural scene, but is also quite knowledgeable about western culture. Continue reading