Oppressing the Christians in Chin and Media Dreams in the Air

chin_stateYangon  Chin is a somewhat inaccessible state occupied largely by ethnic Chin’s along the western and northern mountainous areas of Myanmar strategically located along the Indian and Chinese borders of the country.  The state is geographically large, but its population is hardly 500,000, and perhaps significantly less given the number of Chin who have fled, largely because of religious oppression that has enjoyed government support and military implementation for years, as we learned in a lengthy meeting with the Chin Human Rights Organization.   With all the current news coverage about the ethnic violence involving Muslims in some of the rural areas, the religious oppression here involves Christians, and more precisely, Baptists.

            It seems that in the 1880’s, Baptists missionaries from the United States, began proselytizing among the Chin and somehow caught lightning in a bottle because of the alignment of animism and Christianity in a weird synergy.  Unfortunately, the military government has tended to build unity in this overwhelmingly Buddhist country by equating religion and nationalism.  We heard of a program of residential schools that seemed similar to the colonization of first Canadians and Native Americans in North America with the added incentives of promises of scholarships and jobs.   They shared a recent report entitled, “Threats to Our Existence” that detailed instances of forced labor used to build pagodas by Christians so that higher officials could win “merit” as well as sites where there were cross destructions.   Normally, the CHRO is left “documenting” these cases for the various United Nations bodies responsible for either refugees or human rights abuses, but now they were helping to prepare for a coming meeting in Chin State won as part of the ceasefire settlement that would organize a human rights commission, so they were more hopeful of real action.

            Later in our day we met with a representative of the Burma News International named Khin Maung Shwe.  As deeply rooted and methodical as CHRO was in its approach, BNI was all up in the air with plans and dreams.  They were an on-line news source, but also publishing two books on the political peace process and the economy, as well as trying to figure out how to build a national FM radio network with a host of foreign donors from George Soros’ Open Society to French media foundations.   Where days ago one of our group had asked about social networking and almost gotten a blank stare, BNI was deeply ambitious and uploading news to Facebook at one time, Twitter later in the day, and then finally on their website.  30 people were employed by the project and they were moving like a house on fire.  Did they have problems with censorship?   Sure, but this was their time!   How about the government?  Well, they met with them monthly along with others and were hoping to convince them to license their efforts. 

            Jay Hessey formerly of SEIU and now working in Mae Sot, Thailand with refugees, commented later that one thing that was most moving was the amount of hope everyone seemed to have.  His observation was inarguable, not withstanding any facts to the contrary.

IMG_0133

IMG_0136

IMG_0132

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Seoul Mayor and the International Welfare Forum

Mayor Won Son Park

Seoul   The Mayor of Seoul, Won Son Park, is a widely recognized progressive, former human rights lawyer, and as he pointedly mentioned to me, “an activist.”  As speakers at the afternoon conference, we were meeting with him early in the morning along with the leadership of the Seoul Welfare Foundation which was sponsoring the Seoul International Welfare Forum 2012 along with Hyowoo Na, director of Asian Bridge, an ACORN International’s partner in Korea.  The meeting was in his office of course in the super modern, space age City Hall.

The Mayor was plain spoken and gracious.  His desk was stacked 3 feet high with reports and paperwork.  A set of slanting, crooked shelves behind his desk held yet more reports.  More interestingly the back wall was filled with post-it notes.  We asked about his rainbow of notes as we left and it developed that he was known here for collecting comments from citizens about improvements for the city.  He was careful to point out to all of us that the citizens were the “boss” in Seoul.  I told him when my turn came that in the USA we had a president who had been a community organizer, but seemed to have no concept what they might mean, so it was a pleasure to meet a mayor that actually cared about community organizing.

suggestions from citizens

The welfare conference theme was “Community Organization for Sustainable Welfare System” and Ed Shurna of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and myself were both giving keynote addresses with other speakers from Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, and Korea on the program.  Ed, a friend and comrade, was tasked to give some sense of the history of community organizing from Alinsky forward.  My topic focused on the stated goal of the city and the welfare foundation to deliver 20% of their services “using community organization methods.”  Ed had definitely drawn the easier straw, since weeks ago, I had no clear view of what the 85 community welfare centers might have to do with welfare.

After several days immersed in the program, this was also not “welfare as we knew it” in the sense of cash payments, benefits, eligibility, and needs tests.  This was “social welfare” in the broader terms, but they were also modeling social enterprise.  Talking to a visiting professor from Sweden, it seems the city was “broke as a joke.”  It could have meant that they were looking for “sustainable” welfare in order to transfer the costs to citizens.  Such a framework would explain the field visits the previous day better.

We’ll talk more of all of this, but the Mayor was without doubt the real thing, so it was hard not to be optimistic even in fact of concerns.

group picture with the Mayor ~ he is one holding copies of my latest books
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail