Changing Myanmar and Cuso
Poor Myanmar has had it rough for a long time. The military grabbed power and took the country on a “Burmese Road to Socialism. Change was possible in the popular uprising of 1988, but the hard-liner of what became the State Law and Order Restoration Council or SLORC -- you have to love that name - took over and kept on the road to ruin for another 20 years. And that includes harsh reprisals against monk-led protests in 2007 and an almost complete failure to respond to the devastation wrought by cyclone Nargis in 2008. It left over 130,000 people dead in the low-lying delta.
Personal interlude: The non-governmental agency that I am supporting finds its origins in the civil society response to Nargis. What is now Network Activities Group started out as Nargis Activities Group. I took the ferry over to Dalah, across the river from downtown Yangon. It is a rural-residential area with many houses built with bamboo mats. A rickshaw driver toured me around and showed how high the water had risen during Nargis. There were very few few brick or concrete buildings on which to find a place above the water
Things are looking up since, say, 2010: cessation of censorship, some liberalization of the economy, and cease fire negotiations with the many separatist movements. The elections in 2010 were seen by many as flawed, but they and subsequent by-elections created a multi-party bi-cameral parliament, with, among others, Aung San Suu Kyi as a member. And yes, 25% of seats in parliament are reserved for appointees of the military.
Parliament is trying to find its feet. Debates are lively and, as I have been told by someone who could know, even the military appointees are drawn into the spirited debates. It is, however, hampered by lack of funding, research support, and experience. A couple of months ago the 330 members of the lower house had one photocopier between them.
Personal interlude: CUSO, the organization that is sending me here, has a substantial commitment to support parliament and civil society organizations that work towards deepening democracy here:
Three of my colleagues run language and research skills training for parliamentary staff.
Another colleague is writing a brief that Equality Myanmar, a think tank, will submit to a UN body, discussing the progress (or lack thereof) of Myanmar’s treatment of vulnerable groups, including the LGBT community.
Two colleagues are supporting EGRESS, an organization with a youth policy focus, with research and proposal writing prowess.
My task is to further NAG’s ability to monitor its programs. Most of these revolve around mobilizing village-level groups of vulnerable households with a view of increasing food security and incomes in the context of economic and political awareness raising.
So what is the point of these ruminations? That there is a CLICK HERE button right above this post. It gets you to my fundraising page, which is really Cuso’s fund raising page. Canucks, push the button, will you!