By Julie Ann Walton and Ashlee Heiligman with Global Child Advocates
So what is happening in Myanmar? What IS Myanmar?
You’re not foolish for wondering. Many remember Myanmar by its former name Burma. To additionally complicate things, that’s how the US State Department still refers to this nation. So Myanmar (or Burma) is the largest country in Southeast Asia and borders Thailand, China, Bangladesh and India. It’s a wonderfully diverse nation of over 135 different ethnic groups, including Shan, Chin, and Karen amongst many others.
Myanmar gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1948 and differing political groups vied for control for many years. The first military take over occurred in 1962 and the ethnic minorities have been in danger ever since. For decades ethnic minorities have endured the military’s campaign through education, repressive laws, economic exploitation, systematic use of rape and brutal force to deplete the ethnic minorities of their own identities. Some of these have been more recognized globally, such as violence against the predominantly Muslim minority group of Rohingha people.
In response, many of the ethnic groups formed their own resistance armies to defend their own people from the military. While these ethnic defense groups haven’t always agreed, they have coexisted peacefully for the most part. Even peaceful protests against military rule were quickly silenced with guns and tanks.
In 2015, under new leadership the country began to shift. New progress was made towards a more democratic nation and there was hope for the ethnic minorities to have peace. This led to increased optimism and economic growth within the country, and at GCA, we were optimistic. We had begun training many churches and children’s homes about child protection and we were dreaming of even more ways to invest in programs there to reach more children.
Then on February 1, 2021, we woke up to news of a military coup. The military leaders or the Tatmadaw once again overthrew the democratically elected government, arresting its leaders and declaring a state of emergency. This led to unprecedented, national and peaceful protests across the entire country. The coup (or junta) again responded with sustained and systematic violence throughout the nation but this time, the people would not be silenced. The military leaders have been ruthless in their practices and approach, even conscripting child soldiers. As of April 2022, they have murdered over 1,700 people (including children) and arrested over 13,000 people, most without any sense of due process or ethical legal proceedings.
The situation is dire, complicated, messy, and brutal. We are also witnessing the strength and resilience of the people of Myanmar and it is beautiful.
In the midst of this, all of what we have described above, GCA launched our newest arm of work in the region. We assembled a team of child protection professionals to travel around their villages doing what they do best – finding and strengthening vulnerable families.
So how does this conflict affect vulnerable children and families?
Everything awful in any nation, city or community that is unresolved will always flow downstream and affect children the hardest. As simple as that sounds, it’s true. Currently, there are thousands of children and their families who are being subjected to daily violence including bombings, shootings, the arrest of parents, etc. There appears to be little regard by this current junta to spare children from violence and we are daily seeing the disastrous results of this.
For children not in direct conflict zones (bear in mind, this changes on a daily/weekly basis according to the junta’s plans), they are still getting the very worst of what society is unable to sort out. Currently, thousands of children are not in school throughout the nation as many teachers are on strike in protest of the military junta. Additionally, healthcare providers were already stretched thin due to rising COVID numbers and lack of resources. The conflict also affects economic opportunity in the nation with many facing unemployment and rising poverty.
What does that mean for children? It means their family is at increasing risk. As the war continues, the fault lines that already could lead to family separation are maxed out and at increasing risk for breaking. This means that children could lose the people with whom they feel most safe and secure: their family.
This is where GCA is working right now to strengthen and preserve families. On one day, this looks like visiting a dump community and reminding a single dad that he has enormous value to his children, encouraging him to continue to resist the ever-present temptation to substance addiction and keep fighting for his kids. On another day, it looks like dreaming of a new social enterprise to support young women at increased risk for trafficking and exploitation. Over the Christmas holidays, our teams put on parties throughout the nation celebrating with weary moms and their beautiful children. Other days, it looks like our team in Thailand, just across the border from Myanmar, supporting migrant families as they flee the violence.
To be candid: we do not currently see how on earth this conflict can be resolved in Myanmar. While the resistance efforts are unlike anything we’ve seen in previous conflicts, the military has shown little signs of giving up.
But that is why we too must not give up. As headlines change and global attention spans shift from crisis to crisis (all important and noteworthy), we’d ask that you continue to remember Myanmar. This beautiful nation with hills and valleys and a confusing name is filled with smart, strong, resilient children who need us to remember them.
So what can you do?
- Share this blog across your networks. On behalf of our GCA staff and the friends and families we serve in Myanmar, please don’t allow the world to forget what is happening in their home country.
- We need your help to continue to serve children and families in Myanmar. Check out more about Global Child Advocates and our work to preserve families here. We’d love for you to join our work to protect kids in Myanmar.
- To directly support women from Myanmar and their children, shop GCA’s social enterprise Sojourn Studio’s Mother’s Day sale here.