Myanmar after the Coup: "I am very worried"
Berlin / Yangon, 14 May 2021
After a process of democratization in recent years, the military took back control in the Southeast Asian country in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021. Nationwide political protest movements have been violently put down ever since - over 800 people have already died, almost 4000 were detained. Conflicts have also flared up again in ethnic minority areas, such as the Shan, Kachin and Karen. People who had just begun to build a new life in their homeland after decades of flight and violence are being afraid this would happen again. One of them is Ma Pyone.
When Ma Pyone was just 13 years old, the already simmering conflict between the Myanmar and armies reached her village. Her family fled near the Thai border, ready at any time to quickly flee across the green border. In a school in a Thai refugee camp, she was able to graduate from high school and train as a teacher. Soon, the war forced the family to flee to the Thai refugee camp. Due to the family's financial hardships, Ma Pyone had to take a job as a maid in Bangkok. She had to leave her two children with her parents. When the Karen signed a peace agreement with the Burmese government in 2015, the family returned to Myanmar. In a village near the border, they wanted to build a new life. "We could have used the money from my job in Bangkok to do that, but my father asked me to stay to work for the Karen people who had suffered so long from the war," Ma Pyone said.
New beginning in the homeland
At the Karen Department of Health and Welfare, which is a department under the administrative structure of the Karen National Union (KNU), she attended a six months basic health training and provided health awareness training to the community. At that time, Johanniter was just starting a new project in her village. A health center was built, education on health and nutrition issues was conducted, and a water supply system was constructed. There was also training in agriculture and home gardening. In all activities, community members were encouraged to actively participate and contribute their labor. As a member of the village development committee, Ma Pyone was actively involved in Johanniter project activities. For example after a training on organising selfhelp groups/saving groups, she also organized a saving and credit group. Here, members can borrow money at a low interest rate. "When I felt the concept was working, I wanted to help other villages set up such groups," says the 46 year old Karen woman.
She now works as a coordinator for the Johanniter partner organization KDHW. She strengthens local communities in building financial resources from their own resources.
"There are also political conflicts in our area, which means we don't have access to basic social services and are not protected by proper laws," says Ma Pyone, explaining her motivation. Thanks to the saving groups, many members have already been able to set up small businesses. "I can see that the concept works. My dream is for it to develop into a community bank that can provide financial services for the whole community."
A new civil war looms
But then the COVID-19 pandemic and the military coup came. "I'm afraid our money will be devalued or other bad things will happen. I've had to flee so many times because of civil war. I don't want that to happen again," she reported as recently as March. Prices for food and fuel have risen sharply. People die daily in political protest movements. Life has been enormously restricted: „Life has already been severely restricted by the pandemic and now everything is pointing towards another severe civil war. As our area is not controlled by the military, we are not directly involved in the protest movement, but the Karen National Union clearly rejects the military dictatorship. There have already been aerial bombardments not far from here because of this. At the moment two of our three partner organization can continue their project activities in Karen, but this could change anytime. Unfortunately, one partner had to temporarily suspend some of their project activities. ", says Nicole Kockmann, Johanniter programme officer for Southeast Asia.
“There are many different challenges, besides the unstable security situation and limited communication due to the blocking of internet access, the banking system is also barely functioning, new and old conflicts are intensifying. If the situation worsens, many people will be displaced within the country. Johanniter, together with its partners, has been supporting the people in the country since 13 years. We will not abandon them in the current difficult situation”, explains Lothar Kinzelmann, country director of Johanniter in Myanmar.