Thursday, May 22, 2008

Donating to Burma

A few years ago I was a teacher in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border. My students were fleeing the Burmese occupation of their ethnic minority homeland, Karenni State. I was in my first few days of teaching and living there when US tanks started to roll into Afghanistan in the wake of 9-11. Burma was on the axis of evil shortlist. My students were hopeful that tanks and apache helicopters would similarly move into Rangoon. I don't think that even my students really believed that it was the most likely or best scenario. What they were really voicing was their desire and need for the world to intervene on their behalf.

Months later, a conversation with one of my Karenni co-workers made this desire for outside intervention even more stark. "I feel like I'm in a prison begging for just one cup of water," Richard told me. "Even when I get a cup, I still need more."

The people of Burma no doubt hope that the outside world will intervene on their behalf now in the wake of the cyclone. Unfortunately, the Burmese government is barring all aid to the country and as weeks pass and their situation remains dire, the story gets pushed further and further from the front pages. In the meantime, people in remote areas of Burma not only have no shelter and food, but there is an increased risk of outbreaks of cholera and other diseases as clean water is scarce.

My Burmese language class buddy, Matt, is in Burma right now. He's been teaching at Gitameit Music School, where the students have been trying to get direct help to those areas hardest hit. You can see from their website that they're tirelessly bringing supplies and food to those people who need it. The website also has a list of ways to donate to organizations that are already in Burma who have local resources and staff who are better able to travel and get aid to places where it's needed. (My friend Matt has not gone on any of the relief trips because having a white guy along will draw attention from the government.) Matt recommends the Foundation for the People of Burma as a reputable and effective NGO to donate to.

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