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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Khin Lay

Interviewed December 10, 2023

After the opening in 2011, we call transition – democratic transition, so civil society roles are becoming bigger and bigger [In 2011, Burmese President Thein Sein began enacting a reform agenda that has eased government restrictions on civil liberty and opened more political space for opposition parties]. But in fact, after the 2008 Nargis cyclone – so most of the young people were very active and energetic to do something for their community. [On May 2, 2008, Cyclone Nargis made landfall and caused widespread devastation in Burma. According to official figures, 84,500 people were killed and 53,800 went missing].

At that time, we found out that – firstly, we waited for the international community to come and help and to give the assistance to the victims and also the government. But no way. We didn’t receive any urgent, emergency aid from international community and the government. That’s why most of the young people trying to help and to support for the victims in the Nargis cyclone area. So from that time on, the young people are very active and they usually work as a volunteer service to help and to support the poor people and the needy kids. From that time on, we were very alert and we opened our eyes. We should do by ourselves for the benefit of our people, so not to wait for the outsiders or the government so we should do ourselves.

That’s kind of mentality came from 2008 Nargis, after Nargis. There was a little – very little civil society, we can call community-based organization at the ground level who were actively helping the poor people and some were volunteer teachers for the needy kids. And also there were some funeral services, because – you know, to have a funeral service is very costly in our country. That’s why there are free funeral services associations in our community. And also blood donations.

And there were many – small civil society came out, but they can’t do with high profile. So very low profile and they keep quiet and they did their work very silently. But after the opening in 2011 and 2012, so we take these advantages to widen our space. And we try to do many things. Now, there are thousands and thousands of civil society came out during these two years. And they’re also actively engaged in helping not only the poor people, but also for the needs of our country, like that there are some environmental groups and there are some artist groups. And in every phase there are many active civil society groups came out.