Text and photos/ Kalika Bro-Jørgensen, Communication Consultant
Half a century of armed conflict and human rights violations has left wounds in many corners of Myanmar, which are difficult to heal. Former fellows, who grew up during the conflict, used their unique position to help provide public consultations and reconciliation following the ceasefire agreement in Kayah State.
In 2011 the fellowship programme was phased out in Kayah State, but Ko Li Reh Angelo, Ko Nan Ri and10 other former fellows – who all grew up during the conflict – were not ready to quit. They decided to start their own organisation to continue development work with the communities they had engaged with as fellows.
In Kayah all the other NGOs were religious. We wanted to form an organisation that had no religious affiliations. It was difficult and we needed funds, said Ko Li Reh Angelo.
In April 2012 the former Fellows managed to establish the Local Development Network (LDN), which is now ActionAid’s local partner Organisation in Kayah State. Ko Li Reh Angelo estimates that the Fellows used to spend half their time on conflict related issues.
Now, with the ceasefire, we can work much more efficiently on actual development, he said.
When the current ceasefire agreement was reached in March 2012, the Local Development Network was determined to ensure proper public consultations.
The sustainability of any ceasefire depends on a strong community engagement. If people are not aware about the actual agreement both sides can break it with impunity at village level
In May 2012 the Local Development Network and 11 other local civil society organisations founded the Kayah State Peace Monitoring Network (KSPMN) to support public consultations and monitor the ceasefire. Cooperating with both sides of the ceasefire agreement they organised more than 20 public consultations over the next one and a half year. Before each consultation they met with local villagers to explain the aim of the event, emphasising that everyone should feel free to ask questions and raise their concerns.
We need to encourage villagers to ask questions – they are very afraid after decades of random threats and torture during the armed conflict
It was a welcome surprise when U Saw Maw, 52, received an invitation to attend a public consultation about the 2012 ceasefire in Kayah State, which had put an end to half a century of armed conflict.
"At the last ceasefire, in 1995, we had no consultations, so this was definitely an improvement. It made me feel that my right to speak out about my concerns is now respected," said U Saw Maw, who lives in Htay Su Phyar village, Demoso township.
NOTE: This article is extracted from the booklet titled "The Change We Wintess: Stories from Myanmar"