International Writers Magazine: Helping People
Shan people are a Tai ethnicity which live primarily in the Shan
State of Burma. They are one of the largest ethnic minorities in
the country. The population of Shan State is approximately 7.5 million,
and includes approximately 1 million Palong, a significant number
of Wa, as well as small numbers of Lahu and Pa-O people. There are
an estimated two million Shan living in northern Thailand.
The Shan originated
in Southern China and migrated down to Burma more than one thousand
years ago. They lived as an independent kingdom until the death of the
last Shan king, approximately 500 years ago. From the 16th century onward,
the Shan were divided into the Shan States, which were each ruled by
a prince. This system continued even under the British rule. The Shan
only came under Burmese rule shortly before Burma gained independence
from Britain. Under the Panglong agreement, the Shan were given permission
to succeed from the Burmese union after ten years. General Ne Win nullified
this agreement, denying the Shan their independence.
In the early 1960s the Burmese government cracked down on the
Shan States, killing most of the Shan royalty. Those who survived sought
refuge in foreign countries. Today there are a number of Shan princes
and princesses living in the USA, UK, and Canada. The Shan formed a
defensive army to resist government attacks.
Genral Khun Sa was the original commander of the MTA Mon Tai Army. He
made his way onto the FBI most wanted list as the largest drug dealer
in the world. The US sought to extradite him to stand trial. Kun Sa
surrendered to the SPDC and lived under government protection in Yangon,
in opulence, until his death.
In Shan State, a new army was formed, under Colonel Yawd Serk. The SSA
(Shan State Army) has adopted a non-drug policy. At present, the SSA
has between 6,000 and 10,000 troops. SSA has two large permanent bases
near the Thai border, Loi Tailang and Loi Krovan. Both camps have become
islands of safety for IDPs (internally displaced people) driven from
their villages in Shan State.
Loi Tailang, the focus of my project, is home to 350 refugee families.
There are nearly 1,000 students at the school on the base. The dormitories
house more than 600 unaccompanied minors. Two hundred and fifty of them
are actual orphans. The others may have one or two parents still living,
but their families have given them to the SSA, so that they could continue
their education and live in safety.
The government schools inside of Shan State are terrible, with the worst
teachers and the least resources being made available to the minority
peoples. It is illegal to teach Shan language inside of Burma, so most
Shan children only learn to read and write their native tongue after
coming to Loi Tailang. In addition to Shan language, the children at
Loi Tailang learn Thai, English, and Burmese. It is arguably the best
school in Shan State.
My project, In Shanland
Defying the Burmese governments ban on journalists, I crossed
the border under the protection of the Shan State Army, and began filming
interviews with IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) within the war zone.
When Sai Lieng came back to his village he saw the head of an old man
hanging from a tree. His father was already dead. When he found his
mother, she was still breathing, so he dragged her to the temple and
asked the monks if they could help her. She died a few minutes later.
After the next attack, he found his sister dead in a pool of blood behind
a hut. Unable to care for his six year old brother alone, he left his
brother at a monastery. Eventually, Sai Lieng made his way to the Shan
State Army headquarters at Loi Tailang, where he attended school for
the fist time in his life.
He was ten years old.
This is only one of thousands of stories at the Loi Tailang camp.
In Shanland video project will document the lives, joys,
and suffering of the internally displaced people, orphans, soldiers,
and civilians living at the Loi Tailang facility. The Shan young people
are intelligent, literate and thinking. This project will allow them
to tell their story to the world, a world that has ignored their suffering.
The original plan for the In Shanland project was to publish
(for free) one print story and one video per week for twelve weeks,
then to make a full length movie, entitled In Shanland put
it on a DVD and make it available to pro-democracy and Burma organizations
as well as human rights groups. But, now the project has changed a bit.
I still plan to produce a final DVD movie, In Shanland by
the end of April or beginning of May. But, I am planning to continue
posting one video and one story per week for a year.
Click here to see all the youtube posts to date:
This is a unique project which will hopefully gain momentum and help
build awareness about the Shan and the war in Burma. So far, we are
into about the eighth week of the project.
The youtube posts will continue until the end of the year unless I get
killed or captured. I had a bad accident on the border this week which
made me realize that anything could happen and I need to get the DVD
finished as soon as possible so that if I am killed or captured my silent
partner could continue doing the posts.
To continue this work I need donations to finance travel in and out
of Burma, food and accommodations, internet access fees, and money to
pay for film editing service. I also need to get a better quality, HD
video camera, because I am currently shooting with a low quality home
video camera donated by a kind person in the USA.
If you wish to contribute to the In Shanland film project,
you can do so through paypal. Through the Burma page of his website.
Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia.
He is the Host of the web TV show, Martial Arts Odyssey,
Currently he is working inside of Shan State, documenting human rights
abuses, doing a film and print project to raise awareness of the Shan
Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com
Antonio is self funded and will continue the In Shanland
film and print article project until he is killed or captured. If you
wish to contribute to the In Shanland film project, you
can do so through paypal through the Burma page of his website http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm
Or send western union to Antonio Garceffo in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Antonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com
Get Antonios books at amazon.com
The Monk from Brooklyn
Bikes, Boats, and Boxing Gloves
The Desert of Death on Three Wheels
Adventures in Formosa
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