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The International Writers Magazine: Helping People

Shan People
Antonio Graceffo

The 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 1960’s 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 government’s 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 people. 
Contact him
 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

 Or send western union to Antonio Garceffo in Chiang Mai, Thailand

 Antonio is the author of four books available on
Get Antonio’s books at
The Monk from Brooklyn
Bikes, Boats, and Boxing Gloves
The Desert of Death on Three Wheels
Adventures in Formosa

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