Will the World Please Step in!
By Antonio Graceffo
“20,000 dead, over 40,000 missing and 1 million displaced.”
FBR Relief Team Leader
During forty years of totalitarian rule, the SPDC, the junta which rules Burma, has demonstrated time and again that they view the civilian population as adversaries. Burma maintains one of the largest standing armies in the world, although they have no external enemies. Obviously, the purpose of the army is to maintain the junta’s power, to protect the government from the people. In light of the horrendous day-to-day situation in Burma, how can the world expect the junta to react with compassion and save its people after an horrific natural disaster?
To get an idea of how the situation is on the ground, I conducted interviews (mostly by email) with members of various aid organizations and pro-democracy groups concerned with Burma.
The Free Burma Rangers (FBR) is one of the leading and most well-respected organizations working on the Thai border. An FBR Relief Team Leader, had this to say.
“We hope that the SPDC allows the international community to come in and give assistance to those in critical need at this time.”
Kind souls from around the world have written me and asked if I could get them inside of Burma. Sadly, I cannot. I work in the tribal areas, which we can access through the jungle. But Yangon, where much of the destruction took place, is only accessible by airplane, and you need a visa, issued by the Burmese government to enter. Many aid workers are frustrated. They sit with their medicines and food packages, waiting for visas to enter. So far, the junta has been slow about granting entry to aid workers.
“It’s already slowed it down — they are obsessed with the referendum. Making UN personnel wait for visas like tourists because they suspect journalists coming in to cover the stupid referendum.” Said another relief team member.
The immediate need is for foreign aid to get into the country, to feed, cloth, house, and care for those who need help. A long term concern, however, is that aid can be used as a tool, by the junta to strengthen their own position.
“Foreign aid should only go in with proper monitoring and accountability for its use.” Said an aid worker.
All of the workers, from the various organizations, asked me to keep their identity secret because they are in the process of applying for visas. The Burmese government often does checks of foreign press and blacklists people with close ties to the media.
Some Muslim magazines are very concerned that the people of the Arakan, who largely follow the religion of Islam, will be completely marginalized and no help will reach them at all.
“The Rohingyas in Arakan are in an especially difficult situation and will need a focused effort to provide the assistance that they need.”
Some international aid organizations, who are willing to accept the Burmese government’s tight restrictions, maintain permanent offices in the capital. The tribal people, however, are largely served by small aid organizations, often faith based, who are ill-funded, but risk life and limb to save as many lives as possible. The Muslim people of the Arakan are in an extremely unfortunate geographical location. They are only accessible from Bangladesh and India, where there are very few foreign aid teams.
As an open request for help, I would be willing to serve as Emergency Medical Technician on any aid mission who wishes to try and help the people living in Arakan state or those who have fled over the border. The photos that I have seen of the refuge camps in Bangladesh are heart breaking with people dying of starvation and disease daily. If any Muslim organization, or anyone with a heart and a checkbook, is willing to help support aid to these people, I would be proud to help. Contact me Antonio@speakingadventure.com
Even the UN is waiting in line to help, but the junta has failed to answer. “The UN has requested access to provide relief but we are not sure of the status of those relief efforts.”
Many people know of my work with the Shan State Army, in Shanland. Unfortunately, although the cyclone missed the major tribal areas, the ethnics are still suffering at the hands of the SPDC.
“In the mountains where the IDPs are under attack by the Burma Army, attacks by the Burma Army continue. There the storm is, however, less severe and there have been no reports from our teams of large scale damage in eastern Burma. However, the ethnic Karen in particular in the Delta region were badly affected by this storm as they make up a large percentage of the population in the area worst hit by the cyclone.”
“There is an immediate need for drinking water, sanitation, food, shelter, blankets, cooking implements, and medical care. We are trying to develop a network to assess the needs, purchase or order supplies, package them, transport and distribute them in the most caring and efficient manner and account for and report on the assistance.”
“Right now the greatest problem is getting access from the SPDC to go help the people now. We hope that the international community will help those in need immediately.”
Caring folks around the world have asked how and where they can send aid money.
They can send it to World Aid (checks payable to World Aid)
2442 NW Market Street, PMB# 434
Seattle, WA 98107
Designate: Cyclone relief
Our tax id is 94-3116991
Contact World Aid directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Now needs to be a moment of action. We, the world community need to send aid, volunteers, and workers. We need to pressure the junta to allow life-saving medicines and technologies to enter. Moving forward, however, let this disaster be the catalyst, the first step toward permanent and meaningful international intervention in Burma. The Burmese people, the Burmans, the Shan, the Karen, Karenni, rohingas, Pa-O, Palong, Lahu, Lisu, Akha, and all the various ethnic groups have the right to live in freedom and peace. They have the right to self-determination. They have chosen Aung San Suu Kyi, so let us help her take her rightful place as the leader of a new Free Burma.
Please say a prayer for the people of Burma.
Antonio Graceffo is a qualified Emergency Medical Technician, as well as 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. To see all of his videos about martial arts, Burma and other countries: http://youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo&search=Search
Antonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com
see his website http://speakingadventure.com/burma.htm
Antonio is self-funded and seeking sponsors. If you wish to contribute to the “In Shanland” film project, you can donate through paypal, through the Burma page of my website.