Sunday, 31 August 2008

Zin Zaw (see 23/7/08)

If you look back to the blog on 23 July 08, you will read the sad story of Zin Zaw, an able and delightful 14 year old learner who would have had to give up school to get a job if someone from Scotland hadn't offered to 'sponsor' her.

We heard today that the sister and brother in law she lives in a small corrugated iron shed with, were arrested by Thai police. "What happened to their little baby?" I cried out. "The little baby went to jail with the mother."

Can you imagine living like this?

However, a 'fine' was paid and they were all released some days later. If the 'fine' had not been paid they would have been deported to Myawaddy.

Meanwhile in Scotland we moan about our summer weather.......

Friday, 22 August 2008

Mia Farrow and Jody Williams visit Hle Bee School

We posted earlier that Murray Forgie had met Mia Farrow and Dr Jody Williams, the Nobel Womens' Initiative delegation who were in Thailand to investigate Burmese women's rights.

We only realised today that Mia Farrow and Dr Jody Williams visited Hle Bee School too and were delighted to find these photos on the internet of our dear friends with their very special visitors.
You can see more of the NWI trip on

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Art Therapy after Cyclone Nargis

Claire Soper, International Unit Manager, City of Edinburgh Council sent us this link via blog comments and we thought you would be quite moved to see it.

In the weeks following Cyclone Nargis, Burma's military rulers refused to let foreigners into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta.
As a result much of the initial relief effort was left to smaller groups with a permanent presence there.
One such organisation - the Foundation for the People of Burma - managed to mobilise about 300 people.
The workers noticed the children were "listless and in need of playful outlets" - so they gave them crayons and pencils and encouraged them to draw.

Thank you Claire.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Hle Bee students dance...

Geoff and I are spending many evening hours together turning the videos we took at Hle Bee into a presentation for Forthview staff on our first day of term, next Monday 18th August. I promised I would share some of these videos with you so here is the first one... Hle Bee students doing 3 dances. The first is more traditional, the next 2 are a fascinating mix of Burmese and American music styles. Enjoy.

Monday, 11 August 2008

A human saffron ribbon on 8.8.08

John Watson of Amnesty Scotland has agreed that I can post these photos from the event in Edinburgh's City Chambers on Friday to remember the atrocities of the military regime in Burma on 8.8.08 and since. Enjoy - we did!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

8.8.88 remembered in Chiang Mai

Minghlaba from Chiang Mai, where our day began six hours earlier than in Scotland, when Sheila was tucked up in her bed – oh, no... she was probably up blogging still!

Mar Mar from Suvannabhumi Gallery who is a good friend of BEST, has allowed us to put on Forthview and Hle Bee’s “Our Lives... Looking East, Looking West” exhibition on in her gallery, throughout August, to commemorate the 8.8.88 uprising as a community awareness event.

Our friend Khun Big, Murray and Stewart spent the afternoon before hanging it in the gallery, together with three very special portraits of Daw Aung Suu Kyi belonging to Mar Mar and Murray’s precious copy of David Mach’s Daw Suu portrait, the original version of which hangs in the City of Edinburgh headquarters, Waverley Court.

That morning we had met with Jon Glendinning the British Consul and British Council representative in Chiang Mai, to update him on the latest activities of the Global Schools Partnership and we came up with some good ideas about how to develop the programme further in Thailand.

There were two big commemorative events in Chiang Mai today. At seven o'clock in the evening in Chiang Mai, at one o’clock Edinburgh time, there was also a minutes silence to remember those killed by the Burmese soldiers twenty years before and since, followed by songs in Burmese, Karen and English language sung by survivors of those demonstrations - known as the Generation 88.

The hall was packed with young people, many of whom have been born since then and have never seen their own country, as well as older faces that haven’t seen their friends, families and home for many years.

Later in Suvanabummi gallery, Democratic Voice of Burma Televison did an interview with Murray for their new youth programme, which will be aired next week, beamed by satellite into Burma, where children there can hear about the link between Pilton in Scotland and Hle Bee in Mae Sot.

The young production crew had so many questions and were fascinated by the link: how it had started; the fact that Pilton was a community with many challenges; that the pupils of both schools were able to communicate so eloquently using both art and language and to do so in a way that raised awareness and solidarity in both Scotland and Thailand.

They took lots of pictures of the etchings and writings and copied the wonderful video of Hle Bee children receiving their letters.

Some of the older visitors to the gallery recognised many of the faces of prisoners used in David Mach's collage portrait - many were personal friends and they were very moved by the simplicity of the idea and its execution.

Murray and Stewart told them about the events that were taking place in Edinburgh at the precisely the same time and we texted Sheila a wee message of solidarity, which she received and replied to, after the Burma Play had finished in the City Chambers.

The world may be a big place, but the hope, love, creativity and active citizenship demonstrated today is truly universal and Forthview, Pirniehall and BEST can be proud of the small part that we have played. With special thanks to Amnesty, Unison, the Cooperative bank, the Festival of Spirituality, Northern International Theatre and City of Edinburgh Council, as well of course to all our Burmese friends, whose day this truly was!

Friday, 8 August 2008

8.8.2008 remembering 8.8.88

Today began in Edinburgh at 8.08am with prayers for the 88 generation students led by our local Thai Buddhist monk, a lovely man who always supports the Burma cause in Edinburgh.

After our prayers at a wee makeshift altar in front of St John's church, we began to hand out 888 saffron ribbons and leaflets to the public. A lovely Scottish Burmese lady called Karen had taken the 888 ribbons made by Forthview children and put each one in a wee bag and stapled it to a leaflet she'd made to hand out. It's the commitment of people like Karen that means so much.

An hour or so later, we headed up to Edinburgh City Chambers on the Royal Mile to hand out more ribbons and invite people to join us in creating a giant human saffron ribbon in the City Chambers quadrangle at 12.30pm. Photos of this amazing event have been posted on Amnesty Scotland's website. Why was it amazing? The mix of people ranged from the Thai monk to Aunty Maureen, our Burmese 'aunty' with her son Alistair and nieces, Sarah Boyack, MSP and BEST trustee, Councillors Jenny Dawe, Lesley Hinds, Gordon Munro, Ewen Hardie (just back from walking to London from Edinburgh for Burma), 3 Edinburgh heidies/teachers and families, Lisa from Dr Cynthia's Mae Tau Clinic in Mae Sot with her family, the cast of The Burma Play, Amnesty staff, Juliette on her last public Burma event before she moves to Oxford, having done so much for Burma whilst studying in Edinburgh, John Watson, Director of Amensty Scotland, who organised the event and more... A rich mix of people with Edinburgh connections to the Burmese people... (but we really missed you Murray!)

...followed by a very special performance of the Burma Play in the historic City Chambers where Dau Aung San Suu Kyi was given the Freedom of the City in 2005.

And what was it all for? To remember the dreadful slaughter of innocent and peaceful protesters against the Burmese government on 8.8.88 and to show solidarity for the plight of the Burmese people today.

Olympics? What Olympics? Today was Burma's day not China's....

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The Burma Play on Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Today Mary, Fiona and I saw THE BURMA PLAY on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It's a moving and powerful story of 'the continuing struggle of the people of Burma to attain the human rights and democratic freedoms they voted overwhelmingly for in 1988'. The play was stunningly performed by 2 performers and a musician with the Northern International Theatre, sponsored by The Co-operative Bank. The Co-operative Bank's sponsorship is enabling all proceeds to go to the Burma Campaign UK and our very own BEST (Burma Educational Scholarship Trust).

It was fast, comprehensive, witty, powerful and engaging. It echoed the stories the 3 of us have been hearing all summer from our Burmese friends in Mae Sot and left us deeply moved.

Don't miss it if you live in Edinburgh.
It's on until Sunday every day at 4pm in St John's church in the West End. Bypass the farce of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe ticket office and get a ticket at the door (£8 or £5 concession). There will be a discussion after the play on Sunday, which we plan to take part in.
Friday 8.8.08 is the 20 year anniversary of a dreadful slaughter in Rangoon by the Burmese junta of ordinary people protesting against the junta. To commemorate this event, there will be
1. Prayers at 8.08am at St John's followed by the handing out of 888 saffron ribbons (made by Forthview children) to the public.
2. A giant saffron ribbon will be created in the City Chambers Quadrangle at 12.30pm preceding
3. a performance of The Burma Play in the City Chambers
Don't forget the 8.8.88 generation students of Burma on 8.8.08.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Back to Scotland ... with a bump....

No, nobody came back pregnant, not that sort of bump! This is more about how the 4 of us are feeling now we are back to our daily lives in Scotland.

Each of us has found it very hard. I found it much harder this year than last year. We feel listless, low and are generally struggling to reconcile the 2 realities we have encountered during July. Coming back to this affluent world that we love and enjoy sits ill at ease with the world of Hle Bee where so little means so much, is made to go so far and is so appreciated.

I was interested to read Ewen Hardie's blog today. ( Ewen has just walked barefoot from The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh to 10 Downing Street, London to raise awareness of the plight of the Burmese people. Having made this incredible journey, he describes feeling confused, sad, something missing and a little alone. Such similar feelings to us.

I'm not telling you this to look for pity or condolences. We have all (like Ewen) enjoyed one of the most amazingly rich experiences life can give, being welcomed into the lives of others with moving generousity and we are all very grateful for it and wouldn't change it for the world.

I guess it's just an important part of the story to share. As one of my teachers said, "It's about attachment. That's why it's more hard to leave this year." It's true. It's also about a very personal experience of the injustice and inequalities of our world. It's about frustration that we can spend so little time together....

And that is just the way it is....
This video clip below shows just how happy and relaxed we are at Hle Bee. It's a birthday party for the extended family of one of the teacher's daughter.

Monday, 4 August 2008

The challenges facing Hle Bee School 2008

Looking back over Summer 2008 at Hle Bee, what challenges face the school in the days ahead?
Clearly the major challenge is to secure funding and work is being progressed in that area by the local network of Burmese education workers.

It was a very sad moment one day as I sat with Hle Bee's headteacher, Tha Zin. She was thanking me for raising the £5000 that will see them through till October 08. Tears rolled down her face though as she told me that she had hoped this would be her dream money to develop her school. What was she going to do with it? Buy 5 sewing machines, 5 computers and a car to transport children more reliably. Now the money is used for essentials - rent for the land, water, teachers' salaries etc. Her dream postponed...

The next challenge facing Hle Bee is how to manage the 150 children now enrolled in nursery and the 2 kindergarten classes. Here you see Tha Zin stand in land at the back of the school that she would love to see developed into classrooms for the early years.

They have divided these 150 children into 3 classes of 50, all within the main building of the school. The youngest children are called Nursery but are in a room with no resources at all. The other 100 children are in Kindergarten A and Kindergarten B. They have 2 spaces in the main school building. One space is a classroom space with desks and benches for 50. The other space is the space UNDERNEATH Tha Zin's house, which the main building is built around. Again the only resource here is some rush mats for comfort. When Fiona, the Scottish teacher, walked into Hle Bee School and saw Kindergarten A learning under Tha Zin's house, tears filled her eyes. The Hle Bee teachers came up with the idea of alternating Kindergarten A and Kindergarten B in the space under the house and in the classroom, which is great for the children.
However, the smallest teacher in the school gets the job of teaching EVERY DAY under the house. She might be small but she has to teach permanently bent over or sitting on the floor. It's also very hot under the house. So these early years teachers face huge obstacles in teaching - unsuitable space, no resources, too many children and yet they remain completely committed to professional development, to new ideas, to advice, to serving the school with optimisim and joy. We never heard them moan once. What an inspiration they are to us...
The next major challenge is the interface between the Thai Ministry of Education and the Burmese Learning Centres. This is too complex to go into here. We understand a little of the dynamic but not enough to write about with any accuracy. Perhaps it's enough for you to know that this is a difficult area, as you can imagine. It could be a fruitful area but both groups have their own desires and dreams and finding common ground is tricky.

These are the most obvious challenges facing Hle Bee in the months to come. Not easy for them to manage with so little resources but their greatest resource is Tha Zin and her team who live to serve the families of Hle Bee School. (I've blurred the faces in this photo.)