Myanmar | How Will We Ever See Change?
Zaw Myo*, a tall Buddhist man as full of laughter as he is determination, leads an organization that addresses Dangerous Speech in Myanmar, where the military and extremist groups continue to commit mass atrocities against the Rohingya minority.
When I was young, I would hide in the bathroom at night reading books. Growing up in Myanmar, I was taught to memorize facts and figures, but reading history and philosophy at night opened up a whole new world to me.
My country has experienced a steep decline in human rights standards and a rise in extremist propaganda and nationalist movements. Critical thinking that may help prevent this is not taught in our schools, so after university I started leading protests for improvements in education. Because of this, I became a target of online hate speech and spent a year in hiding, changing my phone number and constantly moving to avoid being arrested. Most of my friends and protest co-leaders have spent time in jail because of their activism.
In 2016, we started an organization to research how the Myanmar military and Buddhist extremists fuel violence against ethnic and religious minorities with hate speech. The Nexus Fund gave us our first international funding to teach people what I was not taught in school -- to think critically.
This year, with support from The Nexus Fund, I hosted a workshop with 19 leading local activists working to address hate speech and build trust with one another. Since then, we’ve launched efforts to monitor and counter hate speech. Through this work, we have realized that we are stronger together.
To be honest, sometimes I feel depressed. Reading hate speech every day is hard. But I am inspired by the people I work with -- other young activists who give so much. There are not many of us who are tolerant in our country and through doing this work together we have formed strong bonds.
We have a lot to lose, but if we don’t put ourselves on the frontlines, how will we ever see change?
*Names changed for safety purposes