‘Burma Unmasked’ – the HART 2014 Scholarship Competition

February 25th, 2014

‘Burma Unmasked’ – the HART 2014 Scholarship Competition

On the 21st February 2014, HART held its annual Scholarship Prize-Giving Event in the Swiss Church, London. The HART Scholarship competition aims to raise awareness of the oppression suffered by the people with whom HART works and to encourage young people to learn about human rights. This year’s theme was ‘Burma Unmasked’, exploring the plight of Burma’s ethnic nationals through a variety of art forms. Young people from across the UK were provided with information about the situation in Burma and asked to produce a piece of artwork. The Art Exhibition, displaying a wide selection of the entries, was extremely successful and well-attended, with a truly inspiring speech by Baroness Cox. The winners of the competition received £100 prize money and an invite to tea in the House of Lords with Baroness Cox. The Art Exhibition is now touring the country, including the Oxford and Bristol international development conferences. We are pleased to announce the winners of the Scholarship competition are:

Art Scholarship (16-17 years):  Winner – Cara Williams                Runner-up – Seren Hawley-Plows

Art Scholarship (senior):              Winner – Alys Baxter                    Runner-up – Cheyenne Applin

Essay Scholarship:                          Winner – Rebecca Thomas         Runner-up – Sophie Stollery

Highly Commended – Isobel Thompson

The exhibition highlighted the humanitarian situation in Burma. Recently, Burma has received international commendation for its progress towards becoming a democracy. However, questions remain as to whether the Burmese government is genuinely striving for democracy, or if it is merely creating this impression to gain international respect whilst continuing its oppressive regime and human rights violations.

As political debates occur, the government continues to persecute Burmese ethnic nationals with impunity. Over 135 different ethnic national groups constitute 40% of the Burmese population, yet the regime oppresses these groups. Serious human rights violations such as rape, violence, extra-judicial killings, abduction and torture are regularly inflicted by the Burmese Army. The oppression is deep and deliberate: caused by destruction of livelihoods, confiscation of land without compensation and forced labour. Thousands have been forced to flee into the jungle living with minimal food, no healthcare and no access to education. They are nicknamed the ‘forgotten people’, reached only by cross-border aid teams who risk their lives daily to ensure these people may survive. Those who flee to Thailand face fear of deportation or being trafficked into the sex industry. In addition to the conflict is the struggle with the Mawta famine which struck in 2007 making cultivation nearly impossible, with the effects still being felt today.

HART recently returned from a visit to the Thai-Burma border lands, meeting with representatives of a number of ethnic groups including the Shan and the Kachin. It was confirmed that human rights abuses continue to be committed by the Burmese Military with impunity, and military offensives have increased in some areas. HART heard first-hand accounts of recent violent outbreaks against ethnic nationals which occurred days before HART’s arrival, making the scholarship theme particularly poignant. A full report of this visit will be released shortly.

The Scholarship competition was able to acknowledge and present the immense efforts of HART’s partners that support those who are living in dire circumstances inside Burma and whose voices are rarely heard in the international media or current debates. Since 2007, HART has supported two clinics in Chin land and now supports a third, providing about half of the running costs for each clinic. The funds provide wages and mobile backpack clinics to reach areas that are otherwise inaccessible or denied medical care by the regime. In 2010, HART funded 70% of the running costs for the Chin Refugee Committee, which lobbies on behalf of the Chin people, based in Delhi, India. On the Thai-Burma border, HART partners the Heath and Hope clinic, founded by Dr Sasa in 2009 that works to create community based development and healthcare. HART also supports SWAN, the Shan Women’s Action Network who founded Health Care clinics to support the Shan with the headquarters in Thailand, but providing centres within Shan State itself. This includes maternal and child health care, and HIV prevention.

This work would not be such a success without the input of our supporters and we would like to thank all those who took time to enter our scholarship competition and attend the event.

Elizabeth Stanton

By Elizabeth Stanton

Elizabeth is currently interning at HART for three months having recently graduated from Durham University where she studied Physical Geography. Her interests include women’s empowerment and the relationship between environmental processes and development.

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