Identity is A Big Deal (Lesson Learned in Mae Sot, Thailand)

Value your identity because many have lost theirs and are struggling to the point of death just to preserve the little identity they have. This is what I learned from illegal Burmese migrants I met in Mae Sot.

Mae Sot is a province of Thailand that is commonly called as the "Little Burma" since it's where most Burmese sought refuge when they flee Myanmar  to escape from danger (Burma is the old name of Myanmar). Some Burmese refugees and migrants who grew up in Mae Sot lost contact with their families and relatives. They are not considered citizens of Myanmar nor of Thailand. They are stateless individuals.

During our visit in Mae Sot, we had a youth exchange program where we interacted and shared experiences with youths from Burma who are secretly residing at Thailand. I would have posted their photos but they requested that the photos during the program be private since it may endanger their security. They are activists and as I mentioned illegal migrants that's why it's safer for them not to have a trace of existence.

A Photograph of Burmese Children captured by Matthew Van Saun .
Our friends from Burma were deprived of a typical childhood and adolescence. At an early age, they were exposed to the bitterness of an oppressive government which their family had to escape. They learned to hide who they are just to survive. And they lie about their real names to borrow some degree of normality in their lives.

As children, they were already faced with the duty to fight and impose their rights, which the military regime of Burma unjustly took from the their families and ethnic groups. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to fight a silent battle while worrying about their safety. Their ascendants, who died and failed to witness the change they opted for, bequeathed to every Burmese child a vow to come back to Burma that is yet to be fulfilled.

Even as they sought refuge in Thailand, they still struggle from oppression and discrimination. Let's just say that Thai authorities are not very friendly with Burmese migrants.

I hope that the conflict in Burma would end now so that my friends can freely go back to their country and enjoy the rights we enjoy here in the Philippines and in other democratic states. They are as young as I am but their problems are so much greater and more significant than mine or Filipinos my age have. While I worry about my grades, my weight, or my eye bags, they think about the future of their people and how to free their country from an indifferent military government.

They have endured so much. I wish that they may achieve the democracy they passionately fight for. I pray that they can fully claim their identities back with no more fear of getting persecuted by anyone. I sincerely wish them well.

As "free individuals," it is our social responsibility to help countries like Burma fight for their rights because they have been denied the capacity to promote their own. The least we can do is to appreciate the gift of democracy and be grateful for it.

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