September's "saffron revolution" in Burma looked like it could be an end to what has endured military rule for close to 50 years. Despite the government's brutal suppression of the monks, there is still optimism change can be made.
The University of Calgary's development studies club hosted a talk to raise awareness about the situation in Burma Thu., Nov. 8.
One of the speakers was Cham Toik, a member of the Mon community who had participated in armed resistence against the military regime, but put down his weapons and founded the Burmese Kaowao newsgroup.
"The situation is still the same," said Toik. "Human rights violations are worsening, but there is a hope. The opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is willing to talk--she is always willing to talk--but the military junta is also willing to talk."
Toik explained information is the power, noting that because of the strong media control, the people inside Burma are not informed about what is happening inside of their own country.
"We had no computer, I had to use internet cafes," said Toik, who started Kaowao news out of Thailand in 2001. "Later on, we've improved. We have volunteers and a radio program."
Kaowao's hardcopy publication is distributed in Thailand and in the refugee and migrant communities, as well as migrant communities in Malaysia and has 14,000 online subscribers worldwide, explained Toik.
"Information played a very important role in September's uprising," he said. "In the 1988 uprising, even though about 3,000 were killed, the information had l eaked out only in very little bits. This time, there was a huge impact because of information technology, so it played a very huge role, and the world is closely watching. The international community is well informed this time."
Another one of the speakers was Foothills obstetrician gynecologist Paul Martyn, who has worked in Burma with the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit in refugee camps along the border between Thailand and Burma.
Martyn explained he found the courage and the resilience of the people at the camps amazing.
"Health security is the guarantee of secure healthcare for all people, it's a basic human right that's being denied to pretty much all people in Burma but especially the ethnic minority," said Martyn. "Most of the ethnic minorities don't have basic health care services. The government right now is spending 40 per cent of their GDP on military and three per cent on health. They have the second-worst health care system in the world."
Martyn said he had always had a political interest in Burma, and when he was contacted by the SMRU he didn't hesitate to go and work with malaria and pregnancy in the country.
"I was involved with this group that essentially treats pregnant women who have malaria and they've done a lot of ground breaking research in anti-malaria drug therapy in pregnant women," said Martyn. "I'm a gynecologist obstetrician, so my roll was to teach the traditional birth assistant how to deliver babies safely and how to ease the complications of pregnancy."