Paul Chan Htoo Sang is a 17 year-old journalist from Myanmar. Of Chin descent, Paul grew up in the country’s capital, Rangoon, which is also the birthplace of Rangoon Revealed, a storytelling collective that he started in 2014 with his friend Thaw Htet. Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, Rangoon Revealed mostly share the photographs and stories of people in Rangoon, however Paul recently travelled to Myitkyina in Kachin State to also meet and interview residents at three of the many Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the region. The camps are the product of fighting between the government of Myanmar and the Kachin Independence Organization, who would like the country to operate as a democracy. Sarah found out more.
Who are Rangoon Revealed? Why did Rangoon Revealed start?
Rangoon Revealed is a group of active youths who want to hear stories of people’s lives, and share the stories again. Although there are a lot of people who are trying to get stories, most of the time, only three persons – Thaw, Dolphin and myself – post stories onto our Facebook page. A few years ago, there was a poor family living near Thaw’s building, and whenever he came back home from somewhere he saw this little girl from that family. The father was a drunkard and sometimes he beat the little girl, and Thaw always wanted to talk to her but didn’t. Then one day, the family left the neighborhood. Since that day, he wanted to talk to people, and get their stories. That’s how Rangoon Revealed started.
Why did you visit Myitkyina?
It was Thaw’s idea to travel around the country before he left for college, so we started to plan the trip. Then somehow, we were able to get an appointment with Daw Khon Ja, who is one of the leading activists in helping the IDP in Kachin State. When she told us about what’s happening there, and how the war started, I personally wanted to do something about the IDP myself. By that time, we had already started crowdfunding, and we raised funds from our schools as well. When we got a little over $2000, I went to Myitkyina.
Who are the Kachin Independence Organization? Why is there fighting between the government and the KIO?
As far as I am informed, Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) is a Kachin political organization which controls a majority of Kachin land. There are disputes between the government and the KIO since the Declaration of Independence [from British rule, in 1948], mostly because Kachin people want federalism. The most recent fights occur because the government is trying to take over the Kachin State’s mining areas.
Who are the people living in the camps? Why are they there?
The people who are living in the camps are called Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), who were forced out of their villages because of the civil war battles near their villages.
What was your experience of visiting the camps?
Well, I visited three camps in Myitkyina: Jan Mai Kawng camp, Mi Na camp and N-Jang Dung camp. The first camp is one of the largest camps near Myitkyina, and when I got to the camp with my two Kachin friends, I wanted to go around and talk to people, but the camp manager didn’t allow me so we gathered all the children, and we read a story for them. Although the story was quite short, since there were 300 children, we took about an hour to finish it. This was all thanks to my friend: Lagyi from Myitkyina. He was the storyteller since I couldn’t speak Kachin. The second one is also one of the largest camps, but it is outside of Myitkyina so we had to go for approximately 30 minutes to get there. This camp’s management was done by volunteers from Myitkyina who have been living along with the IDP since they first arrived to Myitkyina, it was well managed. When I told them about our project, he was more than happy to help us. So I talked to around six people there in Mi Na camp which almost all of them have been posted onto our Facebook page. The third camp is a small camp. It was built by a Baptist Father: Lagyi’s father. I spent almost two days in this camp because, since it was small, I wanted to interview as many people as I could. There are around one hundred students there. I interviewed eight people there, and I have only posted a few posts from this camp.
What do you hope the international community could do to help?
As for the IDP in Kachin State, we hope that the international community would not stop helping them; in terms of basic needs: food, clothes, clean water, and most importantly education.
Paul Chan Htoo Sang is a journalist from Rangoon, Myanmar. Find images and stories from his visit to Myitkyina at Rangoon Revealed.
Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.