Tags / Burma
The Thai-Burmese border area is an exotic and dangerous paradise at the same time. However, for most people, it is unknown.
Nearly 30 years ago, the first Karen minority refugees who escaped Myanmar arrived to this area. Today more than 50,000 people are living at the Maela refugee camp, situated 70 km north of MaeSot, a recently economically booming border city.
Although at first glance this might seem like an idyllic village, where the quality of life of its inhabitants is much higher than the "normal" standard of other refugees around the world, the Burmese who live in the camp have suffered the most atrocious violence by the Myanmar army. The majority of the camp resident are Christians. During Christmas Eve and holy days, they celebrate in the numerous Churches spread around the camp. Night shows and masses attract the devotes to the Churches and presents are distributed. The camp's residents have been stuck in a small corner of tropical forest with no choice but to live with dignity between the barbed wire fences surrounding the camp, under strict control of the Thai army.
A ceasefire was signed between the Karen leaders and the Myanmar authorities. However,there are many rumors about the Karen being repatriated back to their country which is a first step on the long way of reconciliation.
Naw Nu Poe, 25 years old with at her parentshome preparing the parcels for Christmas eve night celebrations with her son
Christmas decoration at the pastor house of the Baptist Church at C zone of Maela refugee camp.
Distributions of presents at the Baptist Church during the Christmas eve celebrations at Maela refugee camp.
Saw Taw Kaw Si So Gay with his presents on Christmas eve at the Baptist Church of C zone at Maela refugee camp.
View of C zone at Maela refugee camp where the majority of Christian Karen Burmese minority lives.
In the gold mines of Sinktu and Thabait Kyin, in the Mandalay division of Myanmar, gold mining is famous. Over thirty gold mines are active, but the scene doesn't look much like wealth. Half naked men, with rusty pneumatic drills and homemade dynamite are lowered 500 feet, on fraying ropes, into holes in the ground. Covering their faces with rags, they drill gold ore from the stone.
“We break the rocks with high pressured guns, but breathe the small particles that come from breaking the stone. We contract lung infections that we call "gun disease," says Wat Tay, 35, a gold miner from Sintku Township.
This year gold production in the area has doubled due to softening government sanctions and international demand. Myanmar's huge mineral deposits are seen as key sectors in export-driven growth. In recent months the price of gold has slowly risen in Myanmar, possibly linked to the decline of the dollar, as an opportunistic public sell their jewelry at high prices ready to buy back if prices drop.
Forums are being held in capital cities by the Myanmar government, mine owners, and the Ministry of Mines to persuade foreign investment from corporate companies for industrial technology. The idea is to reduce Myanmar's poverty rate from 26 percent to 16 percent by 2015, by exporting the country's gold reserves. However, added demand for export means an increased need for manpower, working hours, and medical support.
Through the night groups of men squat above mine shafts, ankle deep in muddy puddles, waiting to haul out ore or winch up their friends. After working in the mines for around ten years, the worker's lungs give in form undiagnosed diseases. Hidden in bamboo huts, attached to oxygen, they weaze out their last days.
“The owners of gold pits don't care about the health issues of the miners, so the health problems are increasing. They don't pay for safety protection for us, so we make do ourselves, like putting some clothes over our mouths, or buying cheap masks to reduce the dust we breath in,” says Wat Tay.
Miners are given one or two bananas after a shift in the tunnels, to help with nutrition. But no respiration equipment is provided by the mine owners, and the miners don't have the money to invest in equipment themselves. Although cases are frequent, perhaps inevitable, there is no health care system for the miners and no diagnosis of “gun disease.” Instead they are given a tank of oxygen and left to fend for themselves, too weak to seek other employment or to leave their huts.
“I can't breathe well. If I breath my abdominal muscles are tight and it hurts also in my back. I pain feel when I breathe. Twice they've given me pills for Tuberculosis, but this medicine has no effect for me,” says Kwin Tone Sel, 42. He used to mine in Sintku Township, before his lung disease prevented him from leaving his bed.
Natkadaw mediums dance amongst villagers and visitors in a ritual where they accept alcohol, cigarettes and money as offerings during a performance at this year's Nat festival. Thousands of worshippers come to celebrate and worship beings from the spirtual world known as "nats." It is widely believed that by participating in the festival, you can rid yourself of bad karma. The event took place in Taung Byone, north of Mandalay.
The LGBT communities in Myanmar are starting to organize themselves by planning an incipient movement to reclaim their rights. Harry, dressed in a male longyi (traditional Burmese dress) is attending an event organized by the LGBT community in Mandalay. Since she was a child, “Harry” has always “felt ridiculous” dressing as a girl and feels “free dressing as a boy." Now she is 17 years old and studies Mathematics at the University of Mandalay.
Harry poses in front of a Buddha shrine in her room at her parents' house. Sometimes the people insult her because of her boyish appearance. “People who don’t know me think I am a boy,” she adds smiling mischievously. Her father, a cab driver, does not accept her homosexuality. However, her mother and grandmother accept it only reluctantly.
Harry in a popular snack bar in Mandaly with her friends. She believes that lesbians are slightly less discriminated against in Burma because many people believe that “tomboys” will be men, regarded as superior to women in their next reincarnation. After the bitter and recent end of her first relationship with another girl, she maintains her dream of founding a family with another woman.
Harry loves to play football, a sport restricted to men in Burma.
Alex with his boyfriend in a hospital room in Mandalay. Alex, the youngest among three siblings, struggled after discovering being homosexual at the age of 12.
Alex is having fun in a popular fast food place among young people in Mandalay.
“Alex” thinks that it will take time to change the mentality of Burmese society towards LGBT people, and that it is likely that they won’t stop to discriminate them “until the next generation”, but he would like to lead this change as a champion of LGBT rights and leader of the gay community.
Hein Htwe Maung, “Alex”, is a 17 year old homosexual boy from a middle class family in Mandalay. He is currently studying Business Management at the Chindwin College. Alex is waiting with his friends for his boyfriend's blood test.
Ma Pwint with her friends at an event organized by the LGBT organization in Mandalay. He lives now with his conservative parents. They cannot accept his homosexuality. He is one of the known faces in the local gay scene and dances often in Nat festivals across the country.
Zin Min Htun, whose picture is shown, is a 32 year old make-up artist from Mandalay. She prefers to be called Ma Pwint, using the feminine prefix Ma.
Ma Pwint in his small room at his parents home in Mandalay. He does not see himself neither as a woman nor as transgender, but likes to dress as a woman.
Ma Pwint dressed up as a woman during a festival. The festival devoted to the nats, spirits worships where men often impersonate female nats.
Ma Pwing changing his dress in his room.
TJ poses behind an aquarium at a local restaurant in Mandalay. “TJ” is a 19 year old boy who left his home village in Magwe Division two years ago to study English in the city of Mandalay.
TJ walks in Mandalay downtown streets. He discovered his sexuality three years ago, before that he had a relationships with a girl from his village. “It didn't’t work, relationships with women are too complicated.”
TJ at a famous Mandalay mall where he loves to go shopping. His friends know his sexual orientation and support him, but he didn't confess to his family yet. “I know my parents will understand me when they find out because they love me so much,” he says with his soft voice, “but I will wait until they ask me to tell them.”
Alex in a relaxing moment in his room on the first floor of his parents' grocery shop. He did not accept himself completely until he met his current boyfriend in a boarding high school two years ago. Last year and after attending a workshop organized by an NGO in Mynamar, Alex decided to make his homosexuality public which made him feel empowered and proud of his identity. The LGBT communities in Myanmar are organizing themselves and there is now an incipient movement to reclaim their rights.
Photojournalist Vincenzo Floramo worked on a feature about the Burmese LGBT scene with Carlos Sardina Galache, a journalist specialized in Southeast Asia. Carlos made several interviews with members of this community, including gay men, transsexuals and lesbians. In those interviews, they spoke openly of their experiences as LGBT people living in a highly conservative country where homosexuality is considered abnormal and illegal.
Carlos and I followed some of the characters of our story, which gave us the chance to understand better their daily lives and take intimate portraits of them. With this material we are able to offer a complete portrait, with Carlos’ text and my pictures, of the life of LGBT people in Burma with all its challenges and hardships.
Also available upon request, Carlos has a detailed interview with a gay man who was detained by the police in Mandalay, humiliated and tortured, as well as an interview with Aung Myo Min, the founder of Equality Myanmar, an advocacy group strongly focused on the rights of the LGBT community.
Short profiles of those photographed can be viewed here: http://transterramedia.com/media/25883#
Photos by Vincenzo Floramo
Text by Carlos Sardina Galache
The following are profiles of the LGBT community in Myanmar.
Photos can be viewed here:http://transterramedia.com/collections/1666
June 23, 2013
Wirathu gives an anti-muslim sermon in front of hundreds of supporters, just four blocks away from the Dhamma Tharlar Hall, in which several local organizations and civil society activists, organized a peace event to prevent future riots.
June 23, 2013
A student collects an award at a Sunday School in Mandalay. To ensure its principles mould fresh minds, 969 representatives teach at Sunday schools and prayer halls to educate Buddhist children. Wirathu in the background is writing a new curriculum to teach in schools that are planning to open throughout the country.
June 16, 2013
Young Buddhist nuns board the ferry crossing the Hlaing river over to downtown Yangon.
June 17, 2013
Thaddhamma, one of the leaders of the 969 movement, teaches a group of business men, from Yangons biggest whole sale market, about patriotism and Buddhism.
June 16, 2013
Supporters of 969 movement gathered to discuss the draft of law to regulate inter-religious marriages in a monastery in Mawlamyine. The law, inspired from the inter-faith marriage law in Singapore, hopes to limit the number of Buddhist women who marry Muslim men.
June 17, 2013
Monk Wimala, one of the founders of the 969 movement, shows a map in his Monastery in Mawlamyine. The map illustrates the group's belief that some arabs countries are financing the Burmese Muslims in order to overcome the Buddhist majority.
June 17, 2013
Daw Thida, one of the leading supporters of Mawlamyine's 969 movement. She's actively involved in the creation of the Sunday schools, aimed at educating lay people and children about the ins and outs of protecting Buddhism from Islam.
June 16, 2013
A street shop in Downtown Yangon sells the 969 stickers. They are sold and distributed throughout Myanmar to label shops and business as being Buddhist-owned and run.
June 14, 2013
More than 200 Myanmar Buddhist monks gather to discuss how to solve inter-religious conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims. The conference, held in a monastery on the outskirts of Yangon, was dubbed by local and international media, less as a resolution to conflict but more as an opportunity to discuss the inter-faith marriage law that the 969 movement is hoping to present to the government.
June 12, 2013
One of the Mosques destroyed by religious violence that took place at the end of March in Meiktila.
June 12, 2013
Muslim men can now only pray at home in Meiktila after all the mosques have been either closed or raised to the ground because of the religious violence that took place in the town at the end of March.
June 12, 2013
Families are escorted back by police to a refugee camp that holds Muslims who have been displaced by the violence that took place at the end of March in Meiktila.
June 12, 2013
Women walk through Chan Aye's area, that was completely destroyed by the religious violence that took place in Meiktila at the end of March.