Behind the Scenes: Tom’s Reflections from Myanmar

By Tom Hanson 02.06.2017 blog

I can’t write about Myanmar, formerly Burma, without first acknowledging the undeniable beauty of this country. From dense jungles, to magnificent tributes to Buddha, Myanmar is largely untouched from the rest of the world and truly one of the few places I’ve ever visited that seems pristine. Monks in burgundy and saffron robes walk the streets and pray for hours at the golden pagodas that dot the hills in the densely populated cities and remote villages alike.

But this Southeast Asian country is a very, very complicated place. If you follow Myanmar in the headlines, you’ll find two different narratives: one of great hope and economic prosperity, and one of grave human rights abuses.

myanmar1Let’s talk about the first: commercial expansion. Myanmar is opening up to the world for the first time in the better part of a century, after beginning a transition from a harsh military dictatorship to a form of democracy. It’s true – this country is transforming in real-time on the world stage. Technology and some commercial brands, which were once inaccessible, now flood the streets. People have switched to getting information through social media and cell phones, rather than by newspapers and word of mouth. A freer press has replaced the state-run news outlets. Some sanctions have even been lifted citing progress in human rights, and allowing this country –which was once viewed a pariah— to now thrive. As a consequence, tourists and businesses are both eager to see all that the country has to offer.

myanmar2However, this romantic narrative is juxtaposed with immense ethnic and religious strife – showing that the country may be leaps and bounds further back in regards to human rights than most people would think. This story – one the government disregards and doesn’t want you to see – takes place in a remote part of the country called the Rakhine State. That’s where more than a million Rohingya live – they’re an ethnic minority that has been stripped of all citizenship, and they’ve suffered atrocious acts of violence for the last four to five years. The government has even gone so far as to round up more than 100,000 Rohingya, putting them in de facto internment camps. With limited food and virtually no medical access, the conditions in these makeshift villages are horrible… I managed to sneak into one.

myanmar6The suffering and marginalization I saw was sobering and disturbing. I often think back to the people I interviewed – I could see the hunger in the face of one young man I sat down with; a woman with painful welts all over her skin wondered if she would ever find relief from her condition; an elderly grandmother began to tear up as she admitted that she was unable to take care of her family due to a debilitating cough; a fisherman recounted beatings by police when he couldn’t afford extortion fees – these are the faces of the Rohingya, and these are the faces I often find myself associating with the country of Myanmar.

myanmar3When I was there, I couldn’t shake a feeling of exploitation, as people shared stories of their most intimate suffering in hopes that they may be heard by someone who can make a difference. I can’t help but wonder how those people are, or if some of them are even alive still. As a journalist covering these types of issues, you often bear witness to the victimization and oppression of one group, but regardless of the conditions you’re exposed to for a few days, you’re always able to leave. In this particular instance, the people I interviewed don’t have the same luxury. They’re stuck in a cycle of suffering indefinitely.

comments

  1. Courtney

    We are curious how we saw you on the news one day, then the next day you were in Myanmar, and said it had taken days to travel there.

    • Zander herr

      hey guys i relly love ur show my class wached it every day until the first day back from winter break when we had a sub for 6 weeks and we still have that sub today she is mean and will not let us wacht the program she syas its not good for the brian when our real teacher put on the note for her to go by to do channle one befor the show started we told her that we wacht channel one news first and then she gave us a lecture of how it will not help us in the real would when she was wrong all of my class mates scienc egrades have drop and now we dont know what is going on in the real world but i wacht it from home <3 <3

  2. Uwe

    Dear Tom Hanson,
    Hope all is well with you. How long have you – all told – been in Burma/Myanmar? Did you ever actually live in this country? Looking forward to hear from you,

    Uwe

    • Madison James

      Dear Tom Hanson,
      Hope you have a safe trip back I love chanel one news it helps me learn more then enough
      thank you so much thanks for this show:].

      Love,Madison

  3. Arlyn De los Santos

    This is great! .. Keep it up!

  4. Jeremiah

    This story of channel one was good but they need to make more things to talk About not 3 every single day

  5. Gloria

    That is so neat. I would love to travel all around the world.✈

  6. dove fox

    nice

  7. michael

    it must be really cool to travel the world isn’t it

  8. CJ Brown

    Myanmar seems like a very nice place to visit for a vacation

  9. Thomas lutz

    Awesome place how do you like it there

  10. dalton keener

    what was your fare thing there

  11. Griffin

    That place sounds lit

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