In a safe house in Mae Sot, we sit chatting and laughing about an extraordinary incident that happened in Burma just last week. I was there on a flying visit, working undercover on this campaign but not even in my wildest dreams could I have expected it to happen. Playing tourist for the moment, but still very clearly being watched, I stood away from most prying eyes in a far corner of the concourse that surrounds Shwedagon Pagoda going through the motions of taking photographs of the beauty around me. I turned around and was immediately frozen to the spot. There sitting right in front of me was Kyaw Oo, a member of Generation Wave who I had been with in Mae Sot just days before arriving in Burma. A casual glance to each other but no more, as this was most certainly not the time or place to continue where we had left off just days earlier! I think winning the lottery would have been more likely than this – even writing about it now I still can’t quite believe it happened… but i believe it was a good omen because my trip was successful and so to was his and here we are both now sitting in the evening heat of Mae Sot laughing about it.
In the aftermath of the Saffron Revolution a new youthful student force was born. Five former high school friends galvanised by the demonstrations that they took part in and the events on the streets of Rangoon that shocked the world started their own underground organisation. Generation Wave was founded on 9th October 2007 by Zay Yar Thaw, Aung Zay Phyo, Nyein Nwae, Moe Thway and Min Yan Naing all of whom were actively involved in the students demonstrations in 1996 and 1998. Over the last two years they have carried out a number of high profile campaigns inside Burma – including pamphleting, grafitti, daring protests outside Insein prison and distributing CDs of their music in tea shops. But at some price. There are currently 21 members of the group in jail in Burma including Zayar Thaw, Arkar Bo, Aung Zay Phyo and Thiha Win Tin. Two thirds of their members are behind bars for promoting democracy in their country. It’s made even worse when you consider their age.
For the full picture on Generation Wave please read this in-depth interview with them here in this great article by my friend Joseph Allchin from DVB.
There are currently only a handful of GW members living in exile here in Mae Sot (obviously names and details can’t be divulged for security reasons), including one, let’s call her ‘Nyi Ma’, a very old friend of Jackie’s when she was living in Rangoon. They had not seen each other for more than 10 years and we all met in complete surprise for the first time since then during the AAPP tenth anniversary last month. With that first coincidental meeting with a member of GW I suppose I really shouldn’t have been surprised when I bumped in to Kyaw Oo in Rangoon! So other than just enjoying spending time with friends at Generation Wave HQ, I’m also here to take the portrait of the only member of GW who is a former political prisoner.
Kyaw Oo has been jailed twice for his political activities – in 1989 for 4 years and again in 2008 for 1 year – both times in Insein prison. He was released in the General Amnesty on September 19th 2009 and now lives in exile here in Thailand. You can see the portrait we took here on the main website. I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Generation Wave over the past few weeks (often just having a break from what I’m doing and hanging out with my little sister and co has provided me with the space to find new ideas and inspirations). And it has proved so very inspiring to spend time with them. In fact I’ve got some ideas for some portraits for them all so we’ll have some fun next week for sure. Despite being too old to be a member I have been given the great honour of having my own numbered mug (the only non-member with an official place in the dishrack!) – so if you’re ever at their house and you see number 10 left lieing around half filled with unfinished coffee you’ll know it’s me! The Student movement has long played the decisive role in shaping the fight against the military regime and like so many that came before them, they are the new generation of students, still fighting for their country, but a long long way from home.
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