Making Space for Peace Action in Myanmar
Our project in Myanmar, Watering the Banyan Tree, is drawing to a close this fall after two years. We are amazed by how much the project team has accomplished during such a difficult time. A military coup in February 2021 quickly developed into a violent crackdown on widespread civilian dissent. Many people have found hope in the broad-based “Spring Revolution” protest movement, but the dangers and hardships are severe.
Traditionally, the Banyan tree provides shelter and a gathering space for problem-solving dialogue. The Watering the Banyan Tree project was formed in that spirit, growing out of our previous collaborations.
Our project was able to build trust across religious, ethnic, and generational divides—even though we haven’t all met in-person yet.
- We created a new plan together that prioritized participant safety — combining online workshops with localized in-person events. Here are some of the tangible project results:
- Ongoing resources specifically for peace work in Myanmar—including a Peace Practitioners’ Handbook and digital learning platform, Sangha Talk dialogues among monks and nuns, and a Digital Peace Club for youth leaders
- Nine “creative influencing” campaigns designed and led by community-based organizations—with support from the project’s trainings in using the arts for advocacy and outreach
- More than 75 new dialogue facilitators who received in-depth training, then facilitated more than 30 dialogues among hundreds of diverse participants so far
- A series of community-based activities, based on needs identified in dialogues—including trainings in psychological trauma and digital security under the junta; peace “edutainment” shows; & children’s libraries and reading circles
- New peace leadership skills and alliances built among young pro-democracy activists, and progressive Buddhist monks and nuns—critical constituencies for peacebuilding in Myanmar.
Reflections from Our Myanmar Project Manager
As a peacebuilder and Myanmar citizen
Creating safe space: People, especially young people, are eager to talk and learn, and to have a safe space for this. The results of the dialogue trainings and sessions in this project proved that, even in this difficult context, dialogue is one of the important and useful tools in building peace.
Unfortunately, our advanced, in-person dialogue training planned for September 2022—on trauma-informed dialogue—had to be canceled due to escalating armed conflicts and night raids. The participants are still asking us to provide this training content. They know it’s needed for them and their communities right now.
Trauma healing and psychosocial support: There is a huge need for psychosocial support in Myanmar, as we have been traumatized for decades already and then again by the experience of this coup. Our project activities incorporated psychosocial support in some activities, but we still need to do a lot more, as this is critical to build our resilience for survival.
In addition, most of the Myanmar people have been struggling in their daily lives as the economic situation deteriorates. I find myself wondering, how can we work to tackle other basic needs such as hunger, and integrate it into this peacebuilding work?
Trust-building: Trust, even among people of the same identity group, has been destroyed under the military junta. Our project was able to build trust across religious, ethnic, and generational divides—even though we haven’t all met in-person yet. We should extend this work to wider networks and communities, as trust is the foundation of building peace.
Working creatively: The word “peace” itself is sensitive in the current context, and peace activists are targeted by the junta. Participants and community members sometimes ask me how nonviolent action can possibly respond to the full force of the military junta’s war crimes and brutality. I struggle to find a concrete answer because the need is so huge. We need to continue to work on creatively demonstrating the value of dialogue, nonviolent communication, and nonviolent action for people in Myanmar who are living under military rule.
We hope to provide ongoing support to peacebuilders in Myanmar through Karuna’s newly forming partner network and our soon-to-be-launched Paula Green Legacy Fund. At the same time, our team will continue to pursue opportunities to create larger projects that respond to peacebuilding needs in Myanmar.