WATERING THE BANYAN TREE (2020-2022)

Myanmar

Summary

Traditionally, the Banyan tree provides shelter and and a gathering space for problem-solving dialogue. The Watering the Banyan Tree project works in that spirit.

Since the February 2021 military coup, our networks in Myanmar have been intimately affected by the persecution of activists, ongoing violent conflicts, and COVID-19. Yet, the project team has been able to build on civil society’s sense of unity, across ethnic and religious divides, in the face of these challenges.

Through a combination of online training and localized community work, participants in this project continue to work toward a future based in freedom from oppression and respect for Myanmar’s rich diversity.

About the Program

On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military forces deposed the democratically elected members of government. Society-wide protests for democracy and human rights immediately sprung up—and that movement continues to persist despite the ongoing, violent crackdown. Since the coup began, we have prioritized the safety of our partner organizations, the people who are engaged with them, and Karuna Center’s Myanmar-based staff.

Watering the Banyan Tree builds on our team’s earlier work to promote the inclusion and human rights of religious and ethnic minorities. Prior to the coup, our team had planned to engage diverse community leaders in dialogue, advocacy, and creative community-based outreach using the arts, media, music, and storytelling. Due to the impacts of the  coup and of COVID-19, the project team in Myanmar held a series of consultations to determine how we could make the most useful contribution, before enacting a revised plan in fall of 2021.

“The February coup has created divisions even within ethnic and religious groups, but it has also prompted unity across traditional divides. I am proud to be a part of the Watering the Banyan Tree project team because the project is still here to support the partners and our communities while raising the voices of our people amidst these numerous challenges.”

– Peacebuilder and Karuna staff member in Myanmar

KEY SUCCESSES TO DATE IN 2022 INCLUDE:

  • Working with local organizations in Myanmar to develop and implement four “Creative Influencing” campaigns. We brought a trainer on board who specializes in using the arts to promote social change, which is a safer form of advocacy in the current context. The first cohort of Myanmar-based organizations went through creative influencing training earlier this year and produced campaigns focused on International Women’s Day, including a music video that got 674 shares and over 1800 views on Facebook. A second cohort of trainee organizations led campaigns around the right to community participation and inclusion of marginalized youth and women.
  • Supporting the capacity of peace activists through ongoing live virtual training, covering topics ranging from activist self-care to dialogue facilitation. Local peace leaders have found support to develop their own small-scale community-based initiatives and lead dozens of community dialogues. One of the project’s local partner organizations held a series of 14 dialogues among Buddhists, covering a range of topics among nuns, monks, and laypeople. Perhaps most significantly, they were able to hold their first-ever discussion among Buddhists about human rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar.

As of the end of summer 2022, our project team in Myanmar has nearly completed a Peace Practitioner Handbook that will serve as the core resource for ongoing trainings using a digital learning platform. Our goal is to make this widely available and accessible for diverse peace leaders within Myanmar.

This 24-month program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor.

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