Field Work in Burma: Student Reflections

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Last month, Earth Rights School Burma celebrated the graduation of its 2009-2010 class. The graduation marked the conclusion of a ten-month training program, which culminated in the students conducting field research – sometimes at great personal risk – on human rights and environmental issues in their home communities in Burma. On their return to the EarthRights School, located in Thailand, the students reflected on their research, the challenges they faced and the lessons they learned.

What Students Learned From Their Field Research Experience

I have learned many different things from my interviewees during my field session such as [. . .] from interviewee’s life in home village how they [were] suffering [. . . ] from SPDC military operation. [. . .] They had to do portering, force labor when SPDC’s soldiers came to their village. Then, they were suspicious by SPDC that they contacted and supported to Karenni Army. Therefore, some villagers were arrested and beaten by SPDC’s soldiers many times.

(The State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC, is the official name of Burma’s military regime).

What I learned from my field trip is that research is not easy as I thought. [. . .] Patient, flexibility and perseverance are important for researching something. Moreover, we need preparation in interviewing. I understood that one source is not enough to prove the information. We need to corroborate the facts. I learned how to approach to get the correct information. My analysis skill and logical thinking was improved from my work. I was confident more than before.

I have learnt many things especially; I came to know the situation of my Kachin people and the need of the community development for my people. Another thing is I feel that I am improving in interview skill and got a lot of experiences from my field trip.

I came to know that spent time together, discuss together is important for solving a problem. I felt that coming together is strength and bringing idea together is success. I hope this interview, meeting, and discussion will bring an opportunity, capacity and power among the Chin women.

The Challenges of Conducting Research

Many students described how poor road conditions and inclement weather hampered their efforts.

Though I don’t have many difficulties and challenge during the field session, sometimes I was not fulfilling my plan because interviewees were not available in time. And one reason was too much rain in my research area. Two days I was driving motorcycle for 5 hour with wet clothes. Luckily my health was fine in the midst of rain and cold weather!

For others, language barriers were an issue.

“People in here speak Tai lue which little different pronunciation from me even though I was the same race with them but I have not spoken like them for a long time.”

“I cannot speak Karenni language; I got favor from my friend to translate for me.”

For all students, security was a concern. Students explained how the local authorities were unwilling to answer questions or hampered their efforts.

One student described how police questioned a person who had assisted her in taking photographs.

“And they take him to police station and make appointment to come back to the police station. [. . .] It is made me very disturb for research.”

Another student stated that a military officer deleted her photos. She said, “I had the difficulty to contact with Government medical staff. They did not want to answer some of my questions that made them sensitive. “

Another student explained how he had to cut his research short due to security concerns. But, some people who live in [the] village come to inform me that I should not go there yet [due] to the unstable of political situation.”

The students’ dedication in the face of this challenging work is a testament to their deep commitments to the people of Burma. Now that they have graduated, they join over 130 students from previous years as members of the EarthRights Burma Alumni Program, which will support them as they continue in their work.

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