Words by Jaruwan Supolrai
Photos by Max Ediger
Have you any dream you’ve been pursuing? Young people across Southeast Asia dream of a hundred different things. Some may dream of getting good careers. Some of you dream of having a big house and a luxurious car. And others may dream of being a full-time world traveler. But interestingly, this group of young activists are dreaming about peace, justice and rights for their respective regions.
AYM had a chance to interview six young peacemakers who recently returned home after taking part in three-month internship program with School of Peace in Bangalore, southeastern India. They painted and colored their confrontations and conflicts into posters for peace. Here are the good stories of the hopes and dreams behind their meaningful works of art!
Stop Violence Against Women!
A young female artist behind this poster is Haryanti ‘Rica’ Sulistyorini, 25 years old, originally from East Java, Indonesia. Her work background is women’s issues. She now works on the legal reform staff of the APIK Federation (Asosiasi Perempuan Indonesia Untuk Keadilan) in Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta to promote legal reform in her country with regard to women’s rights.
The inspiration behind Rica’s art piece comes from the many cases of violence against women in Indonesia that she encounters in her work. “I see that it is very sad and painful if women have to become victims especially physical abuse and I can feel very hurt for those women.” said Rica. She hopes her poster will help raise awareness about violence against women and believes that it is the responsibility of everyone in the world to stop violence against women and to respect women’s rights.
“You can feel like women is mother of the world, you must respect because without women, we all also cannot struggle for our rights and cannot change the world.” Her hope and dream for the region is that all people can live with no rape, no trafficking of women or children, no abuse and no war. “If we live together with peace, I think we can live until one thousand years.” she ended with a big smile.
A young Cambodian changemaker who has turned violence into colors is Sophear ‘Nomad’ Roun, 23 years old, originally from Pursat province in western Cambodia. He has been actively involved with social service activities since volunteering in high school for a Cambodian youth for a peaceful society organization. Currently he is a volunteer for Cambodian Muslim Youth Coordination Center, where most of his weekend time is spent in urban poor communities doing community service with his youth volunteer groups. Now he is a third year computer science student at the Cambodian University for Specialties in Phnom Penh. Nomad loves to discuss society and life with friends.
Inspiration for his poster was drawn from his childhood memory of what had happened to his family when he was little. These sad stories happened not only to his family but also to his neighbor’s families in his village. Through his poster, Nomad aims to tell people about domestic violence in the family. “It is truly sad that many families from many communities of different countries are facing this situation. We always see this problem. I feel badly about this case, since it is very dangerous and caused many victims in the world.” said Nomad, who strongly urges the people in the world to stop domestic violence. “Domestic violence comes from many negative conditions, when people have no work, no education, no reasonable thinking, and no good relationship, no money and so on.”
The hope and dream behind his painting is to see people in his community having a happy and healthy family. “I want to everybody to have good family and good life with happiness and warmth in their family life. But sometimes they just don’t realize that they do not have to have everything that they want.”
Stop Human Rights Abuse in Burma!
A dreamer of Burma, and a believer in Burma, Doo “Kipho” Plout, a young Karen activist, 21 years old, is from a Karen refugee camp along the Thailand-Burma border. Kipho is now working with the Karen Students Network Group (KSNG) in Mae Sot promoting public awareness of Burma issues in the media.
Kipho painted this poster because he wants the world to know more about the situation in Burma. Together with others, he hopes to find solutions to improve conditions there. “International organizations did help us, but I feel like nothing has changed for a better to the victim people, so I want other people to think more about this situation and find different ways to solve this problem.” said Kipho. “International organizations have to put more pressure to SPDC government. [SPDC is the “State Peace and Development Council”, the official name of the military regime of Burma.] If they do only like this poster the situation in Burma will not change.” he suggested.
Kipho’s dream is that his Karen people who suffered for a very long time under the Burma military will someday be free. “I dream that one day we will live in peace. Farmers will not be afraid of anything when they go for farming, they will sleep without fears. Children will not be hungry, they will be secured to play around their places. People will worship without fear and they will have time to learn their own language and enjoy their lives peacefully.”
You might have heard about Thailand’s southern unrest situation. A son of Pattani province, Saharee ‘Bear’ Chelong, 27 years old, expresses his passion for nonviolence in this work under the name of ‘Stop Fear’. Bear works for the Southern Peace Media Volunteer Network, based in Narathiwat, where he now is working on ‘Deliberative Democracy’ with villagers in southern communities. He is as well a young farmer, plowing the land, growing rice, harvesting and milling on his own farm.
Bear revealed that the hidden fear behind his poster is from the fear that he feels from villagers in affected areas in the deep southern Thailand. “The long term conflict and the ongoing situation here are very complicated and sensitive.” said Bear, a young peace activist who dreams of peace coming back to the south of Thailand.
“Various types of violence have occurred on and off. This has made people in the areas feel fearful and distrust each other. Buddhist Thais are afraid of talking to Muslim Thais. Muslims are afraid of Muslims themselves. They don’t trust each other anymore.” says Bear.
It is a long journey to pursue peace and freedom for his homeland. Bear hopes that one day his dream will become reality, that the problem will be solved in a creative way tailored to the social and cultural context of the people living there. “Government should open more spaces for people participation to help solve the problems and so people in the community will be able to strongly stand on their feet in term of making a living and good quality of way of life with peace and security.” he ended with hope.
End Oppression. Free Moroland!
A young Filipino nurse activist known as Knacky, 23 years old from Mati City in the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines, is the creator of this artwork. Kathleen is a registered nurse currently working as an instructor in a nursing college. She is also an active member of an organization called United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD), which is mainly working on issues of peace and development in Mindanao.
Her painting spoke about the desire of the Bangsamoro people to be free from oppression and discrimination, and to claim back their freedom, which was taken from them a long time ago. [Bangsamoro or Moro are the Muslim ethnic group in the Philippines]. Long ago, the Moro people were independent, living harmoniously and sustaining themselves on their own land. They lived with dignity until foreign invaders conquered their land and took it from them.
“They left us with almost nothing, Mindanao is considered the food basket of the Philippines but ironically many people are hungry, some cannot attend school, almost all are considered poor because of the improper distribution of wealth.” said Knacky who fights against human rights violations in Mindanao.
She explained that the Moro were left landless, because almost all the land was overtaken by the huge corporations. As a result, indigenous people had to move up the mountain. They are not well represented in the government, at either the local or national level. “We are discriminated, we are labeled as terrorist as a result job opportunities are rare only because we wear veil for women, only because we are from Mindanao, and only because we are Moro people.”
“This is my little way of expressing what Moro people feels and experiencing right now. I wanted other people to be aware of what we are going through, how it feels to be discriminated and oppressed in our own land. How it is to be a stranger in your own place? I just felt that long silence is enough, it is now the time to speak and fight for the truth.”
Last but not least, you may wonder what has been happening in Thailand recently. Let’s get to know Siriporn ‘Poo’ Pengjan, 26 years old from Nakhon Si Thammarat, Southern Thailand and find out from her. With a political science background, she worked for the National Legislative Assembly in Thailand and is currently working as a general administration staff member at the Research Center for Peace Studies, Mahidol University.
Inspiration for her poster is driven from the recent political violence in Thailand. ‘‘For what happened in previous May this year…I don’t think Thailand is a democratic country for real at all or people from each class in the Thai society have different perspective on what democracy is all about.”
Though Poo’s perspective, politics are connected to almost everything. “If Thailand is a democratic country, why people are still living with poverty? Why people are killing each other? Why injustice is there and so on? Thailand should rethink that democracy is not only for an ‘election day’ and all people should have rights to monitor everything that the government do.” she said.
In her poster, there are three key principles to share with people. First, people should have more critical and analysis thoughts about the situation. “I’m afraid that Thai people will learn nothing from this political chaos.” said Poo. Secondly, society should rethink and create learning process and spread knowledge to everyone in the society equally – that is why education is most important for us. Finally, we need to figure out what is a real democracy, and come up with specific goals? “Together, I guess we all have to seek for answers.”
Poo has a strong interest in learning and studying about conflicts. She believes that if we have analytically and critically learned about the conflict, then we can learn how to resolve it. That’s when nonviolence will start and peace will grow.
Poster for Peace is one of the workshops available in the School of Peace that helps participants raise issues among communities of marginalized people more effectively, and to raise awareness of important issues among the broader society. “We learned in this workshop that it is not important to be a good artist in order to make effective posters. The important thing is to understand your issue and to be clear what you want to communicate.” said Max Ediger, a School of Peace coordinator.
SOP hopes that its participants will return to their communities with a clearer vision and strategy to confront conflict and violence through nonviolent means. “We hope they will be more open to people who are different in ethnicity, religion, gender, etc and will work to bring all people together in one common human community.” he added.
About School of Peace (SOP)
SOP is a living and learning opportunity that brings together young people in Asia who come from conflict areas and represent different faiths and cultural backgrounds, to live, learn and dream together, about communities of just peace where religion, language, ethnicity, gender and culture cannot be used to divide people.
Participants learn from each other by sharing their experiences, visiting communities that are struggling for their rights, consulting resource persons with experience and expertise in different fields, and from a variety of activities where they can learn from an action and reflection process.
Training in a variety of skills such as drama, art, and public speaking are provided for participants, who can then share their learning with others. Visit SOP’s website at http://daga.dhs.org/icp/index.html and its blog at http://sop2010.wordpress.com. Email can be reached at email@example.com