Sunday, 26 April 2015


                        The Angelic soul Nwe Oo - proud daughter of the ancient Arakan Kingdom

 Nwe is a voluntary member of over 20 organizations and helped to negotiate peace between the freedom fighting rebels of her people and the Government

                                                    Nwe giving a TED talk on peace

                                                             Nwe with Hillary Clinton

    Nwe in lilac at front centre left -  with others invited to be on stage with President Barak Obama

Sometimes you are fortunate in this life to meet an Angel who walks among us, I have spent 12 days in the company of just such a person...her name is Nwe Oo - and it means 'Summer' in her Rakhaing language....she is beautiful, soft-spoken, melodious-voiced, and has a big heart that far exceeds her petite frame...and you will rarely find a more sincere and loving person in this world of pain where golden hearts like hers - are routinely shattered into a million pieces...only to be melted back together by the warmth of her undying love - and determination - to BE the change for the better that she wishes to see in the world!
She and I met in New York at the Tribal Link - Project Access United Nations training for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 2015....she came into the training as a first year student....I returned to it as an Alumni - and mentor for the 4th time.

There are about 3.3 million Rakhine (Rakhaing) People in Burma, Bangladesh and India. Nwe's ancestors were noblemen in their last Kingdom of Mrauk U.
Mrauk U was cosmopolitan city, fortified by a 30-kilometer long fortification and an intricate net of moats and canals. At the centre of the city was the Royal Palace, looming high over the surrounding area like an Asian Acropolis. Waterways formed by canals and creeks earned the fame of distinct resemblance to Venice. Mrauk U offers some of the richest archaeological sites in South-East Asia.

In 1784 - over 100,000 Rakhine (Rakhaing) men, women & children were slaughtered when the armies led by the Crown Prince, son of King Bodawpaya, of the Konbaung dynasty of Burma marched across the western Yoma and annexed Rakhine. The religious relics of the kingdom were stolen from Rakhine, most notably the Mahamuni Buddha image, and taken into central Burma where they remain today. The people of Rakhine resisted the conquest of the kingdom for decades after. Fighting with the Rakhine resistance, initially led by Nga Than Dè and finally by Chin Byan in border areas, created problems between British India and Burma. The year 1826 saw the defeat of the Bamar ('Burmese') in the First Anglo-Burmese War and Rakhine was ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Yandabo. Sittwe (Akyab) was then designated the new capital of Rakhine. In 1852, Rakhine was merged into
Lower Burma as a territorial division.

On that fateful night in 1784, the last King of Mrauk U told the members of the nobility to escape because as he warned them: "The Burmese will kill all of you" 150 individual families of the ruling class household fled their ancient and beautiful Arakan Kingdom in 50 row boats....and for 3 days they were adrift in the Bay of Bengal, 20 of the children died from drinking sea-water; for they fled in such a hurry no fresh-water provisions were taken.

Nwe recalls family oral history that says her relatives landed in a wild rugged place on the coastline, and they had to live in trees to avoid being killed by the numerous Tigers, Crocodiles and snakes that were abundant in this region. Eventually the British found them and offered them a treaty whereby they would have had to recognize the authority of the British Monarch...but Nwe's ancestors told them "We want nothing to do with any foreign King".
In the intervening years Rakhine was the center of multiple insurgencies which fought against British rule, notably led by the monks U Ottama and U Seinda. 
During the Second World War, Rakhine was given autonomy under the Japanese occupation and was even granted its own army known as the Arakan Defense Force. The Arakan Defense Force went over to the allies and turned against the Japanese in early 1945.
In 1948, Rakhine became a division within the Union of Burma. Shortly after, violence broke out along religious lines between Buddhists and Muslims. Later there were calls for secession by the Arakanese, but such attempts were brutally suppressed. In 1974, the Burmese Ne Win government's new constitution granted Rakhine Division "state" status but the gesture was largely seen as meaningless since the military junta held all power in the country and in Rakhine.  

In 1988 after Muslim Bengali illegal settlers invaded and stole her families 80 acre farmlands, Nwe and her Buddhist Rakhaing family, her younger sister, herself and their two parents; moved to the Burma border area.
It was this that reduced the family to poverty, they had enjoyed a comfortable living up until the Bengali invasions of the Chittagong Hill tracts, Nwe's family lands were well planted with fruit trees, and supported their many livestock animals...the land even had gold deposits naturally occurring in it....the Bengalis took all for themselves.

Nwe's parents sold all the gold they owned and were able to flee with, in a vain attempt to win back their lands from illegal Muslim settlers that were armed and supported by the military of Bangladesh - in the predominantly Muslim law courts of Bangladesh, after 7 years it ended in a surprisingly unbiased ruling in favor of Nwe's family...but the Army protected Bengali settlers refused to leave and threatened to kill Nwe's family if they ever returned to their own land.
By this point, Nwe's family had no money left to educate her as their oldest child, so she had to learn to do traditional weaving from her aunt; to support her own education. 

Despite all of the tragedies of her youth, Nwe at the age of just 16; wrote her first news article that was published in a Bangladesh was titled: "How can I preserve my people's culture and traditions?". The Government of Bangladesh took notice...and she was courted by Bangladesh political parties, Nwe's words to them may have taken them by surprise when she told them: "All peoples are equal whether minority or majority, we want to discuss our rights AT the table - not under the table; we want you to be genuine with us!"

In 1997-1998, together with her aunt; Nwe created the Rakhaing Health and Education Service of Refugee Arakan Women, Nwe herself was a volunteer teacher for 6 months in the jungle area. 
AUS-AID funding which had made this possible then suddenly ended, her students never went to school again, and instead ended up joining the rebel freedom fighters to help defend their people.....forced to live a hide and seek survival existence, never knowing when the next surprise attack by the Burmese or Bangladesh military will befall them.

Nwe then spent 5 years as an undocumented refugee living in Thailand before obtaining refugee status in America, where she currently lives to this day with her three sons.
Nwe is presently a representative of the World Arakanse Organization (WAO), this is the first worldwide and also the largest social organization of the Arakanese people.
The WAO was officially funded with the unswerving support at all levels from Arakanese around the world, in New York City om 5th March; 2005. Since then, the WAO has been working diligently on social platforms to make a difference in the lives of Arakanese people. 
Currently, there are WAO branches in Japan, Australia, USA, and Europe...with the headquarters in California USA.

I asked Nwe these 4 questions about her Project Access Training, her answers are included as well below each question:
Question 1 - How did you personally benefit from the Tribal Link Project Access Training
Answer -  I learned and fully understood the UN Permanent Forum system, how to utilize it most productively, and what it IS - and is NOT there to do. Also very importantly, by working closely with people from different indigenous communities and regional delegations from all over the world right in the training group ...I saw how we can unite today to build a greater tomorrow for all our peoples!

Question 2 - How will you share/disseminate the information/knowledge you gained in the Project Access Training? 
Answer - I will share the knowledge I received from the Project Access Training to over 20 indigenous grassroots organizations around the world which I belong to.

Question 3 - What are the major water issues facing your people today?
Answer - The double standard about whether sacred waters deserve protection or not, stems from ignorance about the cultural underpinnings of water laws and policies, and how western cultural values (or lack thereof) are projected onto the natural world.

Question 4 - Are you aware of any Climate Change solutions that your own indigenous community can offer - which could be useful for dominant society to apply today?
Answer - Facing rising sea levels - Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable places in the world, Hurricanes (Cyclones) also take their toll, there is nothing we can do to stop sea-level rise; but in  ancient times my people built great stone structures that easily withstood Hurricanes (Cyclones), and well planned irrigation canals diverted flooding caused by heavy rainfall harmlessly into natural water courses. Modern governments seem to undertake construction projects outside the environmentally in-tuned parameters of traditional cultural spiritual experience; and as a result they often fail.

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