Myra Dahgaypaw was born into a conflict area in Karen State, Eastern Burma. As a result of the conflict, she lost many friends and family. Dahgaypaw lived in a jungle as a displaced person until she was 12, when she moved to the Mae Ra Moe refugee camp on the Burma/Thailand border. At age 27, Dahgaypaw left for the United States, where she is now a human rights activist.
“I am now a free person,” Dahgaypaw said in an e-mail. “Instead of getting upset or distressed by my own personal experience, I am motivated to do more so that others, especially the younger generation, don’t have to go through what I had to go through.”
Next Thursday, the UC Santa Cruz student organization STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition is hosting Dahgaypaw, who will be sharing her experiences as a part of STAND Up for Burma: An Eyewitness Account of Genocide. The group will also screen “Crossing Midnight,” a film about refugees from Burma.
At least 530,000 people are currently displaced in Burma, according to Genocide Intervention Network’s website.
“The Burmese government has been the primary driver of violence against civilians in Burma,” according to the website.
STAND has chapters at other universities and is affiliated with the Genocide Intervention Network.
Fourth-year Naomi Fisher, a member of STAND’s UCSC chapter, is enthusiastic for Dahgaypaw’s presentation.
“It’s a great opportunity to hear a personal account from someone who has actually experienced these things,” Fisher said. “I think a lot of people would be interested, so it’s just a matter of making sure they know about it.”
The organization is focused on fundraising and informing students of the current genocides in Burma, Congo and Sudan, said UCSC STAND’s co-president fourth-year Chiara Cabiglio.
“Right now this is what we’re doing for the people of Burma,” Cabiglio said. “The first step is raising awareness, and connecting with [Dahgaypaw] is going to provide the next step of action.”
Dahgaypaw is the campaign coordinator for U.S. Campaign for Burma, and she said the people of Burma need the community’s help.
“People are still suffering in the hands of the Burmese military regime,” she said. “They still get killed, homes were burnt down, women got raped, there is still forced labor and forced relocation, looting, killing … They can’t speak out for themselves, because they’ll get killed.”
Cabiglio met Dahgaypaw after asking U.S. Campaign for Burma if it had a speaker who could come to UCSC. This is the second event of the school year the UCSC chapter is hosting. STAND will host two more speakers next quarter and arrange events with other student organizations.
STAND Up for Burma will be funded by a $5,000 donation from Ante Up for Africa, a non-profit organization created by actor Don Cheadle. Before that check came in, STAND was funded by Cabiglio’s parents. The group receives no funding from the university.
“Now that we have that money from Ante Up for Africa, we’re able to do a lot more things,” Cabiglio said.
Cabiglio stresses the organization’s goal of educating students on genocide and promoting awareness.
“We said ‘never again’ after the Holocaust, yet it’s been happening again and again,” she said. “After the Holocaust, there was Cambodia, then Bosnia, then Rwanda and now Darfur. We’re looking at … how the situation in Burma resembles a pre-Holocaust or a pre-Cambodia.”