*Note: Some specific names of individuals and organizations are not included, to protect them as they carry out sensitive journalism inside Burma (Myanmar).
Our first week-long workshop has finished, and it was a great success! For the last week we had 20 students learning about photography mechanics, shooting photo essays, and learning about photojournalism ethics.
Our students are all from Mon State inside Burma, and are in Sangklahburi, Thai side of the border, participating in a variety of capacity-building classes and workshops hosted by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM.) The students represented 6 different NGOs that are working on behalf of the Mon people in their homeland, and on behalf of Mon refugees residing in the border area. These nationless people have fled violence and oppression over the last 25 years.
The students were all enthusiastic and worked hard to learn the skills and professional practices that we taught. In turn, we learned more about the Mon people, the dynamic political situation within Monland, and what life is like for short-term and long-term refugees stuck in the border region.
Despite language hurdles we were able to help every last student put together and present a photo essay with well-composed photos and captions; and about half of them were able to publish their essays on their brand new blogs. This was a very exciting thing for individuals who have been working to tell the world their stories for years, and who now feel like they can in a meaningful way.
A very big "Thank you!" to Aue Mon, a former student of Diana's from 2006 who is now helping run HURFOM. He coordinated our workshop before we arrived in Thailand, and served as a translator throughout the entire week of class, while participating in all of the class activities as a student as well! We could have not done this workshop without his help, and for that we are very grateful.
As is sometimes the case, many of the rewards of teaching come after the final class has ended. For us this was the case our last night in Sangklahburi. Our students hosted a dinner party because we are moving on to the Chiang MaiDocumentary Arts Festival, and one of their english teachers, Ben, is moving on as well. We had a wonderful traditional Mon dinner, followed by some impromptu singing, dancing and even improv comedy on the part of two of our more outgoing students. Diana and I were coaxed up on stage at one point, where we entertained our students with our dancing, singing and beat-boxing skills to a song that neither of us knew, and that seemed to last for ever. As we sat there recovering, watching the unbridled merriment, Diana pointed out to me that what we were witnessing was even more amazing when you consider that a party like this would literally be illegal in their homeland, just 30 kilometers to the west over the Thai/Burma border. With this idea, my smile deepened as I watched our students take photo after photo of each other capturing their temporary reality forever.