In the heart of the world’s largest refugee camp is an amazing story. Sahat Zia Hero, a founder of Rohingyatographer magazine puts cameras in the hands of those in the camp to capture the lives of those around them. This way the world to see the Rohingya refugee community through our own eyes. Rohingyatographer Magazines (two at this time, >120 pages). The procedes of these magazines goes to benefiting the refugees and can be purchased online.
Rohingyatographer is a unique photography magazine created by a collective of talented Rohingya photographers based in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The magazine serves as a creative platform for the youth to develop their photography skills and use the medium as a tool for self-expression, community development, and participatory action research. By aligning with methods such as PhotoVoice, the project aims to raise awareness about the Rohingya community and their situation, while also providing a historical record of their lives and experiences in the refugee camps.
The Cox's Bazar refugee camp contains over 900,000 Rohinga refugees many of whom in 2017 fled the violent persecution in Myanmar. You can see more about Facebook's role in the article below.
Sample of the stories covering - Sadly, in my opinion, not enough coverage!
Below are my three copies Rohingyatographer magazines.
A sample of two of the impressive images within the Rohingyatographer magazines.
Symmetries & Asymmetries
I oppose injustices, whether nationwide or individual, as they act like a cancer that eats away at progress toward a better world. Injustice also harms the majority of us who are simply striving to lead meaningful and joyful lives.
In August, I read an article on the coverage of the war in Ukraine published by NPR. It struck a chord with me because I know many Ukrainian expats and first-generation Ukrainians in the US. I wholeheartedly support Ukraine's fight for justice and all their efforts to reclaim their occupied lands. I wish I had a photography project I could undertake to maintain global awareness of their cause. The article details how the war in Ukraine has received more media coverage than any other war in history.
"...There's more information from this war than probably any war in history. Immediately available," said Rob Lee, a Marine veteran who's now a military analyst with the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
The article gives three reasons why the war in Ukraine is the most covered war that the world has ever seen:
"...first is simply the march of technology…”
"...much of Ukraine still functions despite the heavy fighting in the east and in the south.”
"...Ukraine made major efforts to accommodate media.”
This article also quickly took me back to my projects on Myanmar. I'm aware that issues in Myanmar are unfamiliar to many people. To offer a bit of persepctive, let me offer the following comparisons.
Date of Unjust Action
February 24, 2022
February 1, 2021
Georgraphic sizes (Both among largest in their regions)
603,500 square kilometers
676,578 square kilometers
Ukrainians, Russians, and others
100's of ethnic groups
Junta (supported by Russian arms)
Note: I fully realize that many of these are coincidences, but still they offer something to think about.
Reasons it is most documented war
"...the march of technology”
"...much of Ukraine still functions despite heavy fighting in east & south.”
"...Ukraine made major efforts to invite media.”
Reasons why largely unknown war...
Significant military assistance, aid, sanctions, etc.
(supported by Russian arms)
UN General Assembly
UN Human Rights Critical Situation Report
New York Times: 28 print articles last year
(4 on Cyclone, one on rare turtles)
Note:I also realize that these comparisons are made for dramatic effects, but still it is something to think about. The New York Times article count is from a simple online search, if it is wrong, I will make corrections.
There are many English-language Myanmar news sources that cover the war daily. Also, because the people of Myanmar had become highly web-connected and web-savvy before the coup, there is a large number of Facebook posts that cover personal and Myanmar-wide issues.
Facebook was the main way people in Myanmar got onto the web when Myanmar started to open up to the world. In the early 2010s, smartphones became affordable in Myanmar, leading to a surge in internet usage. Various local mobile providers offered Facebook access without data charges and Facebook had a mobile app that was available in Burmese. BUT, here is the furtile ground where evil takes root...
Maung Sawyeddollah wrote an article on August 25, 2023. that highlights the downstream evils that happen after evil took root.
"For six years, I have been stuck in an overcrowded refugee camp in Bangladesh with little hope for the future. Facebook helped create the conditions that got me here."
"When I was a child, there was no communal violence in our lives and we had no major problems with our neighbours, even though we were Muslim Rohingya and they were Buddhist Rakhine."
"I blame Facebook, its parent company Meta, and the man behind it all, Mark Zuckerberg, for helping create the conditions that allowed the Myanmar military to unleash hell upon us. The social media company allowed anti-Rohingya sentiments to fester on its pages. Its algorithms promoted disinformation that eventually translated into real-life violence."
Maung Sawyeddollah ends his article by calling out for Mark Zuckerberg to fund education of young people in Cox’s Bazaar Refuge camp so they can build a brighter future for themselves.
"Facebook owner Meta’s dangerous algorithms and reckless pursuit of profit substantially contributed to the atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya people in 2017, Amnesty International said in a new report published today."
"Meta must be held to account. The company now has responsibility to provide reparations to all those who suffered the violent consequences of their reckless actions.
-- Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International Secretary General"
Science Friday - NPR's show "Science Friday" hosted by Ira Flatow, provides more even perspective on the issue.
"But what makes that so consequential is that everything that they do is filtered through these same artificial intelligence algorithms that are designed to serve them the specific kinds of content and the specific ways that will be maximally engaging to them."
And what we very quickly learned in Myanmar is that was racism, hate speech, incitement. And you could watch it spin up where these rumors and these hate speech groups that previously had been pretty obscure or had not had that much of a reach all of a sudden exploded on social media because the platform is boosting them. And you would start to see riots. You would start to see mobs that were overrunning members of the country’s Muslim minority."
Max Fisher wrote the book, "The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World" which you can buy on Amazon.
"the kids Were alright"
In my project, "the kid's Were alright," I mention that when I visited in 2013, I saw the Myanmar people were gaining access to the world through the web. I mention that the generic "web" was the way they were getting connected to and accessing the world's culture, music, fashion, etc. and combining it with their traditions to make something new.
More precisely the connection to the world was not through the generic "web." The truth of the matter is that this connectivity was predominantly, if not entirely, dependent on Facebook. Facebook's algorithms, which prioritized and magnified negative content in order to increase user interaction, exerted an undue influence on both the events and public sentiments in Myanmar in this period.
United Nations - Myanmar
The UN has issued it's annual report on the situation in Myanmar on 5-July-2023. Below are a few of the many findings. This situation there is criitical. I will post links to the official report here when it is published.
UN issues dire report on the critical human rights situation in Myanmar
By Mizzima 1 July 2023
"...(the report) paints a dire picture of the crisis that has befallen the country since the coup of February 2021.
The report analyzes actions by all duty-bearers and finds that the Myanmar military is most responsible for the negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights and on delivery of humanitarian action. The report documents that the military has established an all-encompassing system of control based on instrumentalization of the legal and administrative spheres in Myanmar.
PEOPLE IN NEED
Estimates indicate that 17.6 million people – one-third of the overall population – require some form of humanitarian assistance, marking a steep spike compared to the one million in need prior to the coup.
Flowers continue to play a role in the hearts and minds of the the people of Myanmar. In June, the latest protest was simply wearing flowers and again the junta acted with shocking disregard. See the April 2021 posting on the “Marching Shoe Strike” in an article below.
Myanmar Junta Fails to Contain Flower Strikes on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s Birthday By The Irrawaddy 19 June 2023
"Myanmar’s junta detained women for wearing flowers and ordered flower sellers to shut down their businesses as resistance forces called for a nationwide flower strike to mark the 78th birthday of imprisoned civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday.
The ousted civilian leader was arrested by the regime on the first day of the coup in February 2021 and is currently being held in Naypyitaw prison.
She has been sentenced by a military council court to a total of 33 years in prison in 19 cases."
FBR: Some Good News
Our friend, Dave Eubank, who is the founding director of the Free Burma Rangers (FBR). Posted a letter about some good news in the middle of the unprecedented level of attacks and killing by the Burma military. I wanted to share a few quotes here and invite everyone to read the full letter.
Dave writes, "so many good things happening. First of all, there is a new unity in Burma that cuts across racial, tribal, language, ethnic, economic, social, and religious lines and this unity is for a free, democratic, federal and representative Burma. It is a unity against the dictators and a stand against them at all costs. However, the cost has been very high, in lives lost, people maimed, homes destroyed and dreams broken."
"They have fled arrest and murder by the dictatorship in Burma and have left mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, and children at home. They cannot go back or they will be killed; for them, the government must change or they will never see their families again. This is the feeling that people have as they’re in the jungle. In spite of this, they keep giving love to other people and they keep praying for change to come to Burma so that Burma will truly be free and so they can go home and be with their families."
Dave also identifies some needs, "doctors and the clinics are in dire need of funding and equipment such as x-ray machines, electric cauterizing machines, EKG, ultrasound, CAT scans and MRI machines. There has been very little outside support for any of these medical supplies or equipment. This is an area of tremendous need, and services are being run by extremely competent people that could make instant use of any help given."
One summer day I was eating lunch outside at a local Portland restaurant. Covid had pushed dining outside. I started reading theThe New York Times and buried somewhere deep in the paper I saw an article entitled, "Fighting a Brutal Regime With the Help of a Video Game." When I saw the lead photo of your resistance fighters in cameo with guns leaning against their legs. The three of them sitting in a forest were playing a video game . I remembered the wonderful "kids" that I photographed ten years before and I wondered where they are now. A chill ran down my spine. I immediately began work on "the kids Were alight" series.
Marching Shoes Strike
Myanmar has been on my radar for over 20 years. I remember vowing never to visit, because I never wanted any of my money making its way to the Junta, which of course all tourist dollars did. I did not visit until 2013 when Aung San Suu Kyi declared that tourist visiting would do more good than harm. After visiting I've continued to pay special attention to Myanmar. After the coup, I held out high hope for the huge peaceful protests, they were so wide spread and wonderful. I've always been amazed at the creativity and kindess of those in Myanmar. Sadly, things quickly changed as I kept watching.
After the peaceful protests were brutally put down, Myanmar protesters still persisted with many events including the “Marching Shoe Strike” in April 2021, People placed flowers in shoes at various locations throughout Myanmar as a symbolic protest to honor the over 600 people killed by the military at that point. The organziers said, “For every step, a flower blooms.” (this image and more at: www.mizzima.com)
YouTube video montage of Shoe protests in Myanmar:
Workout Video & Coup
Khing Hnin Wai, a fitness instructor, was recording a workout video when a the military coup was unfolding behind her at the parliament in Naypyitaw Myanmar. She regularly recorded videos from that spot and was unaware of the events happening behind her. She posted the footage to Facebook on 1-Feb-2021. In the background, a convoy of armoured cars can be seen streaming toward the parliament when the Junta detained Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically-elected leaders of National League for Democracy party. The Junta seized control of the government after the pro-democracy party won in a landslide vote.
YouTube video (unjust coup starts at 1:39 in this video):
The Who 1965
2013 - 1965
I was so inspired by the young people in Myanmar in 2013. In 2013, I was given the amazing opportunity to witness and photograph a radical change that was completely transforming Myanmar. Myanmar had come from complete and utter isolation to modernity in a few years. For the young this time was a moment of explorations filled with wonder, hope, and youthful awkwardness as they were finding their place in the world. The young were absorbing everything from the web and creatively combining every influence. They mixed Myanmar’s traditional thanaka face paint with borrowed bits of pop culture.
I went there just to travel and explore. I did not have any photo projects in mind and was just photographing instinctively with no goals. As I was leaving and reviewing some photographs, the Who's song "The Kids Are Alright" popped into my head, because I suddenly realized that this was a rare moment in time where the you were going to change the world, like the 1960's in Europe/US and the punk scene in the mid 1970's. I should have shot more and really been working on this as a project "Myanmar - The Kids are Alight." I did not make it back and unfortunately lost that moment to fully document these changes.
I invite you to look at this original The Who classic where you will see a young Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle (21 years old), Pete Townshend (20) and Keith Moon (19). They are awkward and delightful and certainly did not have the rock star swagger of the years that followed.
YouTube video: "The Who - The Kids Are Alright" (1965)