Myanmar’s military-dominated government was thrust into the spotlight in August as international organizations raised the alarm about a crisis in Rakhine State. As many as 600,000 people have been displaced by that conflict in the three months since, with the majority of refugees identifying as Rohingya Muslims and sheltering in neighboring Bangladesh.
Before this crisis, we could see a climate of growing tolerance in Myanmar. This has reversed, as people feel attacked and accused on all sides. Even moderates have been spreading hate speech online—indiscriminately forwarding fake, accusatory stories on Facebook that assign blame to entire ethnic or religious groups. It makes work for interfaith tolerance in Myanmar more challenging, at the same time as showing why it is so important.
The Karuna Myosae consortium includes three Myanmar organizations--Smile Education and Development Foundation, The Seagull, and Kalyana Mitta Foundation. Our work together is funded by a 2016 grant from the US Department of State. After a series of workshops and dialogues to foster tolerance among people from 5 faiths and 11 ethnicities, at 6 project sites, the Karuna Myosae project team is now mentoring participants as they develop small-scale initiatives in their communities.
The following photos are from a few of the community-based initiatives that have grown out of this work over the past six months, across Myanmar. These programs and relationships are powerful examples of interfaith cooperation, that are rippling outward in communities. We will continue to support these brave leaders in their difficult task of promoting tolerance, and to help prepare them for an ongoing role in calming future conflicts.
The Mandalay Seeds of Karuna team held an interfaith program for mothers (top left photo) that blended information on child development with messages of tolerance and understanding—since our upbringing does so much to influence our outlook. The team reached out to and involved a broader array of community and faith groups who also provided support.