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Partners Asia offers targeted and effective support to civil society actors working with the most vulnerable communities in Burma – Myanmar, where there is little or no government provision of essential services, and where opportunities for advancement are few. Decades of civil war have left highly militarized, traumatized and dislocated villagers all around the country. Access to many areas inside Myanmar by international development agencies has only been possible since 2011. Due to this lack of stability, opportunity and access, many individuals choose to migrate to find work, leaving them exposed to unscrupulous agents engaged in human trafficking. Some families, encouraged by a government program, resort to sending their children to Buddhist monastic schools in Myanmar’s cities when their lives are overturned by forced relocations, or when they cannot grow enough food. In these cases, children are often forced to adopt Bamar language and culture, never returning to their ethnic homes.

Such communities exist in all areas of Myanmar, in the ethnic minority states and in urban centers where internal migrants are arriving daily. In the mountainous ethnic nationality states that surround the valleys of Myanmar and on the islands in the southeast, there are scores of smaller minorities, most of whom do not speak Bamar or the dominant local language (such as Shan, Chin or Karen) and who have never been incorporated into the mainland administrative system. In an era of globalization, and as Myanmar opens up to increased international trade and investment, these remote parts of Myanmar have gained in economic and political importance as they are rich in natural resources (precious metals, teak, gas, oil and gems). The mountains themselves have been natural barriers to state expansion, but this is no longer the case as huge infrastructure projects are underway that will cut through these areas with pipelines, roads, railways, deep sea ports and industrial zones.

With the current changes underway in Myanmar, these minor ethnic minorities and mobile populations will become increasingly vulnerable as companies and the state take control of tracts of territory for agro-business, mining, hydropower and factory zones. The spaces where populations practiced swidden agriculture are reduced, leaving them unable to sustain their way of life and ever-more exposed to trafficking. Local leadership and strong communities are needed to negotiate their rights within regional and national government, in particular their rights as citizens to basic social services.

Regionally, ethnic groups in China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam living in these same hilly regions continue to suffer from a lack of rights and recognition: Citizenship, land rights and access to an education system that is respectful of their cultural and linguistic differences remain problematic even as the nations they are a part of have marched ahead. At Partners Asia, we want to work with local leaders to ensure that they are not left in a similar situation.

For examples of the amazing community-initiated and locally led work that our team at Partners Asia supports, please visit: