All fourteen students at the EarthRights School Burma (ERSB) recently left Chiang Mai to return to Burma and conduct fieldwork for their capstone reports. Most have never had the opportunity to work on projects like this and they face significant challenges – communication and transportation is still difficult throughout Burma, and many students are working in remote areas that lack even reliable electricity. They are also tackling sensitive issues like development and corruption and some may face harassment by local authorities. Nevertheless, they are committed to forging a better Burma.

One student, from Yangon (Rangoon), is investigating environmental impacts and forced relocation related to the construction of the Shwe pipelines. “It’s possible the local authorities could arrest me. They’re seriously focused on this project. The Myitsone dam was already rejected and the government doesn’t want this to be cancelled as well,” he said. “I’m worried, but I should be brave for my country.”

Another student is traveling to Irrawaddy Division to research the strategies used by farming collectives and other local organizations to protect their rights and foster sustainable development. “Farmers are facing a lot of problems right now. Seventy percent of people in rural areas are farmers and there is a poverty cycle caused by social and environmental issues, so in this region they have formed a collective to discuss them. I want to find out how they work as a group and how they protest human rights abuses like land grabbing and obstructed access to water,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so I’m a little nervous, but I’ve contacted many NGOs who work with and support these farmer collectives. I’m very excited. My research is active research, so I want to inform the farmers. I believe only they can help themselves.”

Ka Hsaw Wa, ERI's Executive Director, preparing students for their fieldworkKa Hsaw Wa, ERI's Executive Director, preparing students for their fieldwork

An ethnic Kachin student is returning to his hometown in Northern Shan State to investigate corruption related to charcoal production and deforestation.  “I will interview some people who are involved with the local charcoal industry and ask them why they have to do this for income. Then I’ll speak to traders and find out how much they have to pay the local authorities to export the charcoal to China illegally.”

A fourth student is doing her fieldwork in the slums of Yangon. “There is a lot of garbage and blockage, so in the rainy season most of the water is stagnant or flooding the streets. It breeds a lot of mosquitoes and diseases and causes a lot of health problems, but the people have no health or environmental education,” she said.

The students will return to Chiang Mai in September to compile their findings and write their reports. We wish them the best of luck!