The light can hide the shadow. Opening religious dialogue through cultural grants in Myanmar

The light can hide the shadow. Opening religious dialogue through cultural grants in Myanmar

21. 12. 2016

The car is slowly jumping along a bumpy road among rubber trees. We are 20 minutes away from Mawlamyine, the capital of Mon state in Myanmar. Here, around 300 kilometres south east of Yangon in the middle of a beautiful landscape, many different ethnicities are living in small villages. We are heading to the Hindu village of Putalukone.

Today it is a special day for the village with 720 inhabitants. We hear loud music from a distance and locals mill around the school in the centre of the village. School desks have disappeared and everyone is bringing something to the building. Some people are preparing chairs, others are decorating the stage where “Ceremony of Multi-Religious living together in peace” is written on the wall. The youngest children are dancing in front of the building on wild beats of music.

Everyone is in a hurry because soon dear guests will come. Putalukone is surrounded by villages settled by Muslims, Christians or Buddhist and today their representatives are invited to celebrate their e peaceful coexistence, and establish regular contacts and possible future cooperation.

"Previously we did not have contact with surrounding villages. This is first occasion of this kind," explains farmer U Than Soe, who is at the same time the leader of the village working group. "We sent to all villages invitation letter and asked other working groups to prepare some programme for joint evening. Boys from our village will perform traditional dance and Christians will sing the song of peace for instance," adds the 29-year old man while taking a rest during the preparations.

Communication is important for next generations

Meanwhile, the first groups of guests are coming and are helping with preparations. A few minutes later the hall is full and among the audience you can see Buddhist, Hinduist, Christians and Muslims on the first glance. Everyone is impatiently waiting for the beginning of the performance. After a short introduction the senior village representatives come together to light candles.

The audience is cheering. "The subtitle of today action is that light can hide the shadow. For me the start of communication with other religions and ethnicities is extremely important mainly for next generation," summarizes U Than Soe, and adds that even now communities' members are planning to volunteer at funerals in nearby villages.

Villagers were able to organize the event thanks to a small cultural grant of 1200 US dollars provided by People in Need. Besides that they will remind the Convention on the Rights of the Child to honor Children's Day. The villagers will conduct dance and song contests as well as a sports competition on 24th Nov, 2016.

In terms of EU funded and one other project, People in Need has already distributed small cultural grants to 18 villages. Capacity building and coaching of community leaders is part of the EU funded project focused on combating discrimination based on belief, and will mitigate divisions between communities through civil society empowerment in Myanmar.

Better understanding through sport, song contests and cultural events

Community leaders intend to organize small events for the purpose of cooperation and collaboration amongst the diverse groups. “Villagers will be more cooperative each other because of the sport competitions, song contest and traditional events,” says People in Need Programme Manager Monika Kolomaznikova. “By leading the events ourselves, we can get the leadership skills. People will be able to understand more on Hindu traditional and culture by participating in this event. We will perform the tradition and culture for 4 religions. We can also illustrate that there will be no difference in each religion by inviting all religions,” says U Than Soe.

In terms of EU funded projects, People in Need already has already given community leaders training to further work as agents of attitudinal change in their respective communities. Working groups are formed in the states of Kayin and Mon in cooperation with partners and project coordinators including women, youth and community leaders. “They gave awareness sessions on trust-building using peer to peer approach. We also created network of working groups from community level and civil society leaders by holding one or two days networking meeting inviting local civil society organizations,” says Monika Kolomaznikova.

Another approach of giving sub-grants to 12 local civil society organizations is to conduct activities on strengthening civil society to address discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief through their interfaith and tolerance promoting projects. Before People in Need gave sub-grants to 12 civil society organizations, we conducted tailor-made capacity building training to enhance the impact of the supported projects and draw on the experience and gained capacities,” Monika Kolomaznikova explains.

The joint EU and People in Need action is contributing to religious dialogue which is the biggest challenge of contemporary Myanmar. Regional authorities often give favourable treatment to Buddhist citizens and deny the same to members of other religious groups. This can be in the form of permits which give access to services or allow for the restoration of religious structures. 

Christine Panwai, PIN Myanmar Communication Officer

Petr Stefan, PIN Communication Officer

Author: Christine Panwai, Petr Stefan