Is it Burma or Myanmar?

Last month, I tweeted the following message:

Bamboo People was pretty amazing.  I appreciate it when we have books for students that encourages them to relate to others. It frustrates me that many adolescent books now try to “relate” to students and their current circumstances  by adopting current diction, circumstances, fashion, trends, etc.  It seems overly direct, uninspiring, and “dumbed down.”  I feel that there are so many universal themes that transcend culture and time, and teens can understand that if they are given the chance to wrestle/dig into a text that may initially feel unfamiliar!

Mitali Perkins does a GREAT job with providing this “rising to the occasion” opportunity for her readers through her books.  They each draw out universal concepts through characters set in seemingly different cultures, situations, and/or countries.  Love it.  <aside>Love her!  She came to speak at a class, and she was so bubbly and engaging… I can totally see how she can appeal to middle school BOYS even. a Very difficult audience. </aside>

Anyway, the MOST important thing Bamboo People accomplished for me was including a final blurb on Burma in the end.  Until I read this book, I knew very little about Burma/Myanmar.  In fact,  I called this country Myanmar.  After all, the name was officially changed; “Myanmar” is “current”.  Even though I never knew WHY the name was changed, I just went along with it.  I’m sad to say that when all the media concerning Aung San Suu Kyi exploded, I didn’t look into ONE headline.  I didn’t even know how to pronounce her name.  From 2009-2010, I worked at a school that raised money for a Burmese orphanage, but I did little to research that country.  (Confession: sometimes, I appease my conscience by just sending money, rather than trying to understand the fundamental issues and focus behind the funds.  It’s lazy, feel-good charity.)

Basically all these examples are to make it very clear that I knew NOTHING.  But now that I do know SOMETHING, I want to share it with you.

  • Burma used to be a thriving land; literacy, languages, diversity, resources — you name it!
  • Today 90% of the people live at or below the poverty level
  • Burma became an independent parliamentary democracy a little over 60 years ago.
  • In 1962 (14 years later), the military led a coup and took over the country and brutally crushed resistance and demonstrations led by students and workers.
  • The government killed many opposition leaders and put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in 1989.
  • Despite natural disasters, the military government refused international aid at first.
  • There is a HUGE gap between the rich elite and the poor.
  • In 1989, the military government changed the country’s name from “the Union of Burma” to “the Union of Myanmar.”
  • The USA, UK, and Canada are among the nations that refuse to recognize the new name, even though the UN switched to Myanmar.
  • Many newspapers and magazines are split (or confused).
  • Most Burmese people use “Burma”.
Sad.
You know, it’s not as if there isn’t information on Burma in the media.  There is.  It might be that we are inundated with so many other issues going on, so we ignore things that don’t really hit close to home.  That’s understandable, and all I want to do is let you know that this IS going on in the world.  A few weeks ago, I read this small newsflash on possible change in Burma (September 22, 2011).  I figured that a small voice is better than none.

Other Recent Articles:

Basically, the Burmese government appears to be reaching out, but much of the West and Aung San Suu Kyi are skeptical and cautious buuuut willing to see where these talks are leading.

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