3 months ago, thousands of Avaaz members donated over $325,000 (225,000 Euros, in just 4 days!) to
support the Burmese people's efforts to peacefully protest against their brutal military rulers, and tell the
world about their struggle.
This email is a quick report on where that money is going, and what the outlook is for Burma. It is based
on a visit I made to the region after our fundraiser, where I met with Burmese movement leaders to
discuss strategy and the best use of our community's donations. Click below to read this report and
more on our website along with pictures and videos:
The overall situation in Burma has deteriorated significantly since the protests last fall. 80% of the
leadership of the monk and student networks that led the protests have been caught and jailed. The
remaining 20% are on the run, hiding in safe houses and constantly at risk. The Burmese generals
have used torture extensively to work their way through these networks. They have also immediately and
viciously cracked down on any street protests. One of our original hopes was to break the media and
internet blackout that the Burmese generals had imposed on the country. But now, even if we did, there
are no significant protests to cover. The public protests have been smothered, for now.
There is hope, and with all of our support, Avaaz is helping it grow. No dictatorship was ever overthrown
without much sacrifice and long struggle. The Burmese have struggled for 20 years, they are fighting a
long fight, and we are committed to stay with them.
Here are the main reasons for hope:
1. The protests last fall brought a whole new generation of nonviolent activists into politics.
Hundreds of thousands of new people are eager to take up the cause.
2. The brutality against monks, revered by all Burmese, was the last straw for the Burmese
generals. They have now lost all legitimacy whatsoever with the people -- they are holed up in a jungle
capital and rule by force of terror alone.
3. There are signs of dissension within the Burmese military, as some senior officers refused to
crack down on the protesters.
4. International pressure remains steady. The Junta has been pressured, by the UN Security
Council and by China, into fast tracking their (flawed) plan for democratization, and have announced a
constitutional referendum to be held in May.
5. 2008 is going to be a big year for the Burmese democracy movement. Plans are being made, the
movement is thinking big and planning its return.
In channeling your donation, we were most concerned to make sure the money made a difference.
Avaaz made its first transfers of money, almost $60,000, immediately after the online fundraiser, all of it
going to technology that would help break the blackout on media that the junta had imposed. However,
as we raised 3 times more than requested, we had more than necessary for urgent needs, and took
time to consult widely with the community and make sure the money was going to the most crucial
needs and the best organizations to meet them. I travelled to the region and met with leaders of the
resistance movement for 2 weeks. I listened, asked questions, and learned. I have several years of
experience working in countries in conflict with international organizations, so I had some expertise to
understand the dynamics involved.
From the start, we recognized that granting money well, monitoring its expenditure, and following up is a
demanding activity that requires professional support. Avaaz is a campaigning organization and not in
this business. So we chose a foundation partner with long experience supporting the Burmese people
to advise and administer our community's donation. That group is the Open Society Institute, one of the
largest and most respected foundations in the world. OSI is taking no overhead on the funds we are
granting to Burmese groups, and has also increased its own support to this cause in 2008. The
priorities and grants that emerged from discussions with Burmese groups and other experts were:
1. Technology--$92,000--Burmese groups need to be able to communicate with each other
effectively both to coordinate their activities and keep links with the rest of the world.
2. Organizing--$150,000--engaging a new generation of activists, training them in non-violent grass
roots organizing and communications, and maintaining organizing links between Burmese activists
inside and outside the country was the most important priority identified.
3. Humanitarian--$20,000--many families and activists have been devastated by arrest, torture, and
disappearance. The lack of support to these families is a disincentive for future activists. We allocated
$20,000 for support to victims and victims' families, including helping them to get their story out to the
world. (Note the smaller size of this grant is due to this area being the most popular among other
funders – we wanted to focus where the greatest need was)
4. International Advocacy--$40,000--many Burmese groups are doing outstanding work pressing
foreign governments and organizing Burmese diaspora communities. This is a key piece of the puzzle
to keep up international pressure.
5. Reserve--$25,869--we kept a reserve for upcoming projects and needs that we haven't yet
identified. Many plans are being developed for 2008, and this money will help kick-start the best one or
two of them.
The specific groups receiving our financial support have asked not to be publicized in this email. Many of
them operate quietly in countries where governments are afraid to offend the Burmese generals by
housing them, and so they would prefer that we don't draw too much attention to them. However you can
visit the OSI Burma Project website (to whom Avaaz has given all the money raised) and see a list of all
of all their grantees here.
This money goes a long way in a region where the average income is just $2000 a year or less. Our
donations have helped give a massive boost in support to the Burmese people-- in some cases we are
doubling the amount of money available for a certain purpose. This is a serious demonstration of how
people power--thousands of us from every country pooling our time and money--can change the world. I
made a promise the Burmese groups on behalf of our community that I hope you agree with--I said 'we
are with you, as long as it takes'. With a little luck, it may not take that long--2008 will be a big year for
Burma. Let's get ready.
With hope and determination,
Executive Director, Avaaz
PS--here are some messages from veteran Burmese activists on the importance and impact of our
support for the Burmese cause:
"Our spirit and commitment to strive for freedom, equality and justice is stronger and reassured by the
solidarity from the international community. The capability enhanced by the support of Avaaz.org will
endure the long awaited victory of our people power movement--the unfinished struggle. We, the people
of Burma, feel proud and honored for being a member of the international family who always strive for
the freedom of the oppressed. Thank you indeed from friends in need."--Dr. Naing Aung, Secretary
General, Forum for Democracy in Burma
"The Burma democracy movement is severely under-funded compared to successful political
oppositions in Eastern Europe, South Africa and elsewhere. Grassroots Burmese groups working
inside and in exile are completely overextended, but they are committed to keep their struggle on the
world's human rights agenda, and their success in 2008 is dependent on support from individuals like
Avaaz.org members."--Maureen Aung Thwin, Burma Project Director, Open Society Institute
"As Monks, we should protect Burmese society but the military dictatorship has total disregard for the
welfare of our people. Because of the SPDC's rule, the Sangha can no longer perform our Buddhist
duties and practices. We will continue our peaceful movement with the support of groups like yours . It is
our call for change."--U Pamaukkha (Monk leader inside Burma – not his real name)
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|(GS of NV)
|February 11, 2008
January 15, 2008
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