Bringing Migrant Films to Rural Myanmar

by EM News April 11, 2016
In March, partnering with the MCMAHT (Myanmar Catholic Migration and Anti-Human Trafficking) Network, we organized a screening of films on migrant workers attended by 40 residents in the village of Kwin Sann, Bago, Myanmar.

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Based on MCMAHT’s reports, the area is home to many who become migrant workers in neighborhood countries like Thailand and Malaysia. We found it fitting then, to screen films from Crossroads, our collection of advocacy videos on migrant workers, refugees, and stateless people in Malaysia.

Beginning our Journey

At 10am on a Monday morning, I, Kyalyi from EngageMedia, and MCMAHT volunteers departed from Yangon by bus and we arrived at the town of Zeekone at about 4pm. Kwin Sann village is located in the vicinity of Zeekone, but we had to travel for two hours on motorcycles to get there. We arrived safely at Kwin Sann at 6pm.

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Most of people in the village are of Catholic faith, Karen ethnicity and speak the Karen language. Thankfully for me, one of the characters from a film of mine is a Karen girl, so I was familiar enough with their language.

On Tuesday, I visited the village leader’s home to get permission to screen our films there. I was delightfully surprised that they chose to screen the films in the area where they congregate to pray, called “a Holy Place for Mary”.

Challenges

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The area faces a sever lack of electricity and the people there can only get power from small solar generators. We faced an issue in making our projector work and finally we had to think of an alternative. Some of the villagers have small TVs with 14-inch screens, but I decided that it would be better to screen the films from my own laptop which has a screen of almost 16 inches.

I’ll never forget how much I worried about the battery life of my laptop for the screening the next day. But by a stroke of luck, using one of the small solar generators somehow worked out.

The Screening Day

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At 5pm on Wednesday, after candlelight prayers, the MCMAHT volunteers and I started began the much-anticipated screening. We opened with the filmed, ‘In Search of Shelter’, a film about Myanmar refugees and migrant workers in Malaysia. In this video, a Karen man talks about the issues facing migrant workers in hopes that villagers who often “export” such workers would better understand them. We also showed the films, ‘Here to Help’, ‘Polis Pao’, ‘Siti Got Cheated’, ‘Trap’ and ‘Forsaken’.

The audience, which consisted of men and women aged 10–74, engaged in a lively post-screening discussion and answered a questionnaire on the issues raised in the films. A resource person from MCMAHT spoke in further detail with the villagers about official documents and how individuals looking to become migrant workers can better protect themselves.

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One of the villagers who came back from Malaysia said that he is really afraid to ever go to Malaysia again because of the police there. He shared that was always staying and hiding in the darkest corners of the factory in which he worked for only three months before returning to Myanmar.

His account served as a stark reminder of the realities faced by migrant workers throughout the region, and we were glad that the screening of films from Crossroads helped to spark such dialogues in remote locations where even watching television is considered a luxury.