Burma Report Back

Avaaz Members Donate over $325,000 to the Burmese Democracy Movement

"Thank you indeed from friends in need." - Dr. Naing Aung, Secretary-General, Forum for Democracy in Burma


Thousands of Avaaz members donated over $325,000 (225,000 Euros, in just 4 days!) to support the Burmese people's efforts to peacefully promote political change and tell the world about their struggle.

This 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 activist leaders, discussed strategy and took their guidance on the best way to make our community's donations matter.

- Ricken Patel, Executive Director, Avaaz


Background: People Power vs. The Generals

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Burmese monks and Avaaz team deliver petition to UK Prime Minister and Security Council Member Gordon Brown

 
For decades, the nation of Burma has been ruled by a corrupt and brutal military dictatorship. Despite the awful risks, the Burmese people have repeatedly peacefully demonstrated in the streets, led in spirit by their last democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a woman who has been under house arrest for years.

In the fall of 2007, in the face of desperate poverty and continued repression, Burmese monks marched with hundreds of thousands of others asking for change. The world responded with a global outcry of solidarity.

Avaaz members responded in force, with 835,610 of us signing a petition calling on China and the UN Security Council powers to stop a military crackdown on the protests. Avaaz members endorsed and funded a global ad campaign targeting Chinese support for the Burmese military, and organized and joined in hundreds of protests and rallies around the world on October 6th. Avaaz members in Singapore successfully lobbied their foreign minister to deny the Burmese generals easy investment and vacation opportunities, and European Avaaz members lobbied their governments to strengthen economic sanctions.
 

Burma Report

Burmese Dictator Than Shwe orders brutal crackdown on peaceful monk protesters

Monks march peacefully in the streets of Rangoon before the crackdown

 
The overall situation in Burma has deteriorated significantly since the protests. 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. Our original hope 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.

But 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.

Reasons for Hope:

  1. The protests in 2007 brought a whole new generation of nonviolent activistsinto 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.
 

Funding Approach

A young student and monk take part in a non-violence training program - they cannot show their faces for fear of being identified by the military



 
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, a few days 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 as much as 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 worked for years in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, and Afghanistan for international organizations, and I first got involved in Burma activism in 2001, so I had some experience to bring to understand the dynamics and the groups 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.
 

Funding Priorities and Allocations


Leaders of several Burmese activist organizations meet to discuss strategy with Avaaz members




 
The priorities 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, and training them in non-violent grass roots organizing, as well 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 small reserve for upcoming projects and needs that we have not yet identified. Many plans are being developed for 2008, and this money will help kickstart the best one or two of them.

The specific groups receiving our financial support have asked not to be publicized in this report. 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 (who is administering our donation) and see a list of all of all their grantees:
here

This campaign was made possible by small contributions from Avaaz members all over the world. Please give what you can to keep our Burma campaign efforts going strong in 2008:

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People Power Can Make a Difference

 
This money goes a long way in a region where the average income is just $2000 a year or less. Donations by the Avaaz community 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 - can help change the world. I made a promise to 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 much respect for your contribution to this cause,

Ricken Patel

Executive Director, Avaaz