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Putting a Local Face on National Tragedy

We’ve all heard the news coming out of Burma (Myanmar), or rather the restriction of news.
Unlike the large Internet donations for the Tsunami that hit Thailand in December 2004, the donations are much smaller for the victims of Cyclone Nargis. Much of this is due to the Myanmar government’s attempt to control funds coming into the country, and much is due to the worry that the donations will not get to the people in need.
I spoke with Let Yer Kyew, and other Burmese refugees at the West Side home to Burmese Monks, refugees from the ‘Saffron Revolution’ last September. There are approximately 1,000 Burmese refugees living in Buffalo, all with family that they are worried about back in Burma.
Some have made contact with family members, but it is not easy. Since the Myanmar Government cut the phone lines after the cyclone, the only way to make contact has been through cell phones. And not that many Burmese have cell phones, especially in the farming delta region.
“There are Burmese refugee communities here in Buffalo, and we all work to raise money together to support each other, and the communities in need in Burma. But what we are doing right now is to raise money to help the victims of the cyclone. The number of dead is much higher than the government is saying. And there will be more tragedy to come,” Kyew said.
“The Burmese government only trusts certain countries, like Thailand, India and China, and maybe South Africa,” Kyew explained. “The government has food and water and the tablets to clean the water, but the State is holding it. They don’t even give it out yet. And corpses and buffalo are floating in the water and people have no place to move to. Disease is already starting, such as Cholera.”
When asked if he believes that the funds raised will reach the people in need Kyew said, “Yes. Because there were certain organization already in the country before the cyclone hit, like the Red Cross and World Food Program. The funds they receive don’t have to go through the government.”
On Sunday, May 18, Burmese refugees living in Buffalo are hosting a fundraiser at The International Institute from 1 – 4PM. The funds raised from this event will aid victims in Burma suffering the effects of this disaster. Burmese traditional music and dance and ethnic food will be featured. A silent auction and handcrafted items and artwork are available for sale. Proceeds will go to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to be used specifically for humanitarian aid for this tragedy.
According to Kyew, “We need help for our people. Even $1 is a lot.”
Donation requested at the door. Open to the public. For more information, call 716.883.1900 x319, send an email or visit the website.

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