About this Shop
This shop was launched in 2009 as part of a project primarily funded by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project is implemented by the nonprofit NGO Burma Center Prague and Burma Centre Delhi as our main partner.
The aim of this activity is to provide sustainable support and assistance to vulnerable Burmese groups in India, especially refugees, pro-democracy activists and victims of the famine in Chin Land. We buy traditional Burmese products directly from the producers and offer them to customers all over the world who wish to support them. The revenue is used to purchase new products from the manufacturers and to provide help to these groups of people. We are operating the whole trade cycle on a non-profit basis.
This shop will also serve as an educational forum, informing people about the plight of Burma's activists, ethnic minorities, monks and others living in exile.
The long-term goal of this project is to promote the transition of Burma into a democracy respecting human and civil rights.
Fair Trade for Burmese Refugees
Background to the Problem
India is famous as the world's biggest democracy, but it is not only the land of Mahatma Gandhi, a country that found its way out of colonial rule by both emancipating itself from and appropriating British Imperial heritage. India is also a place of a multitude of paradoxes, most prominently seen in its society, which is extremely diverse both in terms of creeds and the distribution of wealth.
What is hardly ever noticed is that India is also home to many immigrants. Since India has not signed either the UN 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Refugee Protocol, all refugees in the country are simply considered foreigners. Unlike tourists or businesspeople, however, refugees find it hard even to survive, to find housing, to earn a living, often on a day-to-day basis, to organise affordable health care for themselves, or to cope with local administrations and their discriminatory, humiliating practices.
Refugees in India are particularly vulnerable. A refugee girl who is harassed by her landlord has nobody to turn to for support, apart from the rest of her refugee community. A refugee being cheated by his employer cannot count on legal support, as local lawyers recommend they rather swallow their frustration so as not to stir up trouble with their "hopeless" case. Even institutions assigned by the UNHCR provide services in India only to refugees who are recognized by that agency, a status a migrant usually has to wait for over the course of many years.
Since its formation, the Burma Center Prague is concerned with refugees as one of the key areas in which we can directly mitigate the plight of the people of Burma without having to operate under the junta's surveillance. At the same time, we emphasise the eminent role of emancipated Burmese exiles who, trained by daily life as citizens of democracies, will one day be indispensable pillars of confidence and sustainability for the future democratization of Burma.
The Plight of Burmese Refugees
Mostly ignored by the world public, an enormous number of Burmese people from various ethnic groups manages to cross the border into India and enter the states of Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland. These refugees stem from a group of over 500 000 members of the Chin and Kachin ethnicities living in Western Burma who are systematically being oppressed by the junta. Incidents of extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, systematic rape and sexual violence, forced labor and portering and various forms of discrimination result in many families searching for a more bearable destiny away from home.
Currently the situation is even harder for the Chin people, as their land has been infested by famine. The crisis was triggered by a native species of bamboo, Melocanna baccifera, which flowers only once every 50 years giving rise to an explosion in the rat population, which goes on to eat other crops and consequently causes severe food shortages. This tragic phenomenon has been known about since 1862 and was most recently observed in early 2006 in Tonzang Township in Northern Chin State, Burma, from where it spread during 2007. The scale of destruction is disastrous for people who largely have to rely on farming: In the worst-affected areas, farmers are left with no more than a tenth of their usual harvest. Thirty children starved to death in 2008 when the famine gained momentum, and 100 000 people are still at risk, 20 % of the population in the affected areas.
Local self-help groups have started to lobby internationally for help and have established infrastructure for delivery of rice to the people in need. The regime, however, does not share its immense wealth with its people and leaves them to their own devices. Many see no other way out of their suffering than emigration.
Empowering the Poor in a Fair Market
During a fact-finding trip to India in April 2009, the project team of Burma Center Prague visited numerous refugee grassroots organizations and listened to their problems and needs. It was surprising to learn that even a household in a nine-square-meter rooftop shack can create a workshop with a simple loom made of bamboo canes clamped between the window grating and stretching around one woman's back.
Thanks to the project "An Indian base for democracy in Burma" we are able to buy home made products directly from such small-scale producers, sell items in Europe, and return them the profit.
If a bag, for instance, is bought for a certain amount of Rupees, the producer can invest some of that income into purchasing more materials, some into her own daily needs, and some into the self-help group that collects the products and provides these women advise, both personally and on strengthening their position in the local society.
Additional costs such as salaries for field staff of Burma Centre Delhi, shipping to Europe, customs fees, administration in Prague, and the operation of the online shop are covered by our project budget plus donations from business and individuals. Any profit from sales, in accordance with the conditions of the grant scheme, is either returned directly to the manufacturers or used as resources to help the population suffering from famine.
Needless to say, every piece offered in the shop is unique, telling the story of a refugee woman working for her family's survival. The items are handwoven or embroidered from thread and fabrics either brought from Burma or found at local Indian markets. They have been carefully chosen to best represent the traditional Burmese design. The quality of all products is checked upon collection from the home workshops and then rechecked by the experienced project team of Burma Centre Delhi before shipping to Europe.
More Information About the Manufacturers
Campaign "Let's Help the Burmese"
Support the Shop for Burma
The Burma Center Prague, o.p.s. (BCP) was founded in 2006 in the Czech Republic as a non-governmental and non-profit organization by people native to Burma and by a multinational group of supporters living in the Czech Republic.
The mission of Burma Center Prague is to restore peace, justice, democracy and human rights in Burma. The organization informs the Czech and European public about the situation in Burma, organizes public events and campaigns, provides assistance to Burmese refugees and implements projects to empower the Burmese people. All activities assume the importance of human rights and the need to provide the population of Burma with basic tools enabling them to survive and have access to such fundamental services as education, health care, and legal security.
The organization acts in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations and the UN Millennium Development Goals and seeks to increase the outreach of its work by maintaining international networking with similar organizations and the Burmese pro-democracy movement.
The Burma Center Prague particularly focuses on engaging individuals and civil society organizations to create a movement for coordinated, reliable, and independent activities to build capacity for a free Burma and prepare them for participation in the democratization of Burma.
If you have any questions about the situation of Burmese refugees in India, about the famine in Chin Land or about our project, please do not hesitate to contact us. You may also want to visit our upcoming events where we report on the ongoing situation and further ways to help.
Thank you for your support!
sponsors of the project: