Burma*Renamed Myanmar by the current military dictatorship. In order to show support of the democratization and need for human rights over the military junta, many countries and organizations still refer to the country as Burma.*

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Current Events/Articles
In 2007, the internet connection for all of Burma was cut down after bloggers attempted to post pictures and spread the word about the peaceful Monk demonstrations which were violently shut down by the Burmese military junta. One blogger, Ko Htike, who now lives in London, vowed to continue blogging regardless of the military’s crackdown. This event perfectly showcases the widespread corruption plaguing the government, the people, and the military of Burma. There is a huge limit on speech, worship, and press rights which is the reason for this oppressive culture where civil liberties are virtually nonexistent. Htike said he had around 40 people consistently sending him photos of the brutal murders of these peacefully demonstrating Buddhist monks. “If they get caught, [they] will never know their future. Maybe just disappear or maybe life in prison or maybe dead,” he said. But, these people sending him illegally-taken photos feel they owe the truth to their country, to their people, and to the future generations.

Last year on May 2nd and 3rd, a huge, disastrous cyclone hit the Irrawaddy Delta region of Burma. The effect was 140,000 people dead, 800,000 displaced, and 2.4 million people severely affected. Officials have said that the total 2.4 million people who were somehow affected by the cyclone will continue to feel the lasting impacts of the storm for three long years unless the government figures out a way to effectively distribute aid to its citizens. The storm flooded farmland and wiped out huge fields of crops and animals. This detriment has resulted in a huge debt crisis. This lack of money has ruined any prospect for development of health centers and schools. This crisis has proven the inherent incapability of the government to provide for its citizens in an effective manner. Not only is there internal conflict and civil war within the country, there is no the huge burden of a natural disaster which has resulted in massive debt for the country. The country’s government is already so corrupt that even if this new debt didn’t exist and the government actually did have money, they still wouldn’t distribute money fairly, efficiently, or effectively.

Outbreaks of diarrhea and other illnesses of lethal severity have been occuring all over the country, and much of the blame is being placed on the government. The military junta only puts forth the amount equal to .3 percent of the country's GDP for public health, with the average citizen receiving only seventy cents per year in healthcare services. To put this in comparison, consider that the junta puts forth fifty percent of the GDP towards military reinforcement and development. Because of this complete lack of provisions for the people, living conditions are absolutely horrendous. Most townships lack a toilet system, and their water and environment is thus polluted by human waste- the very same water from which they are forced to drink, because they can't afford drinking water, and the junta won't provide it for them. Five people have died so far, and hundreds have gotten ill. The junta's reaction has been one of either discipline or ignorance: the media in Burma has not reported on the occurences at all, and one official during a visit to the poverty-stricken and unsanitary districts said that the citizens would have to find a way to provide themselves with aid, because they need to "learn to stand on their own two feet." This is a typical example of the junta's treatment of its Burmese citizens. The average person is ignored, and the government's expenditures are almost solely for the military, with any type of socialist provisions or basic services being denied from the people. With this type of ignorance, the sicknesses are only going to increase in both number and severity. Furthermore, lack of government provisions such as this is a primary reason that citizens protest and/or try to migrate into surrounding countries like Malaysia, which is heavily punishable by the government via brutal methods.

This article focuses on both the Saffron Revolution and its far-reaching effects. The Saffron Revolution, taking place, in Burma, occured when the junta went a little overboard with the idea of "structural adjustment" suggested by the IMF, completely ending the subsidization of oil all at once. Obviously, this caused a huge increase in oil prices, causing catastrophic effects in the already poverty-stricken country. To protest these injustices, students and monks alike have taken to the streets. A huge component of symbolic importance to the Revolution is the carrying of their alms bowls upside down by the Monks, thus symbolizing their refusal to accept any donations from the military. This could have further adverse effects on the legitimacy of the junta, who needs to rely on blessings from the Monks to keep control but has killed and tortured many instead. Finally, the article shifts focus onto the newly released video Burma VJs: Reporting From a Closed Country, filmed by people at the forefront of the Revolution who risked their lives to get video footage that attests to the injustices being suffered by the Burmese citizens at the hands of the junta. While the film is far from grade-A filmmaking and sometimes seems to lack clarity, it has provided news sources like CNN and the BBC with valuble footage to spread the knowledge of human rights violations in Burma, which is vital to helping improve their situation. This is an illustration not only of the junta's attempts to keep both their own country and the rest of the world in the dark about the injustices they have caused, but the lengths to which they are willign to go to do so. Violent reactions to protests and totrue of political dissidents is an all-too-often occurence in Burma. By making a video about the situation in Burma, valuble knowledge is being spread throughout the world, and with knowledge comes the power to change things, which is the hope of what will happen in Burma.

Useful Links
For basic information regarding land area, population count, cultural history, political history, the economy, and a summary of the current internal conflict. This is a great, easy-to-read, and trustworthy resource perfect for gathering the basic facts about Burma.


Burma according to the CIA. Includes basic facts, history, and cultural identity. Another helpful source that is easy to navigate.

“Specializing in Burma related news and media” – an interesting site which organizes news about Burma – its relations within its borders, and its relations with the outside world. There is an interesting section on the home page called “Quote of the Day” – a quotation regarding the current situation in Burma and ways to ameliorate it.

Breaking news about Burma – CNN is generally regarded as the most unbiased news source so this is considered to be a reliable source of truth.

Timeline of the history of Burma including key events and turning points in the history.

A valuble and independent news publication which specializes in Burma and Southeast Asia, Irrawaddy often covers controversial topics that the military junta tries to keep under wraps.

An American group which is fighting for the democratization of Burma, as well as an end to the human rights violations being suffered by the people there. They organize demonstrations like the "Arrest Yourself 2009," in which people all over the U.S. put themselves under house arrest to protest the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, who was a powerful and legitimate source of the movement for democracy there until the junta arrested her. You can also make donations, sign petitions, and find other ways to help via the website.

A stark and detailed outline of all the various human violations in Burma initiated by the military junta.

Independence for Burma; U Nu becomes Prime Minister

“the Burmese way to Socialism” - U Nu’s government ousted by a military coup; the military coup led by Gen Ne Win who established a one-party (Socialist Programme Party), military-led state and abolished a federal system; nationalized the economy, banned independent media sources

New Constitution ratified – transferred power from armed forces to People’s Assembly

Law passed which said that people of non-indigenous backgrounds cannot hold job in public offices

Currency crisis; erases people’s savings and causes anti-government riots

Subsequent anti-government riots killing thousands of people; The State Law and Order Restoration Council is formed (Slorc)

Opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) wins by a landslide but results ignored by military

300 NLD prisoners released from prison

Ruling council administers realease of 200 more pro-democracy activists, the military government claimed that these releases show progress in communication with NLD members especially Aung San Suu Kyi (NLD leader; she remained under house arrest);
Burma promises to eliminate drug trade in the Golden Triangle by 2005

Khin Nyunt becomes prime minister and promises to keep Burma on track to democracy

Khin Nyunt ousted and placed under house arrest; thousands of dissidents are released, including Min Ko Naing, who led the 1988 pro-democracy student demonstrations

Burma moves its capital to Nay Pyi Taw; its first holiday celebration was the Armed Forces Day parade

China and Russia veto a draft US resolution at the UN Security Council urging Burma to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups; Burma and North Korea restore diplomatic ties; International Committee of the Red Cross accuses government of abusing Burmese people’s rights; masses of arrests during riots, monks disappear after reportedly being rounded up by the authorities

Several bomb blasts across Burma; State media blames insurgent destructionists including Karen National Union (a group fighting for greater autonomy for the ethnic Karen people)

Thailand expels hundreds of members of Burma’s Muslim Rohingya minority who appeared off its coast and Burma denies the minority’s existence

Media Inclusions

"Inside Myanmar - The Crackdown"
This video, produced by the Al Jazeera news network, follows an undercover reporter named Tony Birtley throughout Burma, exposing the human rights violations and dire situations that exist there. It specifically focuses on the poverty due to a lack of governement provisions, showing the atrocious disparity between the impoverished majority and the rich minority, the people's and the monks' attitudes towards the government that so brutally suppresses them, snd the protests of late that have broken out into massacres. This video is significant in that it provides a valuble and difficult to capture look into the very epicenter of the suppression, even providing footage of some of the riots themselves. These images are stark and oftentimes disturbing, but powerful and effective in both providing knowledge and moving people towards taking action.

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A young Burmese boy sits at the wreckage of his home. An extremely powerful cyclone slammed the country, leveling many towns and reducing homes to rubble like this, but the junta has prevented aid from relieving the situation rather than providing it. They have forbade aid from foreign countries and organizations, and likewise have disallowed the sending of aid shipments to the displaced Burmese survivors. This is another way that the junta has neglected their own people.

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This chart displays the legitimacy of the ruling regime in regards to different aspects of the government. It illustrates that the junta filters outgoing and incoming information significantly, and the transparency and consistency in the country is extremely low.

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While extremely graphic, this picture effectively illustrates the brutality of the current regime. Injuries like these are an all-too-often occurence at pro-democracy and rights-demanding protests, which often grow extremely chaotic and violent because of the junta's militaristic responses to them.

Burmese Government
Official name: Union of Burma
More commonly known as: Burma
Local official name: Pyidaungzu Myanma Naingngandaw
Locally known as: Myanma Naingngandaw
Formerly known as: Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma

Government type: military junta
Capital: Rangoon (Yangon)

Divided into administrative districts: 7 divisions and 7 states

Independence (from the U.K.) Day: January 4, 1948

Government system/type: based on English common law, but they have code law – first constitution ratified January 3, 1974, current constitution approved May 10, 2008; a new constitution will take effect when new parliament is convened after elections in 2010

Suffrage: universal suffrage over the age of 18

Head of state: Chairman of the State Peace & Development Council (SPDC); currently: Than Shwe – head military leader and leader of body of 12 senior generals who run country and make key decisions
Head of government: Prime Minister; currently: Thein Sein
Cabinet: overseen by SPDC; military junta called State Law and Order Restoration Council; doesn’t have as much power as SPDC
Elections: there are no elections

Unicameral People's Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw): new constitution creates bicameral assembly with an upper house (max. of 224 seats) and a lower house (max. of 440 seats) to be elected in 2010
Elections: last elections were May 27, 1990, but Assembly never allowed by junta to convene; junta has announced plans to hold elections in 2010

Judicial branch not separate from executive branch – no guarantee of a fair, public trial; still uphold some remnants of the British-era legal system

Significant Political Leaders

Ne Win
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Ne Win was the former ruthless Burmese dictator from 1958 to 1988. His reign not only is criticized as the reason of Burma’s massive economic failure, but is also characterized as a brutal reign under which thousands of people were murdered and political dissidents were suppressed. In 1941, after the formation of the Burma Independence Army, Ne Win, whose name means “brilliant as the sun,” became the Chief of the Army and secretly plotted against the Japanese. After Burma’s independence in 1948, Ne Win worked alongside the then-prime minister, U Nu, and ruled Burma for a decade until 1958 when U Nu’s reign collapsed, and Ne Win stepped in as prime minister. Under Ne Win, the 28-point manifesto, called “the Burmese way to Socialism, was created. Under this declaration, all businesses were nationalized, foreign companies were forced to leave, and Burma became a one-party state. Ne Win had a weird obsession with the power of numbers and reportedly bathed in dolphin’s blood to regain his youth and connection with numbers. This supposed power of numbers led to his restructuring of the currency so that all denominations were divisible by the “lucky number nine,” and resigned on August 8, 1988 (8-8-88) in the midst of awful economic situations and social unrest. His legacy is one of ruthlessness and failure; most Burmese remember Ne Win as the one who led Burma from prosperity to poverty.

Than Shwe
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Than Shwe is currently the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (the SPDC). Under his dictatorship, Burma was ranked 164th of 168 country’s in the press freedom index. He is 74 years old and has been in power since 1992. Last year, he was ranked 3rd in Parade Magazine’s list of the worst dictators in the world. Shwe is the head of the army and is the most hard-line leader Burma has ever seen; he refuses to let the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, have any political role or powers at all. Before becoming Burma’s head of state in 1992, Shwe worked in Burma’s postal service and in the Department of Psychological Warfare. During his first few years as leader, Shwe was known as more open and liberal than previous leaders: prisoners were released and human rights groups were allowed to visit Burma… but things slowly began to worsen as he started suppressing all opposition and throwing opposition leaders in jail. Shwe is known as being an extremely private person who is rarely seen in public but who reportedly lives an incredibly lavish lifestyle. More recently, there has been talk about Shwe attempting the further consolidate powers and to remain dictatorship for the rest of his life.

Aung San
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Aung San was an instrumental leader in Burma's push for and eventual gain of independence from Great Britain, as well as being credited as the founding father of the Union of Burma. Through is leadership positions at Rangoon University he worked his way into politics, eventually leaving the school so he could immerse himself in them completely. During a time when Burma was suffering under British colonial rule, he became a Thakin, or a politician whose stance is one of anti-colonialism and a desire for autonomy. He joined the Our Burma Union in 1938, and as their general secretary he was a vital presence in the planning and carrying out of numerous demonstrations and protests against the British. He even immersed himself into the Communist party in Burma, helping them found and organize themselves officially and serving as a member. In 1940, he had to flee Burma due to government arrest warrants against him for organizing revolts against the British colonial rulers. After finding refuge in Japan for a year, Aung San returned to his home country with an offer of aid from the Japanese Konoe government. They trained him and his original group in Japan, and they quickly came to be known as the "Thirty Comrades." Having new weapons and training from the Japanese was a huge advantage, and after returning to Burma, Aung San and his comrades helped to form the Burma Intelligence Army, which was later renamed the Burma Defense Army, and then the Burma National Army. However, while the Japanese had invaded during World War II as a part of the "Burma Campaign" in which they promised to help rid Burma of British influence and gain it independence, Aung San found himself growing increasingly skeptical about the true motives of the Japanese occupancy, so he turned back to the British, and with him as the leader, the Allies helped defeat and drive out the Japanese in 1945. After the Japanese were gone, the British appointed Aung San to important and high governmental positions, and signed a plan guaranteeing independence to Burma within a year. He was assassinated by paramilitary forces before he ever got to witness the independence he had fought for for so long, but Aung San was essential in helping conduct the movement away from colonialism towards autonomy and is still hailed as a national hero for his achievements.

Aung San Suu Kyi
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The daughter of national hero Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi is the symbol of the democratic movement in Burma. She has won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Sahkarov Prize for Freedom of Thought for her political ambitions for her country and her nonviolent approach towards achieving them. She helped to found the National League for Democracy, and immersed herself into politics. She ran as the NLD's candidate in the 1990 elections for Prime Minister called for by the junta; however, what they did not expect happened, and she won decisively. The junta, unwilling to give up their power, disregarded the election's results, and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. She has now been forced to the confines of her home for almost two decades, and every time her sentence comes close to being finished, the junta extends it. However, despite her limitations, Aung San Suu Kyi remains an important symbol both nationally and internationally as a hope for a brighter political future for Burma. She used the money won from her prizes to start a "health and education trust" to aid the people of Burma, and continues to preach nonviolent protests against the junta, and movements for democratization and human rights.

Analytical Questions
1. Bloggers like Ko Htike risk their lives every day by posting pictures of the Burmese military junta hurting civilians on the internet. Though he now lives in London, Htike receives pictures from citizens in Burma – pictures which were taken from the windows of the civilians’ homes. If they are caught, these civilians could face a life sentence in jail or torture and death. What are your thoughts about this? Do you think what these illegal bloggers are doing is worth it?
This act of spreading the word is a commendable one, indeed. It takes much courage, bravery, and determination to decide to illegally post pictures on the internet knowing that the Burmese government could track down the blogger. I think that it is up to the individual citizen to decide whether or not risking their lives is worth the possible raised awareness and increased efforts by other countries. If I were in this situation, I am inclined to say that I would do the same thing: I would help raise awareness by sending photos taken from my house to an outside blogger. However, if I had a family, I am not so sure I would actually do this, especially if it means risking the lives of those I love. In the end, I do think that what these illegal bloggers are doing is worth it. Hopefully their work will get countries around the world involved and concerned about the situation in Burma – more so than they are now – to the point where they would actually step in and help increase efficiency, aid, and justice within the country itself. Many countries know the extent to which the Burmese citizens’ rights are curtailed, yet there has been little done regarding the global community, perhaps because of the incredibly violent military junta and dictatorship currently in place. These illegal bloggers deserve immense respect and gratitude from all citizens of the world; their work has only increased awareness and necessity of the situation in Burma.

2. The Burmese government has consistently failed to adequately distribute money to all corners of the country. This corruption has caused extreme levels of poverty and health issues for Burmese citizens. This is probably occurred due to lack of transparency and effective organization in the military junta government. What do you suggest as a means of increasing equal and adequate money distribution?
The ineffective policies of the current military junta regime in Burma have caused ubiquitous poverty for all Burmese citizens. They lack adequate supplies, food, water, and shelter, to survive with any level of comfort. Since the current dictator, Than Shwe, has declared his desire for maintaining power for as long as possible, it seems highly unlikely that anything government-structure related will change any time soon. That combined with the intense loyalty to the dictator of the violent military, and the inherent lack of all civil liberties for its citizens, a real, stable change for Burma appears impossible. That being said, I think it is important to recognize the work of the few, but visible, opposition parties. The main opposition party, led by the jailed but famous Aung San Suu Kyi, have worked to raise awareness of the terrible conditions under which Burmese citizens are forced to live, and have actively protested the government. I think that the next necessary step is to have powerful democracies step in to Burma to force the government to become more transparent and just. If an outside country could step in and find a way for the government to retain power through a more democratically legitimate process while also getting rid of the military junta, real change of equal and adequate money distribution is possible. I think the outside country would need to pose the reasons why the Burmese government should want to fairly distribute money: they should argue that equal distribution will make the citizens more happy and more loyal to their government, thus obliterating the need for a violent military junta and subsequently making Burma look better in the eyes of the global community. There would be no more violence, no more harsh rule, no more lack of rights. To reiterate, the only way of doing this effectively is to increase international support and activism to change. The current Burmese government is too stuck in its ways and too terrified of losing power to change on its own; outside intervention is crucial.

3. How does Burma’s government structure allow for a single leader to easily consolidate complete and total power?
Burma’s government functions as a military junta. This means that a group of top military officials has complete and total power over a government which they have seized. Obviously, a military junta means that civil liberties and human rights will be limited if not virtually eliminated. By restricting all civil rights, citizens are inherently not allowed to voice concerns or to protest against their government, which paves the way for a single leader who can retain all power without any questions asked. Furthermore, the government is structured so that there are two leaders – however, the head of government, usually a title given to the leader with the most power, has virtually no powers, especially compared to the head of state who, in Burma, functions as the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council. This chairman is also the head military leader, and oversees the State Peace and Development Council which is comprised of twelve senior military generals who oversee all aspects of the country and make key decisions. This façade of dividing the leadership makes the people believe the government to be democratic since power seemingly is equally divided, but in reality, power is certainly not equally divided. Another aspect of the government which creates an easy path for a single leader to get all control is the fact that there are no elections. The last election for the legislative branch was on May 27, 1990. However, the junta denied all results and refused to allow the assembly to convene. Hopefully headed towards a brighter future, the current military junta has announced plans to hold elections in 2010. Lastly, the judicial branch is not separate from the executive branch, further allowing a single leader to control all aspects of the government in Burma.

4. While monks are oftentimes the leaders of government protests and movements, other monks argue that it is not their place to involve themselves in politics, because one of the components of true Buddhism is a detachment from worldly matters. Do you think that it’s appropriate for the monks to participate in protests, even if it goes against the Buddhist stress on secular detachment? Why or why not?
With the political situation in Burma being such a dire one, monks involving themselves in the push for democracy and rights seems absolutely justified. The monks are an important symbol to the country, as they are so stoically non-violent and peaceful in their beliefs and actions. Usually, the protests they take place in aren’t even “anti-government” per say, but pro human and political rights. The fact that these nonviolent movements are so brutally put down, and monks, who are so revered both in the country and around the world, are mercilessly killed and beaten by the junta in response says a lot about the regime’s brutality, which helps the world see how terrible the situation is there, and pushes everyone to help. Furthermore, the fact alone that the monks aren’t supporting the junta is a huge blow to the government’s legitimacy, who usually relies on religious blessings to justify their continuation of the holding of power. With less legitimacy, hopefully the junta has a harder time maintaining control and eventually will fall to democracy. The whole point of Buddhism is to live a peaceful life, and with the current situation in Burma, this is simply impossible. Therefore, despite the idea of detachment, the Burmese monks seem absolutely justified in their participation and leadership in movements for a better future for the people.

5. In her most famous speech, Aung San Suu Kyi said “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” How do you see this idea manifested in the politics of Burma? Do you agree that the junta is corrupted by their fear of losing power?
It definitely seems that the junta is responding to the increased protests and movements with increased brutality and violence, which is a strong sign that they are afraid of losing power. One of the chief incidents that shows their fear is one involving Aung San Suu Kyi herself, in which she won the national elections, and was quickly imprisoned after the results were released. The junta placed her under house arrest to silence her voice, which is a strong and revered one arguing for the people and democracy. They are quickly losing legitimacy due to the bravery of individuals like Suu Kyi and Buddhist Burmese monks who continue to participate in movements for human rights, as well as a growing disillusionment by the public as a whole. Thus, the only way they can maintain the level of power they hold is through suppressive policies and harsh responses to any kind of public dissatisfaction. The junta is definitely afraid to lose power, and are corrupted by that. Suu Kyi’s quotation is hauntingly correct.


How feasible do you think a future of political freedom is in Burma, and what will it take to achieve it?
It seems unlikely to me that a solely internal political revolution in Burma is possible anywhere in the near future. The people are poverty-stricken, and without resources, creating any kind of force to battle the junta, which spends so much money on its military equipment, would be quite the challenge. While the people seem steadfast in their efforts and unafraid to fight for democracy despite the junta's violent responses, the dictatorship seems to more or less have an iron grip over the people, as no protest has been particularly successful. Equally as important is noting that most of the protests are completely peaceful ones, led by monks who live by the ideaology of non-violence. The Burmese are choosing not to fight fire with fire. While this is certainly a commendable method, it makes their chances of ousting the junta even less. It seems that if political freedom in Burma is to be achieved, it will take efforts outside of the country, from outside organizations and/or foreign involvement. Powerful groups like the UN and powerful countries like the US could play a key role in releasing Burma of the suppressive government under which they suffer. Exactly how they would go about this, however, is a tough question in itself. While diplomacy is always the preferred method, the junta has made it quite clear that they're going nowhere, and aren't afraid to use violence to promote that message. Unfortunately, in all likelihood it would take an invasion or military intervention to rid the country of the junta, as talks and sanctions have proven ineffective. The question then becomes if intervening in such a manner is worth putting even more lives at danger. Whatever the case, Burma is certainly in a dire situation, living under a government which not only suppresses them but also shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, and with such a low standard of living and corrosive poverty problem, more than likely would need help to get rid of the junta.

Service Learning Project
For our Service Learning Project, we decided to work with our fellow National Honor Society members to help tutor the Burmese population at our school. We helped them do math homework, and any other homework with which they needed some guidance. The kids were incredibly nice, smart, and thankful for our help. It was such a great feeling to be a friend figure to fellow students who have been thrown suddenly into a new culture. It’s a great feeling to walk into the classroom at lunch and see all of the students’ faces brighten up with a smile and start saying the things with which they might need help. Most recently, we helped one student with his algebra homework. It was fun to help out with the distance formula and figuring out the specific types of triangles and quadrilaterals. Lavanya Rao, NHS president said, “Tutoring has been a great process; being able to talk with them and hear the things they have to say and to see their development is great. It makes them feel good, and it’s fulfilling for us, too. Now, when we see them in the halls they smile and wave!” There is a large Burmese population not only at Carrboro High, but in our entire district. Sometimes it has seemed hard to communicate or help them get involved, but tutoring was really a great way to connect with these fellow students, to show them we are friendly people and that we care – it was awesome to get to know them!