How you can help people in Myanmar, according to USC BURSA’s virtual panel

The Burmese USC student organization invited a U.S./Myanmar relations expert to answer questions about the situation since the military coup.

There are almost 8,000 miles between Los Angeles and Myanmar, but if you want to help, there’s a role for you, said Dr. MieMie Winn Byrd, an US/Myanmar relations expert and USC alumna.

“You don’t have to feel like you have to be in the front line to help out,” she said at a virtual event held by the USC Burmese Student Association (BURSA) on April 3.

In “Power Against Tyranny: The People vs. the Coup in Myanmar,” Dr. Winn Byrd answered questions about the current situation in Myanmar. She discussed the current political and humanitarian crisis amid the military coup and violence against protesters

At the start of the event, the panelists allowed the audience to change their Zoom name and to keep their camera off for privacy issues – due to the pandemic, many Burmese students have gone back to and attended classes from Myanmar, where speaking about the crisis can draw danger. None of the panelists had their full names on screen.

Panelists then asked for a moment of silence for the “fallen heroes,” and proceeded to salute with three fingers, a signal originally from the Hunger Games which has been adopted by protestors in Myanmar.

Dr. Winn Byrd said the people of Myanmar hold significant power, as they are moving information online and participating in powerful economic strikes, and because most international forces do not approve of the military regime. She explained that much of the resistance occurs online, thus there is a need for internet access, which is currently unstable in the country. On April 2, the AP reported that wireless internet was cut down in the country. Only fiber optic cable was working, but at a slow speed.

Myanmar elected leaders were detained as the military took over control of the country in February. Peaceful protests rose in the country, which the military responded to with violence. More than 550 civilians have been killed since the coup and over 2700 people have been detained, including activists and students according to the AP.

Many Myanmar professionals support the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDN) and have started a virtual campaign that opposes the military occupation. The public also went on an economic strike as a form of protesting, which has weakened the economy in a notable manner, AP reported.

On the economic impact, Dr. Winn Byrd recognized that those living below the poverty line will be the first to suffer, and she does not see a way out of it. However, she said that if people from outside Myanmar help and people inside the country help each other, that might “reduce the impact.”

Ways in which people outside Myanmar can help was a major focus of the discussion.

“I would say [the] number one priority right now is communication,” Dr. Winn Byrd said, adding that raising awareness and getting a communication system into the country are two essential ways to help. Powerful companies like Google can particularly help with providing some type of  “alternative communication system”,” for example.

Most of the attendees were young people not from Myanmar. During the panel, Dr. Winn Byrd asked them to write recommendations to the people of Myanmar, to which they responded with phrases like “keep at it,” “persistence” and “take care of your mental health.”

At the end of the discussion, panelists shared a GoFundMe to support the people of Myanmar and CDN if able, but Dr. Winn Byrd emphasized the importance of donating to those living in poverty, if possible.

She added that another way to help is with “your creativity,” with which “you can do a lot of stuff outside:” For artists, maybe that’s creating art about the crisis, or if you’re a business major, maybe that’s helping businesses understand the situation.

One thing she said everyone can do, though, is to “[make] sure that you know that the world doesn’t forget about what’s happening in Myanmar.”