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Worthwhile Activities of Eastern Pw

Dear Friends,

Buddhist Relief Mission just received this remarkable proposal from the
indominable Eastern Pwo Karen Culture and Literature Preservation Committee
based in Huay Kalok Refugee Camp, Mae Sot.  
In it they describe the activities they hope to be able to carry out in the
coming year.  They have clearly outlined what they hope to do and explained
why each activity is important.  Buddhist Relief Mission and Burmese Relief
Center -- Japan admire this group's tenacity, vision, and commitment and
wish them all success.  

Should you wish for more information about any of these activities, about
their budget projections, or if you'd like to make a contribution toward any
of their programs, please contact: 

Ken and Visakha Kawasaki
266-27 Ozuku-cho, 
Kashihara-shi, Nara-ken 634, 
Tel: (07442) 2-8236 
Fax: (07442) 4-6254

Attn:  Sathan Myint
PO Box 56
Mae Sot, Tak 63110



The Eastern Pwo Karen Culture and Literature Preservation Committee
(EPKCLPC) was established in 1996, at Huay Kaloke Refugee Camp, Tak
Province, Thailand, in response to what our members saw as drastic
conditions for Eastern Pwo Karen culture and literature. As an ethnic
minority group living in and near Burma's civil war zones, we face all the
political, economic and social problems facing indigenous peoples across the
country. Our distinct dialect and script are taught in neither the Burmese
education system nor the refugee camp schools. At the same time thousands of
our young people are being swallowed into Thai society and are losing a
sense of pride in their culture and identity. Others still in Burma struggle
for their daily survival with virtually no cultural awareness. Thus our
Eastern Pwo Karen culture and literature, evolved over centuries, are
rapidly fading into oblivion. For these reasons we felt a sense of urgency
to act for our cultural and linguistic survival and established the EPKCLPC.

In fact, our work has its roots in the late 1970's, when we first
established traditional dancing troupes and commenced training for youth in
matters of culture and literature. Unfortunately, these activities were
sporadic, being regularly interrupted by the civil war. In 1988, we first
held a two-month Pwo Karen summer literacy program that has continued
annually. This was the beginning of efforts to structure our activities.

As our work expanded, we recognized that our people really want to preserve
their living culture. In the years since its inception the literacy program
has grown from 3 teachers and 83 students in 1988, to 10 teachers and 530
students in 1996 (the numbers fell slightly in 1')97 due to an arson attack
on Huay Kaloke in January). Additionally, there are now three traditional
dancing groups working with our organization. Furthermore, since the formal
inception of committee in 1996, many people in our community have become
involved in traditional music performances, and we plan to develop skills to
build our own instruments.

Our organization is firmly rooted in this community. For the past nine years
all of our cultural and educational activities have been funded by voluntary
donations of the refugee community. Now we plan to expand beyond the
community structures within which we are currently operating to reach more
Pwo Karen communities both in Burma and Thailand. Our problem is that
despite their enthusiasm and support, being in refugee camps our communities
have very limited resources. Recognizing the need to expand and the
increasingly trying economic state of our people, we are now seeking
external support.


To preserve Eastern Pwo Karen culture and literature and encourage our
people to uplift and take pride in it.

Through the preservation and development of our cultural identity in the
broad Eastern Pwo Karen community we truly believe that integrity,
fraternity justice and love will prosper among our people.

In accordance with these principles we nave established an organizational
structure along the following lines:

1. Cultural Department: for preservation and development of traditional
dance and music, and materials.

2. Literature Department: for preservation and development of Eastern Pwo
Karen writing and written material.

3. Information Department: for communication and dissemination of such
materials and activities among local communities and elsewhere.

Our committee members also have five firm guiding principles which they must
absolutely adhere to:
1. generosity 
2. creativity 
3. determination 
4. kindness
5. devotion

We firmly uphold these principles in order to stand as an example to our
people to emulate our efforts for cultural survival.


a) To preserve traditional dress, instruments and related material
b) To preserve and develop traditional dance and music.

Traditional Karen "done" dance troupes were established by members of our
community in 1979, when we were still in our homeland. In particular they
gave children an awareness of the beauty and value of their traditional
culture. We currently have three active "done" dance groups across all age
levels. Most training is done during the summer school holidays (March-May).
We have teachers, however they need some kind of support in order to be able
to survive. Members of our organization also write new songs and poems in
the traditional style, reflecting on the value of our culture and
encouraging all member s of our community, especially the youth, to become
involved in cultural activities.

Since 1996, members of our community have also had the valuable opportunity
to learn about our traditional instruments, with much enthusiasm. Many young
people have seen and heard these instruments for the first time. The four
types of instruments we are using, in addition to those employed for the
dances, are the Karen harp and the mandolin (string instruments); and the
traditional mouth organ and buffalo horn (wind instruments). These
instruments are made by members of our community.

Dancing and musical performances are most popular at annual celebrations
such as the Karen New Year and the Wrist-tying Celebration (August full
moon). They are also beautiful performances to welcome guests with. Both for
our own people and those from afar, our music and dance are popular mediums
for introducing the value and beauty of our traditional Eastern Pwo Karen

Regrettably, virtually all of the instruments and clothing were destroyed in
the arson attack upon Huay Kaloke camp on January 28,1997. We have so far
been unable to replace the items lost.

However, we do have the capacity to remake and repurchase these things. For
example, a group of enthusiastic youth and a skilled teacher are ready to
make new harps, however, we require resonant wood that must be purchased
elsewhere. Likewise, we have teachers for each variety of instrument, but no
funds to support them.

We are expecting the "done" dance groups to expand to more than 3 groups
(averaging about 30 people per group) in the future. Furthermore, each group
needs the funds to assist two teachers/guides for the duration of the work.
Musical sets, consisting of drums, trumpets, cymbals, etc., are also essential.

As previously noted, at times of important celebrations we strive to hold
dance and musical contests in all categories, as means of encouragement to
the participants and as great entertainment that brings our culture to life
before our people. For these we require funds to award prizes.

As for long term tasks, we have plans to begin the production of traditional
clothing. Small-scale weaving already occurs in our community, but we have
been unable to expand into this area as swiftly as we would like, or as
urgently as is needed due to limited resources. We also hope to expand our
practice of traditional dance, to include other varieties such as the Karen

a) To preserve historical documents and related material. 
b) To preserve and develop Eastern Pwo Karen language and literature.

The most important activity of the Literature Department has been the
ongoing management of the Pwo Karen summer literacy program. That course now
extends from Kindergarten to Fourth Standard level, and is also attended by
many Sgaw Karen children.

This year we have strived to establish a Pwo Karen (full year) school,
simply at kindergarten level, with 3 teachers and about 80 students
registered. However this school has no external support whatsoever, (in
stark contrast to the Sgaw Karen school), and is virtually devoid of
materials, which makes the teachers work extremely difficult.

We have expanded our cooperation with Burma Issues, whom we have assisted in
production of Pwo Karen publications. Sathan Myint has attended a literacy
and community organizing training program in Mae Sot, and we are now
examining ways to broaden our work to incorporate programs specifically for
adult learners.

It is essential to expand the literacy programs already underway, into new
parts of our own community and also into other communities. Furthermore, we
must focus on the development of more Pwo Karen language materials.

We are struggling to attract teachers as we are unable to offer even the
smallest retainer, except our gratitude. We estimate the 1998 literacy
program will have about 550 students in Huay Kaloke, and another 250 will be
studying in nearby Mawker Refugee Camp. Mawker's program is only a couple of
years old, however it is growing rapidly. We estimate about half of the
students will be in kindergarten and half at other levels, with ages varying
from about 7 years old (we have capped the age to prevent too many immature
children from participating) to late teens, although these are very rough

As for the long term, we have two plans that we are most determined to
achieve. The first is to create dictionaries from Pwo Karen to
Thai/Burmese/English. The second is for the establishment of a public
library of Pwo Karen literature. However, at this point we lack the
resources to commence either of these plans, and have instead focused on
more immediate tasks already underway.


To record and disseminate information regarding development of Eastern Pwo
Karen culture and literature.


To this point in time the Information Department has had little opportunity
to develop owing to a total lack of resources. Some minor publications have
been produced, such as a descriptive pamphlet in Pwo Karen/Burmese/English
for the 1996 and '97 Wrist Tying celebrations, however our limited available
monies have generally been used for other work, leaving virtually nothing
for purchases of equipment, postage costs, etc.

We lack resources to even develop film. We are also entirely without any
kind of recording equipment.


If materials are available we shall immediately begin audio-visual
documentation of all our cultural activities, literacy program work, etc.,
such that it might be disseminated both locally, and further afield.

In the long term, the Information Department's most serious objective is to
get a video camera and related equipment, with which to be able to more
fully document and display our people's cultural activities.

The EPKCLPC has basically no funding sources other than the communities whom
we are serving. We receive funds through them most notably via donations
from organization members, nominal student fees and Buddhist
community members.

We have received small sums from outside sources on an irregular basis,
including from the Buddhist Relief Mission, Japan) and Burma Issues, as well
as some private donors - to all of whom we are extremely grateful. In the
last financial year (1996-7), this support amounted to 26,838 Thai Baht.
This sum, in addition to the funds we can collect from our own community is
barely sufficient to cover even our most basic costs. let alone near friar
The materials we so desperately need.

Given the present climate from which we must formulate plans, it is
difficult for us to clearly project our activities far into the future.
Therefore we must restrict our plans to a one year time frame, during which
we hope to regain capital items lost as a result of the fire, to have the
opportunity to gain new capital items that will greatly assist us in our
activities, and finally to attempt to expand our regular annual activities
without increasing the burden upon the communities already doing their best
to support us. Thus we hope that the brief outline of longer term plans
above will suffice. Were conditions more congenial we would have the luxury
of outlining plans of three to five years duration, however in the current
climate of uncertainty, these would be meaningless. We must simply prepare
ourselves for changes and remain as flexible as possible.