Two of the students in this article are still in Myanmar. Their names have been changed to protect their identity from the Burmese military.
As he hid in the sewers, witnessing soldiers bludgeon civilians to death, this Cal Poly student was forced to learn an important lesson about the Myanmar military: they shoot to kill.
“This is an act of genocide,” the Cal Poly student wrote in a message to Mustang News over Instagram. “Civilians do not even have weapons and soldiers are using real bullets and machine guns on us.” Mustang News will refer to this student as James for his safety.
In the nine weeks since the military overthrew the government in Myanmar, they have killed about 700 protestors, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, by beating them to death, shooting into apartment buildings and mutilating their bodies. He is just one of the millions of Burmese citizens who are taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) that is working to push back against the coup by taking part in peaceful protests, not going into work and spreading information about what is happening through social media.
“Everyone was waiting for foreign countries to intervene but no one would help us,” James said.
James took the winter quarter off to participate in the protests. The internet in Myanmar is cut out everyday from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. making it harder to attend virtual classes in the U.S. with the time difference. Additionally, as of April 7, the only way Myanmar citizens can use the internet is through fiber internet, and they have to use a virtual private network to access most of the websites they use daily.
James said that he has re-enrolled in classes for spring quarter, however will likely drop them again because he said that he believes the rest of the internet will be cut off.
James said he is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt after seeing his friends being arrested and killed, but is still motivated to be a part of the movement.
“I feel devastated and frightened but I’ll keep fighting until the end,” James said.
Another Cal Poly student who Mustang News will call Megan is also in Myanmar, and was taking two quarters off due to difficulties with COVID-19 and the time zone difference when the protests started. According to Megan, protestors have had to construct barricades and set off smoke bombs in order to avoid snipers.
“Protests these days are not even protests anymore,” Megan said. “It’s like more defense.”
Like James, Megan has been active in protests since the military overthrew the government in a coup that occurred on Feb. 1. According to Megan, Myanmar’s largest holiday, Thingyan, Myanmar’s New Year’s festival, will not be observed this year as a part of the Civil Disobedience Movement.
“My priority right now is just staying alive,” Megan said in a Zoom interview with Mustang News. Megan has one of the two types of internet that has not yet been cut off by the Myanmar military. However, the internet that Megan is using is popularly rumored to be traceable by the military. Thus, by agreeing to be interviewed, Megan has put herself at a security risk.
When protests started in Myanmar nine weeks ago, Megan said that she could not focus on anything, but since then has been more active by teaching an English class through a local non-profit organization and planning events with Cal Poly’s Burmese Student Association (BurSA) to spread awareness about what is happening in Myanmar.
“Weirdly, I’m more motivated now,” Megan said. “I have nothing to lose.” Megan said that she is inspired by a quote from Aung San Suu Kyi, who said, “the only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”
BurSA has been working to spread awareness and support the protestors in Myanmar by holding an Instagram fundraiser to raise money for the Myanmar Students’ Union USA Civil Disobedience Movement and organizing a panel to discuss the issue at Cal Poly. However, Megan said that the military has stopped any money from coming into the country to support the Civil Disobedience Movement. According to Megan, citizens in Myanmar can still have money wired to them internationally through a series of steps which can eventually make it back to the citizens in Myanmar. The legitimate government of Myanmar, Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw organized a GoFundMe for its citizens, however, due to the massive influx of donations that were received in such a short amount of time, GoFundMe has since blocked anyone from accessing the funds, so they cannot reach people in Myanmar, according to Megan.
“It’s understandable why Cal Poly doesn’t pay attention,” Megan said. “So I’m just trying to figure out what could possibly make Cal Poly care.”
Computer science sophomore Sophia Hsuan said that it is frustrating trying to get people to care because people know so little about the history and severity of the issue.
“It gets very tiring to have to explain to people that don’t really know anything in the first place,” Hsuan said.
Hsuan said that a way that Cal Poly could support their international Burmese students would be to put out a statement saying they stand with the international students from Myanmar like they had when the Jewish Fraternity AEPi was the target of a hate crime in February.
“I feel like most of the people have no idea what is happening and that this is going on at all,” Hsuan said.
Cal Poly offered a grace period to its international students from Myanmar until the drop period for classes on April 8, and $1,000 to students who were seeking money through the Cal Poly Cares grant for international students who are in San Luis Obispo. However, the grant cannot be used for tuition, so many students must re-apply for tuition extensions until the coup is over, Hsuan said. Hsuan said that she thinks some students are still struggling to pay for tuition because banks are still closed in Myanmar.
“There’s no way for them to pay tuition yet,” Hsuan said. “And it will be extra added stress to have to repeatedly contact school admin to have their grace period extended.”
While several members of BurSA were emailed resources for mental health counseling, Hsuan said that the Burmese students at Cal Poly have not seeked counseling.
“We already feel guilty that we’re able to live life out here when people are at risk of dying back home,” Hsuan said. “So it’s kind of like our mental health is not necessarily our priority at the moment.”
Everyday, the AAPP publishes updates on how many people have been killed, arrested and injured in the protests, as well as what tactics the military has used to suppress the protests. Beneath each update, is the quote “our uprising must succeed.”
For those interested in finding out more, BurSA is hosting a panel over Zoom on April 15 at 8:00 p.m.