by Zaw Aung
I have heard about her for a long time but tonight (05/11/2010) and for the first time I met her in person. She looked pretty young. With a gentle smile and gracious expression, she walked into the lounge where her audience was excitedly waiting. They warmly welcomed her and promptly pushed aside their food plates. The Busboys and Poet’s cozy lounge was a perfect place for this event. With a calm poise, she greeted the people and started her talk right after a short introduction. Who would expect this young lady with a frail look would have so much energy for her country and people, and so many stories to tell.
As the PowerPoint slides were flipped one after another to highlight the tragedies the oppressive military regime committed in her homeland, one could notice tears welling up in her eyes and hear cracks in her voice. It almost felt like the audience was holding their breaths while they were looking at the images of the mind-boggling crimes against humanity that the military tyrant has been violating for decades. Zoya highlighted the Eastern part of Burma which has been under the military regime’s relentless attacks. She pointed out the military regime has attacked and destroyed more than 3,300 villages in the past 15 years and displaced over 500,000 innocent people. It is understandable she tended to stress this particular area because it was where her parents met and got married and where Zoya and her siblings grew up happily. It is also the place she affectionately calls the homeland of her ethnic race, the Karen people.
She sadly recalled her once pleasant childhood life with her beloved parents in a green mansion of the mountainous jungle of Burma now being destroyed by the ruling military regime. She flashed some images of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), dying refugees, dead children, victims of landmines, rapes and burned villages, all of which were so graphic. Each victim had a story to tell about the vicious crimes the military troops have long violated. The audience was carried away by the stories of her tough life in a refugee camp for years and later her lone struggles to get an education in Thailand and the United Kingdom.
Today, she has fulfilled the wishes of her late parents – father was assassinated by the military agent in 2008 and mother succumbed to an illness in 2004. Their dream was for Zoya named after the World War II Russian revolutionary fighter Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya to stand up for her people and speak up for the voiceless. She is determined to carry on with her parents’ unfinished freedom struggle by going around the world, telling untold stories of her people and campaigning for her country’s freedom from totalitarianism. She is now international coordinator of the Burma Campaign UK.
You can learn more about this courageous young lady by reading her memoir “Undaunted: My Struggle for Freedom and Survival in Burma.” This book is about her personal life struggles but, as she always stresses, it is less intended to be her own story than a window that lets us see the plight of her people under the oppressive tyrant.