Mai Mai has always been a tenacious, self-motivated individual. In his youth, he started a library in his community to help improve education. He went on to work for a faith based organization called Kachin Urban Rural Mission. Due to decades of civil war in Kachin State, allegiances lie in many different places, politically, however faith based organizations serve as unifiers for the community, according to Mai Mai. Throughout his experiences, Mai Mai has seen the importance of unity. He vividly remembers how key it was to a community that successfully prevented their forest from being destroyed by a company, a rare success in a country where land grabbing is all to common.
Mai Mai felt drawn to the plight of people who have been removed from their land, so for his needs assessment, he traveled to Maliyang village, a relocation site for villagers displaced because of the Myitzone Dam. Though the dam has been suspended, the villagers are still not permitted to return to their homes. Mai Mai witnessed the hardships of these displaced villagers; having once sustained themselves through their fertile land, they now reside in small houses built by the company with no method of income. They have lost community infrastructure such as schools, religious centers and health clinics. The road to the main township only runs one quarter of the year and they have to take a boat if they want to get to Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State. Many of these villagers were not compensated for their land due to the fact that they didn’t have land documents, as many in Burma don’t, a fact that many companies exploit in order to get out of paying compensation. One particular story stuck in Mai Mai’s mind, he said, as he relayed his experiences from the field session.
Before being relocated, a family of five got their income by renting out their farmland. The father could not till the land due his chronic lung disease and the mother was busy raising the children. Since their agricultural lands were destroyed by the road built for Dam construction, they have had no other alternative source of income and have received no compensation. To make ends meet, their daughter, who was in high school, was forced into prostitution, while the two primary school students are living with relatives working as house helpers. The two parents are in their relocated home, struggling for survival with little to no means of doing so.
It was that family and so many more like them that inspired Mai Mai to create a plan for his project, where he will be taking a two-fold approach to the issue. To help villagers gain a greater sense of security in their new homes, Mai Mai plans to have a land tenure training where he will discuss land rights, the land tenure process and environmental conservation techniques. From that training, he will form a farmer initiative group from select trainees, who will help villagers get land documents for their new land, help organize the community to have more power as a group and help develop farmer techniques and environmental conservation techniques. Mai Mai also plans to create a documentary detailing the stories of these displaced villagers to spread awareness of these issues and help raise money to help affected people.