All SWAN staff, from both Chiang Mai and Taunggyi, travelled to Lashio in northern Shan State on the 21st March in preparation for the landmark occasion of the Shan Women’s Get-together and 18th Anniversary of SWAN’s inception. SWAN also used this important time to meet with community leaders, local authorities and EAO officials, stakeholders and community organisations. Lashio is a new working area for SWAN and accordingly, we prioritised community consultation, engaging and networking to strengthen the relationships for our future collaboration and to determine the needs of the community.
(I) Visiting Women group at Wan Hang Na Village
During the trip to Lashio SWAN engaged in a host of activities and networking and community consultation including visiting monasteries, students, IDPs and an orphanage. SWAN visited a women’s group in Wan Hang Na Village, a surrounding rural area of Lashio, to provide support and encouragement to the local women. SWAN met with the group, along with the EAO leader and monks and men from the community. SWAN shared with the women information about the programs they run for women and offered to visit again to give training.
(II) Visiting IDPs camp in Namtu
There are currently IDPs sheltering in Namtu Township, as a result of heavy fighting in round Namtu Township. SWAN visited the IDP camp and two temples where displaced families have been staying temporarily after conflict in their hometowns. SWAN spoke with leaders in the camp and the monasteries to understand the situation and ensure that women and children’s needs were being met. SWAN made a donation of money, women’s sanitary items, soap and washing detergent.
(III) Shan Women’s Get-Together 26-28th March 2017
More than 70 women attended SWAN’s innovative three-day workshop. The women travelled from 18 different Townships including Nam Kham, Hsenwi, Lashio, Nam Lam, Hsipaw, Kyaukme, Mong Hsu, Wai Hai, Kesi, Karli, Nam Gang, Pang Long, Mong Nai, Lawsawk, Taunggyi, Homalin, Bamaw and Mong Mork. The women were a mix of new and existing SWAN members, focal points, SWAN training alumni and SWAN health workers. We were excited to welcome more than 20 new SWAN members, most of who were from Kyaukme, to this event. The workshop provided these new members with an insight into SWAN’s philosophy, guiding values and principles, as well as an in depth understanding of SWAN’s programs and community activities.
SWAN’s advisors, founders, management team and program staff members all took an active role in facilitating and managing the workshop, collaborating to ensure the smooth operation of the three day workshop. Over the three days we gave presentations on SWAN’s history and our work, and due to the large number of new members in attendance, we prioritised describing the concept of empowerment and the rationale for empowering women. The participants were split into three groups where they each had the chance to discuss and brainstorm the topics: Advocacy and Networking; Fundraising; and Communication and Logistics.
For many participants learning these concepts, as well as being in a large group of women, was a completely new and even daunting experience. SWAN observed on the first day that the participants found it hard to express themselves freely and demonstrate confidence when speaking with each other and to the group. Some women avoided eye contact and hardly spoke out during the activities. SWAN worked with the women to help build their confidence by performing participatory team building and trust building exercises. By the end of the second day, most of the women were speaking out and sharing; they became more comfortable and confident and active members in their group work.
On the final day of the workshop, the participants were asked to summarise their discussions on each of their topics and each group spoke about their findings and ideas. To finish, we spoke about the future of SWAN, our growing membership and going forward working in unity.
Despite the challenges of conflict occurring in neighbouring areas of northern Shan State as well as the by-elections and monks ordination ceremonies, SWAN was delighted to host more than 70 participants. We were proud of their commitment and enthusiasm for learning and sharing during the three day workshop and inspired by their determination to help their communities.
(IV) SWAN’s 18th Anniversary 28th March 2017
The landmark occasion of SWANs 18th Anniversary was a celebration of our achievements, our tireless work for our communities and all that we have accomplished together with our supporters. We joined with 165 of our alumni, CSOs, EAOs, MPs, friends, supporters and members to re-commit to our efforts of striving for justice, peace and equality for women in Shan State and Burma. We feel even stronger thanks to our many loyal supporters and the communities that we collaborate with.
The event was held at the Shan Literacy and Culture Association in Lashio. SWAN showcased and promoted our work with an exhibition of SWAN publications including reports; advocacy documents; films and documentaries; and photography display. A visual display highlighted our key achievements and community beneficiaries across all of our programs. Supporters wrote encouraging messages and messages of hope on a display. SWAN staff and alumni performed traditional Shan dance and song and the guests were treated to a slideshow that highlighted our work over the past 18 years. SWAN’s Management Team member Nang Hearn delivered the keynote speech and afterward guests were invited to the stage to speak. The speakers included a Senior Women of Shan State Organisation member, Lashio SNLD party leaders, sspp, Sein Kyauk Militia leader and actors and singers from our most recent educational film. To end the evening SWAN held an auction to raise funds and give our guests an opportunity to learn about, and own their own traditional Shan wares and SWAN memorabilia. The evening was a vital time to pause, reflect and celebrate with all of our supporters, members, alumni, volunteers and friends.
The 18th Anniversary was also an important time to release and promote our 2016/2017 educational and awareness raising film. The film highlights the importance of family planning and sexual health, young women finishing secondary school and young men taking responsibility for consent and unplanned pregnancies. For the first time this year, SWAN recruited a local, innovative young Shan production company, MC3 Tai Media and a Director, Sai Lao Kham to produce the film in Shan State. The film’s leading actors and singers performed and gave a speech about the issues that were highlighted in the film.
A local media reporter attended the event and interviewed SWAN staff members. Mao Tai News, Radio Free Asia, CH7.com, Panglong (SHAN) published reports on their online news sites regarding the Women’s Get Together and 18th Anniversary. SWAN also promoted the events across our social media and encouraged our participants and supporters to share and promote our social media output.