Wai Wai Nu (1987 – ) Was studying for a law degree when, in 2005, she was sentenced to 17 years in prison along with her family. Their supposed crimes were that her father had spoken out against the brutal military regime that ruled Myanmar from 1962-2011.
Wai Wai was shocked to be imprisoned, as she had been taught that only criminals went to jail; she questioned her families’ behaviour, wondering if they really had done something wrong.
However, in prison, meeting the other women she was incarcerated with, she saw that many of them were as young as her, whose crimes were either non-existant, or were committed due to poverty, coercion, or both.
After the collapse of the regime in 2011, when she was 25, Wai Wai and her family were freed. She completed her law degree and immediately began working as an agent of change.
Wai Wai is a Rohingya. This is a Muslim minority living in a Buddhist country who have been the victims of what the UN have called a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing.’
Unlike many of her people, Wai Wai’s family were somewhat middle class, and she has access to a passport, something denied to many other Rohingya people. She uses her comparatively privileged position, which is backed up by her seven years in prison and her understanding of the treatment of the Rohingya people, to give talks and interviews around the world, advocating for understanding and kindness between people of all walks of life.
She set up two NGOs; Women’s Peace Network-Arakan has since spread to include men and different regions of Myanmar, and uses workshops and training to promote understanding between different groups. The other, Justice for Women, she organises workshops to educate women about their rights, and offers legal council.
The plight of the Rohingya people is a terrible one, and I feel that it was discussed for perhaps a week on the news here in the UK before disappearing again. But the crisis is real, and tolerance in Myanmar seems to be a real issue between religious and cultural groups. By avoiding using potentially divisive terms (The Pope, during a recent visit, was warned to avoid it, as it could cause violence to break out) and spreading a message of love, kindness and tolerance, Wai Wai Nu is helping her country to move past hatred and fear, and towards a better future.
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