In February, a brutal military coup began in Myanmar arising from the most recent election results of which citizens did not approve of. Protestors have taken to the streets in an effort to push back against going under military rule once again and are calling for democracy to be restored. Since the protests over 600 people have lost their lives.
Kwon Tae-hun, the chairman of the Saram School of Art, who has a deep connection to Myanmar, rushed to do everything he could when the news broke of the military coup.
Kwon’s encounter with refugees fleeing the military in the town of Mae Sot on the Myanmar-Thailand border changed his life. In 2013, he established the Saram School of Art, hoping to develop young future talents of Myanmar.
Kwon’s school hosted music camps for Myanmar’s children. He hoped that through music, the people of Myanmar could unite to heal the wounds of the past and transform the nation into a peaceful state, despite many coming from different ethnic backgrounds.
Kwon’s simple idea of hosting music camps eventually grew and expanded into contributing to help lessen the impacts of ethnic in-fighting within Myanmar. According to Kwon, no refugees would exist if the fighting between Myanmar’s ethnic groups ceased. This is because many conflicts were born as a result of ethnic groups having polar perspectives.
“It was then when I came up with a plan of establishing a college of education training for the children of Myanmar to grow up to become future talents of decent character who love peace,” Kwon said.
In April 2019, Kwon’s school purchased a plot of land, near Mandalay to offer the youth of eight different ethnic groups to come together and learn about each other through art education. According to Kwon, they could become what he calls “peace talents” and would contribute to unifying Myanmar. The recent military coup, however, changed everything. All the government officials that had helped Saram School of Art were detained by the military.
“I felt empty-spirited for a while,” said Kwon. “I was afraid that my dream of nine years to build the school in Mandalay would go right down the drain.”
Some of Kwon’s colleagues that were involved with the project fought back, but needed immediate financial aid for equipment, shelter, and medical supplies.
Kwon, desperately wanting to help his colleagues and their fellow protestors in Myanmar, decided to act but not in the most conventional way. He imported three tons of coffee into Korea from the Sithar coffee farm in Myanmar with the hope to raise money to help save people’s lives. So far, they have raised close to USD $45,000 and have sent over USD $30,000 to those in need already.
“We thought it was more urgent to save the lives of children than to build the school,” Kwon said.
For Kwon, the actions of the military government are going against the history of progress and democracy. He acknowledges that the battle will be hard, but not insurmountable if everyone gets involved. As a call to action, Kwon urged everyone to get more involved with the cause that he feels is of global importance.
“Now is the historic moment when the future of the children in Myanmar may be determined by our actions,” Kwon said.