a successful end to our trip

this latest post comes to you from prague as i wasn’t able to write before leaving delhi – too much food and drink during a meal on our last night in delhi, courtesy of our hosts, left me feeling ill for two days. but let me now share with you the events of our last few days in delhi.

on saturday our czech journalists held an open training session at the mizzima news agency, where they had been doing a mutual mentorship program during the week. the questions came slowly at first, but soon were in full swing: how do elections actually work? what should i say if i my friend asks me how to vote? what do we do if we can’t reach people inside burma during the elections?

we soon realized that many of the mizzima journalists, quite young, had themselves never voted in either democractic or undemocratic elections. so the old dictum ‘write about what you know’ becomes a bit difficult. we found photos of czech ballot boxes online to help explain the voting process, and explained such concepts as exit polls.

leaving the journalists to continue their training, christoph and i went off to meet two more of our microgrant recipients, one making a documentary film on the health status/care of burmese refugees in india, and another that had received funds to buy a projector and screen. the documentary will provide visible proof to such agencies at the UNHCR as to the poor health of refugees, and the projector and screen – such a small thing – will enable numerous groups to provide training sessions and workshops on a variety of topics, as well as simple entertainment to those who can’t afford to go to the cinema…

monday was our grand finale – a media workshop and press conference bringing together the burmese community in delhi, burmese independent media, and indian journalists. the czech ambassador, miloslav stasek, opened the event which was held at the national press club of india (which i must admit was quite run down!). the morning media workshop featured panel discussions on the upcoming elections and refugees, and i moderated a session where we came up with a set of recommendations for the indian government, EU and international donors, and Western democratic governments concerning Burma, the elections, and the status of refugees. this was followed by a press conference featuring several speakers including a freelance indian journalist and a member of the Indian opposition party. we were thrilled that numerous indian journalists turned up to the event, despite ”competition” from the commonwealth games.

i’d like to say just a last few words about new delhi and india…it was so nice to be in vikas puri, west delhi, where there were absolutely no western tourists. this also meant that no one approached us for money and there were no beggars to be seen. only a few of the local children wanted their photos taken on our digital cameras so they could see themselves after and we were happy to oblige. this was such a change compared to my trip to mumbai years ago. on a day trip to the taj mahal on sunday, two women (one with a baby) approached me and just handed me the baby to hold, then sat down and ‘chatted’ with me despite the fact that we shared no common language. but from sign language i undertsood that they wanted to know if i had children, why i didn’t have lots of gold jewellery, liked my sunglasses, and suggested that i have black toenail polish instead of pink. we sat together for a good half an hour, and i must confess that based on some of my experiences in other countries, i was wondering if they were going to eventually ask me for money or something. but no, we parted with just friendly smiles…

the trip was great – i met people whose lives we have touched through our microgrant program, as well as activists living in adverse conditions but who have not given up, and journalists working hard to bring burma’s situation to the public’s attention. i can only aspire to do half as much as all these people do.

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