Tag Archives: microgrants

Support Burmese Grassroots through Microgrants

Finally we are able to launch the 2011 round of our microgrant program. Please check out the projects at microgrants.burma-center.org.

For a grassroots group run by Burmese refugees in Delhi or Mizoram, a few hundred dollars can mean the difference between dreaming of a needed project or launching it. These self-support groups are mostly the only ones who provide essential services to the refugees like health care, legal advisory or vocational training. And our program has proven last year that once started these activities can often continue from own sources, and many generations of refugees will benefit from the skills that were acquired.

During the Burma Center Prague team’s trip to India in July, we selected the best 13 projects of those submitted by Burmese refugee organizations. The projects cover activities in Delhi or in northeastern India, and project ideas came from the Burmese after they successfully attended our project management training.

This year again we have projects covering a wide range of issues, from the provision of healthcare, computer and Internet access, human rights training, and news publishing to running a women’s shelter. The activities will run until the end of December at the latest, which means we have sufficient time to obtain the necessary additional resources.

Please head over to our site at microgrants.burma-center.org and read through the project descriptions to choose the project you like the most. The minimum contribution is just 500 CZK (approx. €20 / US$29), and the total amount will go directly to the project. Burma Center Prague covers all other costs for running the project. Of course, you are welcome to support more than one project! Payment can be made easily by card or bank transfer.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

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Microgrants 2011: Getting Ready for Relaunch

After the trip of two team members to India in July, we are now adapting the website for the new microgrants. While we still need some time to enter all the information, you can already check out the list of projects here. (Smaller editorial changes may occur here and there ;-) )

And, if you don’t know it yet: You can sign up for our special newsletter where we update you as soon as we relaunch the program and on the further development.

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A small extra to help Burmese grassroots into the new year

Our micro-grant program has finished end of last year, but one announcement is still overdue: The organization Freelance Media Forum has returned their grant after they eventually have had to confirm that an implementation of their project is not possible by end of December. Working conditions in Northeast India are not easy, especially if projects for refugees are made by refugees themselves.

In accordance with the program’s Terms and Conditions we have therefore re-distributed the funds to other grantees. We chose them with regards to the quality of their work and their reports and to their need of a one-time funding to bridge operation during the usual downtime of mainly state sponsored projects.

These are the recipients and the amounts:

Women’s Rights and Welfare Association of Burma: Rs.5,000
Grassroot Development Network: Rs.5,000
Yamuna Clinic: Rs.3,000
Falam Chin Women Development Society: Rs.3,000
Kachin Refugee Committee: Rs.2,000
Matu Herald News Group: Rs.2,000

Furthermore, our partner organization in India, Burma Centre Delhi, that has been coordinating the local activities there, has received from our project over Rs.3,000 for coordinating the distribution of this extra money, and to help them with increased costs for energy and rent.

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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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the week that was

suddenly it’s friday and i haven’t written since monday. we have, however, been on the go quite a bit, visiting various groups around west delhi. i think the score with delhi is 3-2:


-the rain got me via mini-floods the day i didn’t wear my rainboots

-that same day i slipped on the stairs at the BCD office and got myself some lovely bruises

-today was suddenly hot and my feet roasted in my rainboots, and my czech colleagues made fun of me all day


-i’ve mastered the back streets enough to know my way around and even say hi to the same locals i see every day

-i’ve not yet succumbed to delhi belly (knock wood)

but it’s not about me that i should be writing, rather the people i’ve met here. on tuesday we went to the mizzima news agency, one of whose founders is soe myint, who at one point in his ‘activist career’ hijacked a plane from thailand  to india, after having lived on the border as a member of the student army. he now runs mizzima, a burmese exile media agency, in new delhi. they do undercover reports with journalists inside burma, have a news website, and even do a weekly radio drama for soldiers in burma. our three czech journalists – honza, jaromir, and martin – are doing a mutual mentorship program at mizzima. they learn more about burma and how exile media works, and then share tips on their respective areas of reporting – tv, radio, and print/online.

the BCP team left the journalists at mizzima and went to a meeting with the ambassador at the czech embassy. the embassy used to be much bigger, but after the czech and slovak republics split, they basically cut the embassy in half. the ambassador recieved us and asked all about our program here in delhi, including both our microgrants (www.mikrogranty.cz) and the journalists’ mentorship. you may ask: what’s the connection between the czech republic and burma? why does BCP get funding from the czech ministry of foreign affairs? the czech republic has a program called “transitions” – the idea being that the CR went through the transition from totalitarianism to democracy and thus is able to help other countries do the same; burma is a priority country in this program. vaclav havel has also been a long supporter of the free burma movement, and was actually the one who nominated ASSK for the nobel peace prize she received.  we’re lucky to have the czech ambassador coming monday to open our media workshop at the press club of india.

the rest of the week has included visits to different groups that have received microgrants from BCP. these include several women’s unions that teach weaving and sewing so that women can earn a living, and also offer language classes for burmese children; two free medical clinics for refugees; two organizations printing news and literary magazines in ethnic languages, and a group selling burmese fast food as a means of making a living. having heard the stories of many refugees here, i understand why these projects are so important. burmese refugees may have to wait one or two years to get a refugee status determination interview, and while they are waiting they have no right to work, to get healthcare, or to security. while some refugees get jobs with local indian businesses, they are often exploited. it’s not safe for women to walk alone after dark, and some are widows that need to look after their children at home. so having the opportunity to work for a burmese ‘company’ (of course all in the informal economy) or to work from home is essential. To date so far in 2010, there have been 50 documented cases of violence against refugees, with many more going unreported as the police often do little when such cases are reported. one of the groups we visited provides emergency help to people who have been victims of violence, taking someone from an indian (not burmese) NGO with them to the police station to lodge a complaint, and providing funds for medical care at a hospital. the two medical clinics provide a tremendous service but of course lack funds for a sufficient amount of medicine and cannot be open every day of the week.

 all the people from these groups have been so grateful and extended truly heartfelt thanks for the funding they received, in particular those that received their first-ever grant from BCP, and were able to start up a project. it doesn’t really get any better than that.

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The micro-grants are out. What’s next?

Propagation of campaigns in the non-profit sector is a challenge and certainly a worthwhile experience. Moreover, having at one’s disposal an unimpressive Czech-sized budget for advertising doesn’t make things much easier. Basically, this leaves you with two options: Either you send hordes of indulgent volunteers through the country and let them knock on every door to hand out home-made leaflets. Or you resort – as is so common – to the World Wide Web.

No doubt, this makes perfect sense if you are aiming to promote a campaign that has its backbone on the Net anyway.

The evolution of our ads: a very short history

We decided to target supportive-minded people on Facebook to draw their attention to our micro-grant program. The experiences from Amnesty International ČR were encouraging, and so are now the statistics for our web site. Unlike web banners you can on Facebook quite precisely match the ad to specific countries, language users etc., provided that its users have given all that precious information in their personal profile. Which, I must admit, I haven’t.

This is now how our three ads look, which luckily managed to pull hundreds of new people to our pages. Note the almost invisible fine-tuned evolution! ;-)

Our first ad. And yes: I like it!

Our second ad, the first in English.

Our third ad, again in Czech.

The photographs, just to duly mention the source, were taken from two of the supported health care projects, the Health Care Centre for Burmese Refugees (I suffer with that scared woman in the front whose hand is being pricked) and the Yamuna Clinic where Dr. Tint Swe can be seen puncturing a patient’s thorax (I’m feeling even more sympathy for that brave woman).

I remember the conditions at that clinic in west Delhi – two small rooms, the equipment extremely simple, during the rainy season operations are carried out under the umbrella due to the dripping from the ceiling. Outside, the refugees patiently queue down the staircase and along the little road. It is amazing how much Dr. Tint Swe is still able to do with so few resources, including health education and a blog presenting medical cases and general knowledge relevant to refugees!

Of course, no campaign is feasible without the devoted support of journalists. Rumor has it that charitable topics make it into Czech media even during the silly season. But just to be on the safe side we have decided to arrange a media partner, Radio Wave, not to mention the numerous other outlets who have also provided awesome help.

So much for propagation. But what’s next?

Paralyzed by the statistics of our web pages, I have to shake myself up for the next load of activities, many of which will take place right inside India and need to be arranged right now. More on that later when the time comes. And yes, even though we have to turn our backs for a while on the propagation of the micro-grants program, of course it has not finished yet. As usual in the non-profit sector, word-of-mouth will do its brilliant magic and carry on the news among like-minded supporters.

In only two weeks we have already collected a total amount of  22,000 Czech crowns, which equals approximately €890 or US$1,160. In my humble opinion a terrific start.

Please help us by continuing to spread the word. Thank you!

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