Radio producers Stephanie Guyer-Stevens and Lu Olkowski are covering the election in Burma from the vantage point of several Karen women in Thailand, who are anxiously awaiting election results in their home country. Guyer-Stevens has reported from the Thai/Burma before; her Outer Voices story Kawthoolei, demystifies the complicated history of Burma’s ethnic groups, while focusing on Karen women activists working for non-violent solutions. Olkowski is producer of Women of Troy and other radio stories that have been heard on All Things Considered, Day to Day, Radiolab, Studio 360, This American Life and Weekend America.
Along the Thai-Burma border, we meet the women peace activists working in the midst of the world’s longest running civil war. In the Karen language, Kawthoolei is the name of a mythical homeland in eastern Burma (Myanmar). The Karen people have been struggling for control of this land for nearly 60 years. This conflict between the Burmese military regime and the Karen National Union is now considered the world’s longest running civil war. There are numerous reports of ethnic cleansing, and hundreds of thousands of Burmese and ethnic refugees have flooded western Thailand, yet this conflict is often overlooked by the western media.
In a northern Thai border town nestled against a jungle river that divides Thailand from Burma, a group of Burmese Karen hill tribe women are meeting in secret. A few dozen gather at the end of a dirt lane speckled with roosters and giggling children in a wooden house that belongs to one of their leaders. Most of the women live in crowded refugee camps scattered along the Thai border.