Si Thu has driven over twelve thousand kilometers. When I spoke to him by phone about two hours ago, he was in the snowy town of Jasper located high in the Canadian Rockies. Along the way he has led car rallies, parades, meetings, and protests outside Chinese consulates. Also, he has interviewed some leading Burma dissidents living in the United States. These interviews, along with daily updates, are posted on his blog, Driving for Burma.
Si Thu is what is known in the Burmese community as a "generation 88" leader. In 1988 the students rose up against the government and thousands were killed by security forces. When the crackdown came, Si Thu joined the ABSDF (All Burma Students' Defense Forces). He retired from combat in 1992.
Si Thu is a man with a mission: to raise awareness about the situation in Burma in the wake of the monks' protests in September.
Some of his reactions have been quite startling, to say the least. Seeing his car emblazoned with the words "Free Burma" on the side, Si Thu says one guy asked:
"Burma? What kind of company is that?"
So the journey has been an education. For onlookers, but also for Si Thu. The trip has revealed the extent to which the September protests have awakened North America's Burmese community to the plight of the homeland.
"After September they saw it. It changed them. They said, 'I want Burma to be free.' They have come out of their houses. Now they show their faces."
Most gratifying to him has been to see the reaction from young North American Burmese.
He had an message for these young people. It went something like this:
The New Generation -- kids from 20 to 26 -- they have been thinking only about their jobs, their careers. Now they say, 'I'm ready to give my life for my country.
When I see this this really really makes me happy.
Not surprisingly, this kind message seemed to have a galvinizing effect on the young people Si Thu spoke to. The messenger was very much effected by these enounters as well.
You want to do politics. I say doing politics means doing good for Burma. And you are doing good for Burma if you get a degree, if you make your business a success. All you need to do is this: be good yourself. The more you can succeed, the more you can help Burma to succeed in the future.
Now you're doing things not just for yourself. Now you can do it for them. So try to learn here. One day, you will go back to Burma and you will be able to give the people a hand.
I'm saying if you want to help the political situation in Burma, you don't need to go to stand outside the Burmese Embassy everyday. Just make the most of the opportunities you have here -- opportunities people in Burma don't have. But that one day you can share.
I told Si Thu that Westerners were always asking me what they could do to help Burma. I asked what advice he had for North Americans. Si Thu said:
So what's next for Si Thu? He would like to do another drive like this one again in the future, only bigger and better:
Canadians have Chevron Gas Stations. Chevron invests in
Burma. I urge them not to buy their gas there.
To Americans, I say if you are in a store and happen to see an alternative to something made in China -- in those cases where there is a choice -- try to buy that instead. Also, I tell Americans to get write their Congressmen, to tell them to support the Jade Bill.
"What I want to do is to go with five others next time -- including a good speaker of English -- and hit every major city, every university in North America."
I wish Si Thu continued success and a safe journey. More information about Si Thu and his "Driving for Burma" campaign is available on his blog.