Travelling to a country with conflict….

As I planned my trip to Myanmar, people were skeptical and worried mainly due to the big old fact that all we ever really hear about the country are headlines concerning the human rights violations and crisis that many are currently facing. But, as travel becomes ever more accessible and easy for us all, I want to share my thoughts on whether it’s ethical and good to travel to countries with conflict. I also want to add that these are just my thoughts and you might still have your own reservations after reading which is fine, as long as you’re not quick to reject the idea of visiting and boycotting a whole country and its population by not doing so.

There are SO many countries that we all travel to with conflicts and situations that we don’t all agree with. Whether it’s animal cruelty in Zimbabwe, detaining immigrants in America or gender discrimination in India, it doesn’t stop us visiting the entire country and it doesn’t mean that you’re directly support these issues either. I believe we can cause more good than harm by being aware and present, so where do we start?

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What’s the situation?

Before visiting any country, I do feel that it’s really important to understand and know about any situations that may cause concerns regarding ethics, safety and culture. Myanmar (what used to be known as Burma) is home to the world’s longest ongoing civil war with conflict plaguing the country since 1948. It’s currently under accusation of ethnic cleansing with many fleeing genocide, persecution and widespread rape. It’s a really serious conflict that many of us don’t know really know much about.

The Rohingya have been made stateless (though they’ve been living in Myanmar for centuries) meaning they’re without ID’s, unable to work, and are basically unrecognized people with no homes. They’ve been called the world’s most persecuted minority group with many seeking refuge in camps hosted by Bangladesh and India.

The news in Myanmar is also restricted, biased, fake and over-dramatized so many others around the country are not even fully aware of the atrocities happening, making it even worse.

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Is it safe?

Myanmar is one of the safest countries in Asia for tourists. Travelling to the areas of conflict are off limits and inaccessible, even for volunteer work and border crossings.

 

The people are not the government

Myanmar is one of the least wealthy populations in Asia with those living in the main city earning around $60 a month. Tourism keeps money in people’s pockets and not visiting will have a direct impact on them. I actually spoke to one man in particular who expressed his heartache for the fall in tourists due to the ideas of not visiting Bagan, a place where 85% of people rely on tourism. Ask yourself; are you helping anyone by not travelling? The military are mainly financed by exporting gas, stones and agricultural products so tourism money isn’t connected at all. The community needs more than people who are deciding not to visit. It’s not as simple as just turning a blind eye and doing nothing. Money and conversation helps the individual and brings awareness and access to things they might not know about otherwise.

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This type of travel isn’t for everyone

There are so many different types of travelers which is amazing, but for countries like Myanmar, I do feel like you have to be a more aware, more understanding and more responsible type of traveler regardless of the conflict.

Myanmar is not a country to party or to just flitter through. The religion, culture and traditions are all pretty untouched and unaffected by western influence and tourism which is what makes it so incredible and sets it apart from countries like Thailand and Vietnam. And the country itself is still a developing one. I think it’s important to know how to be around sensitive situations, to create genuine connections with people and to appreciate and take in their choices and culture without judgement and with honest intentions and respect.

You can visit places like Sanon in Bagan, a non-profit restaurant that trains underprivileged kids to work in the hospitality industry. Good food and a good cause! Could you do that from home?

Like I’ve said before, create little connections. That’s how we all benefit from tourism.

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Am I doing more harm than good or vice versa?

As I watched the sunset one night, I couldn’t help but think about the people who were not safe in that moment, not that far away from me. The crisis was always on my mind, but you have to remember that you can make a difference by being there. Ask yourself where is my money going? Where can I make a small impact? Small amounts of money and supporting locals can go a long way for so many here. Use the local taxi men, eat at small eateries and buy souvenirs and gifts from the stalls.

I’ve also worked at a school for Chin refugees, another minority group that fled Myanmar to Malaysia. You can volunteer your time, help to teach classes and hear the heartbreaking but inspiring stories told by the man who helps to run it, Tawk Lian Sang. You can contact me privately if you’d like to get involved with this project.

Educate yourself, educate others and be open to learning more

Be a conscious traveler with respect and understanding

Spend money locally

Support NGO’s

It’s a different kind of travel and a trip that left a mark on me in so many ways. I can’t express how beautifully natural and untouched the country was. I felt so safe and cared for and this was due to the people being the nicest and most welcoming I’ve ever come across. All in all, I really would encourage you to visit Myanmar if you truly want to (read my blog on travelling the country here). Let’s ensure we’re being better, more sustainable and more responsible travelers.

Just do as much good as you can, always, everywhere.

  Vanisha

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https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/rohingya-refugee-relief-fund/

https://www.unhcr.org/rohingya-emergency.html

www.iyfubh.com/Myanmar_Travel_Essentials.cfm?http://www.dosanddontsfortourists.com/digital.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/09/rohingya-refugee-crisis-myanmar-burma-spd/

https://www.actionaid.org.uk/donate/emergency/rohingya-refugee-crisis

https://www.unicef.org.uk/donate/rohingya-refugees/

https://www.worldvision.com.au/global-issues/world-emergencies/rohingya-refugee-appeal

https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/rohingya-refugee-crisis

https://www.peaceinsight.org/conflicts/myanmar/

A Q&A with Skye and Moacir from Cielo Collective

Introducing Moacir and Skye, the Cielo Collective and the wonderful refuge of Mision Mexico in Tapachula! What do they all have in common? They bring love, life and hope to so many men, women and especially children from Mexico and its surrounding countries. But why is the connection so important? And why are Moacir and Skye such a big part of our family and life here in Tapachula today? For those who can’t wait to hear more, for those who love ethical and sustainable fashion, and for those who just want to give back to the world; we’ve put together a small Q&A about our wonderful Moacir and Skye’s story and their inspiring Cielo Collective! Enjoy!

Hola Moacir and Skye! Firstly, tell us what’s new! How are you? Where are you both? 

Hola!! We are both very well, thank you. We are currently living in Australia, in a beautiful beach side town on the Sunshine Coast called Mudjimba. Skye grew up not far from here and it is close to where I lived when I first came to Australia for a high school exchange all those years ago. It is a wonderful community!

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So, what is Cielo Collective? Where did it all start and why?

Cielo Collective started just 2 years ago, in 2016. When Skye first visited Misión Mexico in 2011, I took her to some local markets in Tapachula. We wandered through the markets for hours talking to the artisans and small business owners there. Skye fell in love with the textiles, hearing about the artistic processes and learning about the traditions behind each piece. It really opened my eyes up to the incredible artistry of my home country. We agreed then that one day we would like to start a business that would allow us to support Mexican artisans but also give back to Misión Mexico.

In 2016 after many years of thinking about it, we made it happen! We flew to Mexico City and travelled down to various artisan communities throughout Mexico and Guatemala. During that trip we met some incredibly humble, inspirational and creative artisans. We were lucky enough to partner with 3 women’s cooperative groups and 1 small family business. We sourced and developed so many beautiful designs that we couldn’t wait to share with the world. Pam also accompanied us on parts of the trip and it was amazing to share the experience with her.

In July we arrived back in Australia with our handcrafted products and launched our online store www.cielocollective.com.au in October. Since then we have been working with each artisan group from afar to develop new designs and perfect old ones and have also connected with more artisan groups that we now work with. We also attend local markets in our area and love sharing the stories of each piece and artisan group with people in Australia and throughout the world.

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What’s the big dream for it all? 

Our dream is to provide our artisan partners with a sustainable partnership so that we can continue working with them and support them into the future. We are growing bit by bit and have been proudly creating more and more designs each year.

We want to share the beauty, skill, spirit and traditions of our artisan partners with the world, so that people all over develop a deeper appreciation for their craft and culture. We also want to continue growing our brand, so that we can not only continue working creatively on something we love, but also increase our donation to Misión Mexico year by year.

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What is the connection with Mision Mexico and why is it so important to keep the connection?

I was rescued by Misión Mexico in 2004. Pam and Alan (mum and dad) gave me a home, a family, an education and a brighter future. Because of them, my life is filled with opportunity, happiness and purpose. Not only did they put me on the right track, but they also gave me the most incredible (and large) family who continue to support me to this day. I am so grateful for everything Misión Mexico has done for me and that is why it is so important for us to give back through Cielo Collective.

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How can we check out your pieces, donate or find out more about Cielo Collective? 

You can check out our pieces online at www.cielocollective.com.au. Here you can read more information about our story, Misión Mexico and our artisan partners as well as blog posts from our travels. We are also on Facebook and Instagram as Cielo Collective.

If you live on the Sunshine Coast in Australia, you can see us at the Peregian Beach Markets every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month and at the Sunshine Coast Collective Markets every 4th Sunday of the month. We also have a range of clutches available at The Travelling Kimono store in the Noosa Junction. Our home studio is also open by appointment, so you can get in touch through our website or social media channels if you would like to visit.

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And tell us about you two! The big wedding this year? We can’t wait!

Yes!! After 8 years together, we are finally tying the knot! We are so excited that both our families will be together to celebrate, which is so rare. Mum and dad (Pam and Alan) have touched down in Australia and Maria, Lupita and Sammy from MM will be there to celebrate with us too! It is going to be an amazing day filled with love and happiness. We can’t wait to finally be Mr and Mrs and hopefully we can honeymoon in Mexico and celebrate with the kids in Tapachula sometime in the future!

Thank you so much to our wonderful Moacir and Skye for all the great they do, not only for us, but for so many others too! We want to congratulate them again on their wedding, because they’ve since got married! We can’t wait to see them soon! Wishing them all the best for the future and all the love in the world!

Love the Mision Mexico family

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You can watch Moacir’s story here; 

And support Cielo Collective here; 

And support Mision Mexico with these links;