I must be ready to be the best person I can be to serve my country.
Jessica’s note: Because of internet-connectivity issues, this interview was conducted over several weeks via text on WhatsApp. “Noel HK” is the pseudonym of one of thousands of government workers in Myanmar who left her position in the capital, Naypyidaw, in protest against the junta’s actions following the military coup on February 2, 2021. Along with other professionals, these government workers have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) in a national strike. The current CDM began with a Facebook post made by a group of doctors who disagreed with the military’s decision to take over the country. The group’s statement went viral, and soon bankers, lawyers, teachers and health care workers, among many other professionals, had joined the movement in refusing to return to work under the Tatmadaw. Though it’s impossible to know how many are participating in CDM, people from all walks of life across the country are joining in the peaceful protest. For government workers, the risks are especially high—not only have they given up stable jobs and good salaries, but the ruling junta, known for imprisoning, torturing, and killing dissidents, knows where they live and how to find them. And yet Noel HK and others bravely refuse to work as long as the authoritarian government remains in power. In March, the members of Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. In order to protect Noel HK and her family, we have hidden some identifying details, including the name of her home state.
I am proud that my siblings have also joined the CDM. They no longer go to their government jobs either. This is a very tough time for our family. We all moved home and are living without any salaries. But we cannot work for the military regime.
I am sad that some of my friends and senior managers remained in their jobs. If we all participated in the CDM, then hopefully the junta government would no longer run. They cannot function without government workers. I believe civil disobedience will play an essential role in ending the dictatorship.
I did not know about civil disobedience before the coup. I did not know much about politics; I still don’t. But one thing I truly understand is what our leader said before: People are the key. It is not the government that has power; it is the people who have power. I now see that civil disobedience and peaceful protests are the most powerful response to the Tatmadaw.
Many young people join the CDM to learn to fight. They are currently being trained in how to resist the junta. But I do not want to fight. Instead, I am using this time to take more classes. I want to learn further about development studies.
Taking classes during this time is very difficult. I cannot focus on the classes intensely because of what I see and the news that I hear about every day. But I think that instead of dwelling on negative news, furthering my education is what I can do. I joined some classes online because I believe this tough time will end one day, and I must be ready to be the best person I can be to serve my country.
I grew up hearing stories from my parents about what it was like in the past for Myanmar. They told me how inhumane the junta was. At the time, it was very difficult for me to believe it. I had not yet been born when the 1988 uprising took place, when students led the revolution against the junta on August 8: 8/8/88.
Now, I have seen for myself. They are more than inhumane. They kill us like animals. They torture us. We hear gunshots at night. In the morning, we learn how many people are dead, from the Tatmadaw or from Covid.
I am really afraid.
We want the military regime in Myanmar to disappear. I have some hope now because we, the Myanmar people, are really united in protesting and fighting the military junta. 50 million out of 53 million people do not support this government. We want to start a new one. We want to be free.
Please, support our new government, the National Unity Government.
Jessica Goudeau is the author of AFTER THE LAST BORDER (Viking 2020), a narrative nonfiction book about refugee resettlement in the US. She has written for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, The Los Angeles Times, and other places. She has a PhD in Poetry and Translation Studies from the University of Texas. In most of her writing, she partners with displaced people to tell their stories with dignity while protecting their identities. Find out more: jessicagoudeau.com and @jessica_goudeau