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Burma’s opium fields grow even as its government calls for complete eradication

US Public Radio Series

America Abroad is an award-winning documentary radio program distributed by Public Radio International (PRI) and broadcast on public radio stations nationwide. Each month, we take an in-depth look at one critical issue in international affairs and U.S. foreign policy.

“I started growing opium nearby my village, because we were all very poor,” says a man in his 40s, who wants to remain anonymous. He lives in Tonzang, a small town of around 6,000 inhabitants, high above the clouds in the mountains of northern Chin state in Burma. It’s one of the country’s poorest and most underdeveloped regions.

“There are no jobs there that can give you a sustainable income. Many families around us were already growing it and making money from it, so I decided to start too.”

In this video, reporter Emily Johnson looks at the 969 Buddhist nationalist movement, which has been blamed for inciting violence against Burma's minority Muslim population. She talks to U Wirathu, the movement's spiritual leader, and visits the burned out remains of Meiktila's Muslim quarter. 

While working on this program, we looked for young people who could speak about the experience of living in Burma as the country goes through some major changes. We met Bawi Za Kham through one of his teachers, Deb Fowler, shown here. He inspired her (and us!) with his courageous story of leaving Burma to pursue his education, and his endless drive to help his family. Some of Bawi's story is below.

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