“We will not go back. We will only move forward.”
(Yangon, July 23, 2021)—It has been almost six months since the Myanmar military seized power in a coup d’état on February 1. Since then, the junta’s security forces have killed more than 900 people and arbitrarily detained more than 6,000. As the crisis in Myanmar continues, thousands remain in hiding after fleeing their homes to escape violence or persecution by the military.
Twenty-seven-year-old “Poe Poe”—not her real name—began organizing and joining anti-coup protests in her hometown of Yangon after witnessing the violent tactics of the Myanmar military.
“I heard a big explosion but didn’t know whether it was a weapon or something else,” she told Fortify Rights. “We learned later that it was sound grenades.”
Growing up in Myanmar, Poe Poe wanted to be a medical doctor, but even before the coup, discriminatory policies and practices required women to have higher test scores than men in order to attend medical school.
“Instead, I went to pharmacy school. I did my degree in five years, and then I worked at the hospital for two weeks. But after two weeks, I knew that was not what I wanted to do. Since university, I volunteered a lot and worked with NGOs.“
Poe Poe went to the U.S. to pursue a new path, studying social work before the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to return to Myanmar in 2020. But the February 1, 2021 coup disrupted her plans.
“When the coup happened, a friend of mine called me and told me,” she said. “The first thing that came to my mind was [that] education will be ruined. Everything will be back to square one. All of our hopes about the development of Myanmar are gone.”
To help her country, she mobilized friends and took to the streets of Yangon to protest the coup. “Every time they used [sound] grenades, there were some people who got arrested,” she said. “But no matter how many times they used grenades, we returned to the street. We showed them that we are not scared.”
In March, increased risks of arrest following the arrest of her friend forced Poe Poe into hiding:
“The day before his arrest, he called me to talk about potentially coordinating a protest. I was supposed to go to the protest the next day, but I was late. Otherwise, I would have been arrested too. My number was on his phone because I was the last person he talked to. That’s when I knew I had to hide.”
Despite the growing crisis in Myanmar, Poe Poe still holds hope for her country:
“One thing that I see from the coup is that there is a big shift towards a more progressive society. During the protests, we made so many campaigns opposing old conservative views. We will not go back. We will only move forward.”