Zaw Zaw’s children are growing up in a world where their future place in the community is up in the air
Muslims and Buddhists have lived together in Myanmar for centuries. While this has been largely peaceful, in 2012, religious tensions between the two groups flared up in Western Myanmar, resulting in riots and dozens of deaths. Since then, there have been numerous violent incidents throughout the country, and a growing concern from the rest of the world.
Throughout all of this, the quiet town of Kalaw has remained mostly unaffected. When violence erupted in the nearby city of Meiktila in 2013, Buddhists and Muslims in Kalaw came together to offer support and food to those hurt and displaced in the city.
Soon after, when the firebrand monk and leader of the nationalist 969 Movement, U Wirathu, came through Kalaw, things began to change. U Wirathu travels around the country, speaking to his followers and encouraging fellow Buddhists - who make up more than 85% of the country, to shun Muslim businesses and their communities. His sermons, branded by many as hate speech and widely believed to incite violence, were not only permitted by the government, but were defended.
Zaw Zaw (49), a Muslim living with his family in Kalaw, has felt the shift in the community first hand. After the riots in Meiktila, he was too afraid to return to his job there, where he worked making gold jewelry. Muslims now also have difficulty buying land, something that wouldn’t have been a problem a few years ago.
While Zaw Zaw doesn't fear for his own safety back home in Kalaw, things have changed for his family as well. Soe Mi Ya (14), his eldest daughter, says that the kids at school don't want to talk to her, and her friends' parents told them not to play with her anymore.
When he looks to the future, particularly that of his youngest daughter Sophia, he's more hopeful.
"With the change in the government, my baby is lucky."