Changing Perceptions

A Burmese Human Rights Activist

Ma Thida is a Burmese surgeon, writer and human rights activist. She has published under the pseudonym Suragamika which means “brave traveler”. As she developed her medical career, she also wrote contributions in literary magazines and supported campaigns lead by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who herself was assigned to house arrest several times for a total of 15 years by the military regime. In 1993, Ma Thida was sentenced to 20 years in Insein Prison in Yangon for her political involvement.

Ma Thida endured 6 years of imprisonment and was released due to declining health, increasing political pressure and the efforts of human rights organizations. She says, “Were it not for vipassana (Buddhist meditation), I would not have overcome the untold hardships I faced in prison.”

She published several books for which she received multiple awards and lived in the US for a while, a fellow at Brown and Harvard University. Her poignant prison memoir “Prisoner of Conscience: My Steps through Insein” shows the absurdity of the rules under Burma’s military regime and her determination to stay a free spirit even in the most trying circumstances.

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Inspiring & Empowering from Bali

Melati Wijsen was just 12 years old when she started her first campaign to rid Bali of single use plastic bags. Together with her sister she founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags and took her cause to the door of the Bali governor. After a year getting the runaround from officials, she went on a hunger strike (aged 13), fasting from sunrise to sunset. Within two days the governor changed his mind and agreed to meet. Within the next 18 months she had the government sign a circular letter to promote the use of recyclable bags by 2018.

Now a 17-year old, Melati is the co-founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags and One Island One Voice. She has been leading the movement driven by the island’s youth for five years and is currently in her last year of High School. She is also part of the Worldʼs Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council and Parley’s first ever Youth Ambassador.

Bye Bye Plastic Bags was born in 2013 and now has a volunteer team of 25-30 students from local and international schools. The project was born following a lesson in class on inspirational leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Lady Diana, Mahatma Ghandi. It has become an inspirational story for thousands around the world. The sisters shared their campaign on TEDGlobal London and in less than 5 months recorded over one million views of the online video.

One Island One Voice is a campaign started in Bali by Melati Wijsen and her sister to highlight those shops, restaurants, hotels, etc that are plastic bag free. Signs indicate that the premises are part of the “One Island One Voice – Plastic bag free zone”. Melati is truly an inspirational figure and available to meet with clients (subject to availability) to share her ideas and discuss the world-changing projects she is part of.

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