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At lunch on Monday, November 6, the Immigrant Rights Club organized a film screening of Sittwe, a short documentary about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority in Burma. At just 20 minutes long, the film had a powerful impact on many in the audience.

"It was extremely insightful, shocking, and heartbreaking,” said ninth-grader Ana I.

Sittwe, which is the name of the city in Burma that has been at the center of the ethnic violence, examined the conflict from the perspectives of two teenagers: a Muslim girl and a Buddhist boy, both of whom had their homes burned down in the eruption of violent clashes. The film seeks to understand how young people perceive the situation and what their hopes are for the future.

AJ N., a twelfth-grade student and one of the leaders of Immigrant Rights Club, said, “We wanted to help raise awareness about the situation in Burma, but also to have a discussion about how prejudice and misinformation can spread. It’s important to know that similar phenomena can occur in any society, including ours.”

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AJ has been aware of the documentary since its inception; his mother, Elizabeth Finlayson, was the editor of the film. When he learned there would be a speaking tour accompanying the film’s release, he seized the opportunity to invite the filmmaker to campus.

The documentary was introduced by filmmaker and human rights activist, Jeanne Hallacy, and Burmese Human Rights defender Myo Win, who runs a non-profit interfaith education organization. After the screening, Jeanne and Myo led students in a panel discussion. They opened the dialogue by posing this question: "After watching this documentary, is there anything you see of the tension and conflict that is reminiscent or familiar to you in our current climate?"

Many of the students in attendance were compelled to voice the parallels they perceived. One student expressed how “incredible it was that propaganda can affect people’s way of thinking towards other groups of people so negatively.”

“I was moved by the film, particularly in how the director chose to portray the conflict through the stories of two teenagers,” AJ shared. He expressing his deep concern, shared by other students, for the human rights abuses of the Burmese army. “Both the film and the talk made me very determined to speak up about the conflict as our government and the UN are not taking sufficient action to denounce and end the violence."

Since August, Human Rights Watch has estimated that 600,000 ethnic Muslims in Burma have been forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh due to violent persecution. The degree of violence and the scale of the exodus, which has been likened to the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s, has been covered in the national media. 

“After watching this film, I really grasp the terror and extreme violence that has been created by this conflict. I understand more of the magnitude of it,” said Willow Taylor C.Y., a ninth grader.

The Immigrant Rights Club plans to send letters the U.S. State Department, urging them to pressure Burma to end violent aggression towards the Rohingya.

With reporting by Willow Taylor C. Y., Grade 9


November 22, 2017




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