Peace Picnic in Palo Alto ( A Day in the Park to Honor and Celebrate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's Birthday )
On June 19th, Burmese American Women's Alliance (BAWA) members and invited guests gathered at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto for a Peace Picnic to celebrate and honor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's 65 birthday.
The Nobel Peace prize winner is spending her birthday and her 4000th day of imprisonment inside her ramshackle lakeside house which is as downtrodden as the Burmese people under their oppressive military rule.
This year's event was co-sponsored by two non-Burmese organizations: Our Developing World(http://www.magiclink.net/~odw/), American Muslim Voice(http://www.amuslimvoice.org) as well as BAWA's sister organization, Burmese American Democratic Alliance (http://www.badasf.org)
The audience came from all over the San Francisco Bay Area and many non-Burmese guests came to show their sympathy with the Burmese people.
The program began with multi-faith prayers in Buddhist, Islamic and Christian traditions. Each representative of the various religions prayed for the health, happiness and, most importantly, the early release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi From her imprisonment.
Buddhist monk U Dhama offered up prayers for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.and young brother Khuram started with a verse from the holy Quran saying "God has created nations and tribes so that we will know one another" and ending with the Muslim prayer for peace.
After that, Daw December Htwe Lay prayed not only for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi but also for the junta to have a change of heart and to have love, peace and compassion toward all the people of Burma. The prayers also blessed each and everyone in the audience as we all need peace and harmony in these troubling times.
A very interesting part of the program came next when Burmese American children touchingly read poetry about noble peace prize winners and sang a special song composed by the Burmese Youth for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
One of the poems was a very famous one that all school children in Burma learn in elementary school. It is called "Pan Pan lhek Par," which means: I will wear flowers in my hair. This is an old poem by classical poet Saya Zawgyi. Reading it on this occasion was very appropriate because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is well know for wearing beautiful and colorful flowers in her hair.
The poem is about the hyacinth, a fragile flower, that bobs up and down in the water with the ebb and flow of the tide. This lonely flower also has to face hundreds of water ducks and reminds us of the struggles of Daw Aung Suu Kyi in bravely confronting the powerful military junta.
A 10-year-old girl, whose birthday is also on the same day, talked about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her speech and compared her with other Nobel Laureates - Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, Mohammed Yunus, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Mother Theresa.
She said all of them came from different parts of the world and did different things but the one thing they have in common is that they sacrifice for others. This young girl was born in the U.S. but her parents came from Burma and she wishes that one day she will see Burma.
It was also delightful to hear a song dedicated to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi composed by Burmese youth. The original was a Hannah Montana song but the group creatively converted it with meaningful words honoring Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
There was a special cultural performance by Ma Su Wai who was trained in classical Burmese music and instruments. She skillfully played the Burmese harp and sang a few well known Burmese classical songs. Many in the audience had the opportunity of seeing the unusual but very beautiful Burmese harp up close.
We Burmese are known for our generosity with food and the guests enjoyed all kinds of delicious traditional specialties. The main dishes were prepared by BAWA family members: for example, Burmese-style rice noodle salad with small chicken pieces and topped with cilantro. And no Burmese event would be complete without our national dish mohinga, thin rice noodles with lemon grass fish chowder. It was heated up on a B-B-Q grill. Veggie biryani, glass jello drinks, sticky black rice were also served and enjoyed by our guests.
The Mayor of the City of Palo Alto, Patrick Burt, joined the Peace Picnic in the park.. He enjoyed a variety of dishes and talked to many people in the audience.
The program resumed with brief remarks by the Mayor followed by the annual award program. This year, BAWA honored two individuals for their service to the Burmese community.
The Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Human Rights Award was given to Ma Phyu Phyu Thin, who was a student leader in 1991 and later trained to be a HIV/AIDs worker. She has dedicated her life to her patients who were considered outcasts in Burma's repressive society. She later became an activist in the NLD and did everything from organizing activities to leading weekly prayers services for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She was arrested and released after four months. Again, she was involved in the 2007 Saffron Revolution Marches and went into hiding missing her father's funeral.
Recently, she was appointed to be a member of NLD central committee, a very important role as the authorities clamped down on the activities of the NLD and its members due to the regime's upcoming sham elections.
Speaking from Burma to a Burmese news reporter at Moemaka radio, she said she is very appreciative of this award and she will spend all the cash she receives for the patients who needs medicine, food and other expenses. According to the Burmese tradition, silver bowls were passed around and donations were collected. This along with BAWA cash reward will be directly delivered to her back in Burma. Ko Toe Lwin who was a NLD youth leader accepted the award for Ma Phyu Phyu Thin in absentia.
The second recognition was "Daw Yee Yee Lay Community Service Award". Daw Yee Yee Lay was a remarkable lady from Burma who was an inspiration to many BAWA ladies. She was a social worker who founded BAWA in 1999. This award was given to a respected community leader, Dr. Aung Khin. He is a physician by training and a strong advocate for human rights and restoration of democracy in Burma. He has helped many individuals and organizations in the Burmese community and is well known for his kindness and generosity.
Many stayed in the park until late afternoon, playing "Chin Lone," a traditional Burmese game of tossing a ball made from rattan. Many chatted, made new friends and renewed old acquaintances. It was an excellent way to spend a beautiful California summer day.