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Building A Fire In Burma

BY David Johnson Journal
BY Alex Via

David is a former English teacher who left the classroom in 2006 to start Silent Images. He is a graduate of UNC and is the author of two books on Africa. He and his team have done documentary work in 40 different countries for hundreds of charities. He has lectured at schools, churches and universities around the nation including, Stanford, Duke, Penn State, NYU, UC Berkeley, Baylor and was a 2011 TED Talk speaker. He, his wife, and two daughters reside in Matthews, NC

As a young boy, I remember building my first fire. It was exciting to watch it grow hotter and hotter and then bigger and bigger.  In my adult years, it would become a place of gathering friends for conversation and would provide warmth for those who needed it.  However, every fire I have ever built, I knew that at any moment, if it got out of control, it could destroy everything in its reach.  I grew to love the experience of building fires, but was always reminded of the weight of responsibility that comes with it.    

Democracy, like building a fire, comes with mixed feelings of joy and apprehension. 

When I carried my camera into Myanmar (formerly named Burma) this week, I listened to the stories of the Burmese who are experiencing their first taste of democracy. Just like my first fire, there is a thrill in the lights and color that are now spreading through a once desolate nation.  After 50 years under military oppression, these young men and women are witnessing democracy for the first time in their lives. However, the thrill is tempered with the weight of responsibility. How do we contain this? Do we trust all the foreign investment that now wants to come in? Now that I am allowed to publically speak out against my government, what do I say? Or instead of speaking out, maybe I should participate in a solution?   

It is clear that young leaders across the world are grappling with similar questions of how best to participate in democracy.  As I watched these impressive young leaders passionately cast vision for a better Burma, I was reminded that democracy, whether 200 years old or 1 year old, is to be appreciated and handled with care.  Its legacy does not lie with one person, rather it lies on the shoulders of hundreds of young leaders who are willing to sacrificially serve their nation and maintain this fire, that if handled properly, will provide light and warmth for generations to come.     

I am not sure if my Buffalo Jackson gear is fire proof or not, but I will continue to proudly wear it on my Silent Images assignments to Burma.  Thanks Xan and your team for equipping me with clothes that carry with them a story of democracy, legacy and a responsibility to honor my wild.              

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