Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA People: Meet Charm Tong
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is about people – people working together to make things better for all. As the global justice organisation of the Australian union movement, each and every APHEDA supporter, member, partner, activist and participant here in Australia and all around the world contributes to the work it takes to tackle inequality and injustice.
Meet Charm Tong.
This month we introduce you to Shan teacher and human rights activist, Charm Tong. At age six, Charm Tong was forced to leave her beloved Shan State (Burma) to escape conflict. She settled in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border with her family. At 16, she began her work as a human rights activist. A year later, she was addressing the United Nations to raise the situation facing women in Shan State and the use of rape as a weapon of war in Burma. In 2005, she took her cause to the White House and today she is the head of the School for Shan State Nationalities Youth (SSSNY), one of our partner organisations on the Thai-Burma border. Charm Tong is now tasked with empowering young people from all over Shan State to become advocates for social and political change through a social justice education program (which is supported by APHEDA).
What does it meant to be union to you?
CT: Taking part in forming a group and building a movement of support and solidarity to promote the basic rights and freedoms of all workers at home as well as taking action to advocate for equality and justice for other workers worldwide.
What does it meant to be APHEDA to you?
CT: To me APHEDA is all about supporting rights for a global movement for justice.
Why do you think it’s important for APHEDA to grow its membership base, those contributing monthly to the work, to 20,000 people by 2025?
CT: Collective funding support of APHEDA’s members changes lives of millions; including for the disadvantaged/ marginalized and those who continue to be displaced as refugees, as Internally Displaced persons and migrant workers from Burma’s conflict areas, especially indigenous/ethnic women and young people who continue to fight for justice and peace.
How does your work relate to APHEDA?
CT: APHEDA has been supporting the training program that I work for, which enables displaced youth to build leadership in their communities, to build a strong movement to take action and advocate against injustices and atrocities committed by the Burma Army; I know APHEDA also supports a community health centre for 3,000 displaced Shan in one of the IDP camps in Shan State, along the Thai-Burma border, where there is no other source of healthcare and support.
And I know APHEDA supports and partners with the migrant workers from Burma in Thailand, which face all kinds of exploitation in their daily work. APHEDA supports our community to provide basic services, and to build our capacity, empowering us to advocate and promote the rights of migrants and displaced communities.
While providing funds and support to the community groups along the Thai-Burma border, APHEDA has also raised awareness among the public and media in Australia about the systematic human rights abuses by the Burma Army and the political situation in Burma, and advocates to improve the Australian government’s aid policy to better promote sustainable peace and development in Burma.
What part of your work are you most connected to/proud of? Why?
CT: Through SSSNY, APHEDA has been supporting the implementation of continuous training for over 600 marginalized, conflict affected youth activists from various ethnic nationalities, sectors and regions in Shan State, in order to strengthen their capacity to actively promote a transition towards genuine peace and a federal democratic system of governance in Shan State Burma.
What do you see as the work (areas, issues, etc.) that is most important for APHEDA to focus on in the future?
CT: In the coming years, we need to continue to support ethnic civil society to defend the rights of their communities during the ongoing conflict, including the rights of the millions that remain displaced inside and outside Burma.
When you have one-on-one conversations with people about APHEDA, how do you describe APHEDA’s work? Why would you recommend they join APHEDA?
CT: Please join APHEDA, your leadership and partnership help millions of people in and from Burma to fight for their rights, justice and land.