It has been more than two years that La Yin-o, or known here as Chalie, has been away from his love; Burmese Zat Pwe, or called here when performed as Burmese Li-ke. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, some migrant worker-turned artists like Mr. Chalie have had to be away from this traditional musical folk drama once they used to entertain their brothers and sisters at Saphan Pla Community in Samut Prakarn province, one of the communities in Thailand where Burmese workers extensively live and work there.
Mr. Chalie has just had an opportunity to return to his performance recently following a planned visit with staff from the Child and Youth Media Institute and the Foundation for Child Development.
Like other Burmese workers here, Mr. Chalie and his Karen parents came to Thailand over ten years ago in search of work and better lives. They then landed in Saphan Pla Community, where they worked in the fishery sector. But as migrant workers, they often felt distanced and alienated, especially their young children. According to social workers who have extensively worked with these workers, these people often feel lost and lack confidence to live in their new surroundings. Their identities and culture are often hidden from the world accordingly.
Because his long-time love of this Burmese traditional folk drama, Mr. Chalie managed to find his way out of his struggle. Back at home, Mr. Chalie used to join other artists in performing Zat Pwe and developed his artistic skills of this kind of Burmese performance. At Saphan Pla, he tried searching for his fellows who shared the same love in Zat Pwe like him. They then started to reunite and formed a Zat Pwe troupe of the community. They revived their folk drama styled poses, rehearsed, and performed them in the community as well as in other Burmese worker communities elsewhere as invited.
Mr. Chalie said the folk drama helps heal his feeling. It helps boost his pride and confidence in who he was and who he is now although he is not in his motherland anymore. Through the performance, his Burmese worker fellows can also have some joy in lives while working in their alienated environment.
Years later, Mr. Chalie found himself becoming one of the foundation’s volunteers, passing on his performance knowledge and skills to the next generation. Along with other volunteers, they use this Burmese Li-ke as a tool to boost Burmese young children’s confidence to express themselves as they are supposed to; Burmese workers’ descendants who do have social and cultural identities while co-existing here.
Mr. Chalie does not live in the community anymore, but he often returns to visit it when available. He still connects with people in the community via his performing art, as has had in his recent visit. Despite his exhaustion following the impact of Covid-19, Mr. Chalies still danced lively in a Zat Pwe dress, cheering up the dull atmosphere of the community, which has also been hampered by the same outbreak.
Thanks to the Child and Youth Media Institute (CYMI), the Foundation for Child Development (FCD), and MIDL documentary production team
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A documentary photographer residing in Bangkok, Thailand. Immersive and vibrant, his images capture and tell stories of everyday people living alongside the challenges of development, environment, and social changes in the Mekong region.