Burma’s First Arts Festival for Disabled Gets Underway

By San Yamin Aung 18 October 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s first arts festival for the disabled is being held in Rangoon and offers 270 disabled people the opportunity to express themselves creatively and showcase their talents through painting, sculpturing, music, dance and theatre.

“It is the first national wide arts festival for disabled citizens in Myanmar,” Deputy Minister of Social Welfare Relief and Resettlement Su Su Hlaing said during the festival’s opening ceremony on Thursday. She said the ministry and the event’s organizers “intend to help the most talented disabled artists from this festival” advance with their art work.

Soe Maung, a minister of the President’s Office, said 2.3 percent of Burma’s population, estimated between 50 and 60 million people, have a physical impairment, adding that they “have been facing obstacles, not because they are incomplete but because of barriers in their environment.”

The three-day “Immense Spectrum Myanmar Arts Festival of Disabled Artists” is held at the Myanmar Convention Center in Rangoon’s Mayan Gone Township and is organized by the Social Welfare Relief and Resettlement Ministry, Japan’s Nippon Foundation and 10 disability support groups, including the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative.

Aung Ko Myint, the latter group’s operations director and president of the Myanmar National Association for the Blind, said the festival provided Burma’s disabled with a much needed opportunity to express themselves creatively.

“There are so many disabled people who are interested in arts. But we, disabled citizens, have really difficulty to enter the arts field because there are no programs or supporters to nurture us,” he said. “And we didn’t get the chance to participate in other festivals and programs because most believe that disabled people will cause delays in their events.”

This week’s festival, he said, would help people with disabilities exhibit and develop their creative skills and connect with others. Aung Ko Myint said 270 participants with physical and learning disabilities had been chosen from 390 applicants, adding that participants could paint, create wood carvings, perform music, dance, theatre, poetry and literature.

Several prominent Burmese singers and comedians put on a show at the festival, among them was the festival’s ambassador Chit Thu Wai. The actress and singer said, “I want to let the participants see that the audience in this whole hall comes to support them.”

Aung Kaung Myat, a 20-year-old man with a walking disability, said he hoped that the festival would promote public awareness of the fact that disabled people have as much talent as any other persons.

“People can learn that the disabled can also do a variety of arts,” he said, adding that Burma’s disabled are often stigmatized and excluded from society. “We are not getting on well, socially. People think that we will make them unlucky and that we are disabled because of the deeds carried out in past lives,” he said. “It is used to justify that they don’t need to help us. This superstition is still present.”

Participant U Tint, who misses both his underarms, has mastered a painting technique where he uses his foot to hold a brush. “I started drawing paintings when I was 20 years old and now I am 40 years old. I really wanted to participate in an exhibition and now I get the chance to participate in this festival. I’m really happy for that.”

Aung Ko Myint, of the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative, said that much work still remains to be done to improve the plight of Burma’s physically impaired. A key step, he said, was creating laws that would better protect and support the disabled in Burma, where—unlike in many other countries—there is no special law yet that offers support, care, protection and job opportunities for those with disabilities.

He said that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is drafting such legislation, adding, “Disabled citizens in the Myanmar urgently need fundamental opportunities. Although we need to get more opportunities than other people, we will just ask to get same opportunities like others especially in education and jobs.”