Relatives of Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan commemorated the prominent late Karen leader by unveiling a statue in his hometown in Taw Kyaung village in Pantanaw Township, Irrawaddy Division, on the anniversary of his death.
However, children of the late Karen National Union (KNU) leader, who was assassinated in the Thai border town Mae Sot exactly nine years ago, were unable to return to Burma for the occasion.
Nant Zoya Phan, daughter of Mahn Sha Lah Phan who serves as a campaign manager for the NGO Burma Campaign UK, told The Irrawaddy, “I so wanted to go back to my father’s village especially for the memorial service, but, unfortunately, I’m on the Burmese government’s blacklist.”
Mahn Sha Lah Phan’s children still live in exile: Two daughters, Nant Zoya Phan and Nant Bwa Bwa Phan, live in England while his son Slone Phan lives in Canada, and his adopted son lives in Thailand.
As a KNU leader, Mahn Sha Lah Phan was well-respected not only by his Karen people, but also by Burmese political activists for his leadership and broad-mindedness in the democracy movement. He was an outspoken leader while serving as the KNU general secretary in exile.
His four children established the memorial Phan Foundation, which gives an award every year to a young Karen leader along with a US$2,000 grant to support their work.
The Phan Foundation aims to alleviate poverty, provide education, promote human rights, and protect Karen culture.
This year, South Korea-based Sa Thu Hlaing Win, a founding member of Western Pwo Karen Culture and Literature Group, was honored for his active role in supporting the teaching of Karen literature and culture, according to a statement released by the Phan Foundation on Tuesday. He is also given a $2000 cash price.
Sa Thu Hlaing Win’s initiative identified Karen villages in Burma that didn’t have Karen teaching and initiated a western Pwo Karen literature summer school, providing text books and other school materials as well as financial support for teachers.
By the end of 2016, he and his group had successfully provided Karen literature and culture education to 3,000 students from 60 schools across 13 townships in the Irrawaddy Delta region, according to the Phan Foundation statement.
“I am so thrilled and honored to receive this award. I would like to use the award money to support summer schools for Karen literature training,” Sa Thu Hlaing Win said in the statement.
Slone Phan, Director of the Phan Foundation and the youngest son of Padoh Mahn Sha, said that “despite many years of oppression from the central government, the culture and literature of western Pwo Karen is still alive because of hard working people like Sa Thu Hlaing Win and the Karen community there.”
“This is exactly what my father Padoh Mahn Sha would want to see”, said Slone Phan.