burmese refugees

The Rohingya are facing genocide. We cannot be bystanders | Salman Rushdie and others
We cannot allow people to be slaughtered and burnt out of their homes, while the world watches, write Salman Rushdie and dozens of others in this open letter
By Freida Pinto

After every atrocity, we say: “Never again.” We must mean it.

As world leaders gather to the Asean summits a gathering of signatories calls for a stance against the government’s of Myanmar atrocities against the Rohingya. We must not be bystanders to genocide.

BANGLADESH. Near Coxís Bazar. September 3, 2017. Smoke and flames in Myanmar are seen from the Bangladeshi side of the border. Thousands of homes, sometimes entire villages, are being burned in the ongoing conflict in Burma’s Rakhine state. Rohingya refugees blame Burmese army forces, while Burmese officials claim Rohingya militants are responsible for the violence. Access to the area is restricted, so independent verification is difficult.

Photograph: Bernat Armangue/AP

Father and son

This semester I am taking an Art Indp. Study course with one of my former fine art photography professor, Mark Goodman. He’s inspired me to continue my documentation with the Htoo family. Goodman documented a town over three decades and i would like to do something similar.  It would be interesting to see these little boys grow up and document their lives. I plan on doing a whole portrait series with the Htoo family on 120mm film. As a photographer, we are always questioning how to give back to the people that you photograph and I think I finally thought of something!

alright so...

Despite the title of the blog, I’m gonna cut down to the nitty-gritty, and save you guys a bunch'a pretty verbage about some gorgeous islands that ended up being much more stressful than they needed to be.

The courtyard of Suphan Lake Hometel, where I stayed for my night in Bangkok.

Long story short, London to Bangkok, stayed in a gorgeous hotel for made cheap, and strutted around the markets of Bangkok for a while before heading back to the airport to fly to Koh Samui, a larger island near our destination. While waiting for my baggage, I was puttin’ on a little show with my podpoi for the kids and families waiting (really I was just excited to be on an island and not cramped in a plane anymore ha); wasn’t long before I was approached by a dude with a flaming bandana tied around a fedora, inquiring… ‘Are you a Sparkle by any chance?’

'Yes. Yes, I am.’

This man  turned out to be Kat Irvine, fellow teammate from Vancouver Island, Canada, and we had literally just arrived minutes apart from each other out of shear happenstance. Ended up catchin’ his ride and crashin’ with him at Island Hoppers Beach Club, right on the beach. Totally had a geek-out jam sesh 'fore we passed out.

Kat and I, celebrating the success of our travels at Island Hoppers. He doesn’t drink so this is a rare photo of him. :P

We found this incredible Predator statue made entirely out of motorbike parts hahaha!

The beach at Island Hoppers Beach Club.

We woke early, packed back up, and had a nice little breakfast before heading to catch a quick catamaran ferry over to Koh Phangan, where we met up with fellow Sparkles Josh Navez-Barry, Sarah McMorrow, and Leyla Miriam at Haad Rin pier. We then took a longboat (usually a rather drenching experience, but we got lucky ha) to Haad Tien beach on the opposite side of the island, where we would be staying at Beam Bungalows and meeting the rest of the team. 

From the longboat to Haad Tien.

The next few weeks were rather intense; getting to know the international, multi-cultural team, putting together an entire show (our first performance was only five days after we met each other!), rehearsing big choreographed pieces, establishing new standards of fuel safety, and of course, interpersonal drama. That being said, the intensity of such talented folk coming together and whatever conflict there was only brought us together as a team, quickly forging us into a tight crew of circus folk. We very soon realized each others’ strengths and stepped up to roles of responsibility; we each had our part to play and we each did it well. Within a week and a half, we had performed three official shows, three renegade shows at local parties, raised over 100,000 baht for the group, and had more shows on the way!

We also had the chance to take part in a raw cacao and ecstatic dance ceremony, which may have been one of the most profoundly sobering psychedelic experiences of my life… but that’s a whole 'nother story. :)

Beam Bungalows, where we stayed for our duration on Koh Phangan. The staff here were absolutely great! 

A bird’s eye view of Haad Tien, the beach where we stayed.

After about two weeks and a killer show at Sanctuary Health Spa and Resort, we took an absolutely drenching longboat ride through typhoon-warning seas from Ban Thai all the way to Koh Samui, with only circus anthems and salty jokes to keep us comfort, for another couple resort shows, and our first day shows with children. Unfortunately, I was quite ill for our first show at Bandara resort; I stayed back at our accomodations, deciding to go on a little walk for snacks later in the afternoon, when a travelling Russian girl pulled over her motorbike to demand I give her an impromptu poi class! Luckily, I was right as rain for our show the next night at Chaweng resort, a five-star resort where we showed up, set up, burned it up, broke down and got outta there all in just an hour! I got to play a superfun contact staff set to The One I Love by R.E.M., realizing just that morning that the lyrics mention 'a simple prop to occupy my time… FIRE!’ hahahaha.

SPRING BREAK, WOOOOO! The soaked but smiling team riding through the deluge!

Chaweng, pre-show.

Chaweng, pre-show. Photo by Sarah McMorrow.

Chaweng, post-show.

The next morning at six am, we loaded into trucks, then a bus, onto a ferry from Samui to the mainland, and then a ten hour bus ride to Bangkok, crazy frantic transition to another bus at the craziest bus station I’ve seen in my life (Richmond greyhound ain’t got nothin’ on Bangkok. o.o), and then another ten hour, overnight bus ride to Mae Sot district near the Burma border, where we will be staying for vast majority of the rest of our trip. Yesterday was our first round of shows for a refugee community and it was without a doubt an incredibly humbling experience. 

Circus-bombing the ferry! People instantly pulled out their cameras and started taking pictures haha! Photo by Sarah McMorrow.

On our way to our first day show at Sky Blue School, also known as The Dump!

Stay tuned, true believers! I’ll be telling that story in great detail this evening, likely morning for you most of you fine folks!


Hla Oo, a Burmese refugee, spent seven years trying to get to New York. Last September, he finally did. Read the story.