Together we can accomplish something much bigger if we join forces
Exclusive Interview with the Chinland Guadian
David Lai is a young Chin artist and singer who rose to national fame after winning the reality TV singing competition Eain Mat Sone Yar (Where Dreams Meet) season 2 in 2017. He has since independently produced a Burmese solo album titled Chit Nay Taw Lal (Cos I love you so). In addition to many national stage performances alongside other famous artists, David Lai has performed across three continents for the largely Chin audiences in Australia, Europe and North America. Following the escalation of fighting between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw that triggered mass displacement of Chin civilians in Paletwa Township earlier this year, the 25-year-old artist singlehandedly organized a solo public street performance in Yangon to raise fund and awareness to support victims of war. He later personally visited the IDPs camps in Sami in southern Chin State to deliver humanitarian aid from the donations he collected. ~ Editor
Q. Thank you for agreeing for an interview with the Chinland Guardian. Can you please introduce yourself to our audience about your family, where you are from originally and so on?
A. Hello! My name is David Lai. I belong to a Mara tribe from Matupi Township. I am the youngest of six siblings. My father used to be a middle school teacher by profession but since about 2001 both my parents decided to start devoting themselves to engaging in a Christian mission work. My father passed away in 2014.
Q. You single-handedly organized a solo street performance in Yangon to raise awareness and fund for Paletwa quite early on when the conflicts in southern Chin State started escalating? What motivated you and caused you to take on the issue?
A. I came across pictures of our fellow people fleeing the war, villagers being displaced and even some older folks with physical injuries. I started seeing those images in the media. So I made up my mind right there and then that instead of sitting around and just feeling sorry for them, I should do something to help by raising fund from people on the streets of Yangon and among the online community using my talents. As you know, I am not one of those people who can contribute a lot of money myself, so I realize that raising money using my talents will be more effective.
Q. Do you think the average people on the streets of Yangon actually pay attention to the issue? Did they stop to ask questions about the war or were they just enjoying listening to you sing?
A. Not many of us noticed the situation ourselves [in Paletwa] when it started happening. There wasn’t much on the news to start with. I myself became aware about it through images put out by some Chin media outlets. So it was quite natural that most people only generally knew about the existence of the war on the western front and that there are displaced people as a result. Of course, they didn’t know much about how many IDPs we have, how many people have recently been displaced and so on. So the situation in Paletwa didn’t capture much attention nationally or at some levels in Yangon or any other geographical areas in the different states and regions. So basically, I needed to explain to people on the streets about the situation, the reason for fund raising and appeal for donations from kind-hearted people to help the victims of war and displaced persons in Paletwa. I had to explain to the audience their donations are meant to alleviate the plight of our fellow people. Of course, there are all sorts of people with certainly different levels of awareness of the situation. I made the trip to Sami two weeks after I initiated the street performance.
I am convinced that we can accomplish something much bigger and be more impactful if we can join forces in this effortDavid Lai
Q. You just returned from Sami where you get to meet and interact with many IDPs and people affected by the war there. What was your impression of the situation and is there anything in particular that struck you?
A. Yes. We were able to directly hand over the money and other items like basic medicines to people in the camp after meeting with the organizations responsible for managing them. At the same time, I was privileged to be able to visit eight different IDPs camps and personally interact with some of them and observe their situation. I was so touched and deeply moved by the cheerful and happy faces that greeted me instead of sad and depressed looks upon noticing me and recognizing who I am. I felt a deep sense of humility just being able to contribute in a very small way that I can to their needs and well-being.
Q. Did you feel that you spent enough time to interact with and talk to people? How open were they to you in terms of sharing their feelings and pain?
A. My primary intention was to deliver the donation directly to them, and perhaps use the opportunity to meet them personally, and to sing them a few songs to lighten them up. And we did have such an opportunity once or twice. There is a limit to what you can really do for them in terms of being able to empathize with what they are really going through. No one can really take the burden off them entirely other than feeling sympathetic to their plight.
Q. How concerned are you about the possible danger for COVID-19 outbreak in a cramped situation like the IDP camps in Sami?
A. There may be many things we need to be really concerned about when it comes to the dangers associated with COVID-19. The immediate concerns are obviously the issue of overcrowding and the impossible nature of keeping a safe distance due to limited spaces. I also tried my best to do my part by keeping a safe distance from others while I was there.
Q. What are your advice for those who are now helping on the ground?
A. There are several individuals and organizations being active on the ground there. I also had the opportunity to interact with some of the responsible persons from these main groups. They even gave me an opportunity to participate in their discussions about fundraising strategies and efforts. They all are doing the best that they can with the limited resources they have. I was impressed by how well they have managed considering the situation. I really respect their dedication and hard work. Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot to offer them in terms of advice or thoughts.
Q. Do you plan to do something bigger for the issue with other like-minded Chin celebrities?
A. I know that other Chin artistes are actively making contributions. I am really encouraged to see the likes of Ma Sung Tin Par, Ko Tuan Kham, Jenevy Sui, Esther, Yaw Kee, Benjamin Sum and Takhun Kyaw making contributions in various ways. I am convinced that we can accomplish something much bigger and be more impactful if we can join forces in this effort.
Q. What is your message to the Chin people out there, including those living abroad for the victims of conflicts in Paletwa?
A. Not just our fellow Chin people, I saw so many non-Chin friends from different ethnic backgrounds enthusiastically and generously making donations during our fundraising effort. They do not differentiate ethnicities. I saw a very simple and sincere gesture of humanity, a true willingness to help other fellow human beings who are victims of war and displacement. I felt so grateful and humbled to have witnessed such acts of compassion being shown by random people on the streets. I am so encouraged to have seen our fellow Chins from inside and outside of the country making quick responses. I humbly would like to appeal for their continued generosity. I pray for their continued willingness to actively seek to gain deeper understanding of the situation and greater generosity towards our fellow people who are displaced and dispossessed by the ongoing war. May God help and bless the people of Paletwa! Thank you.#